Obama for Kanzler…?!
A German view of Senator Obama`s speech at the victory column in Berlin.
By Thomas Giebler
No doubt, the man is popular. Several hours before Senator Obama enters the stage on what
Germans call “Die Siegessäule” on this evening of July 24th, one can feel the excitement and
pleasant anticipation among the more than 200.000 people who gathered there to listen to the
speech of a man who runs a campaign for one of the most, if not THE most powerful office
this world has to offer. In these days, it is impossible to imagine that a German politician of
any party, be it the social-democratic SPD or the conservative CDU under Chancellor Merkel,
would have the slightest chance of achieving this degree of attention, of gathering an
enormous audience like this, and one can not help but wonder if this is due to the fact that
Senator Obama does have the genius rhetoric and charisma that is so often connected to him,
or due to the fact that German politicians in our days, forgive me Mrs. Merkel, lack these
qualities to a certain degree. The only German who would be able to gather hundreds of
thousand of people like the candidate from Illinois does, is without a doubt, not living in
Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Bonn, but in the Vatican city state and goes by the name of
Pope Benedict XVI.
Recent polls among Germans show that far over sixty percent of them would vote for Barack
Obama if it was their decision. Obama chants, Obama shirts, Obama flags, yes even “Obama
for Kanzler” (Obama for chancellor) banners on this warm summer evening between
Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column indicate that the candidate has captured their hearts
before even having spoken a single word to them. One has to think way back to remember
representatives from the USA being greeted with such enthusiasm and euphoria.
Of course, President Clinton and President Bush senior were popular around here, but the
atmosphere on this summer evening in 2008 is only comparable to speeches held by their
predecessors; The “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech by Ronald Reagan at
Brandenburg Gate in 1987, or the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech by President Kennedy more
than 20 years before that.
An enthusiasm and euphoria justified? Every individual that witnessed Senator Obama`s
speech or saw it on TV around the world has to answer this question for himself. Having had
the chance to be there at the Siegessäule and listen to the man the whole world talks about
these days from 20 yards distance, I tried to focus rather on WHAT he had to say than on
HOW he said it. Enough has been written about the charisma and aura of this man by people
who are the far better judges of that than I am. And I am well aware of the fact that my
opinion about what he said differs a lot from the opinions of most of the people who were
there too. To avoid misunderstandings: To me, it is very satisfying to see my fellow
countrymen greet a representative from The United States Of America in such a joyful and
amicable way. In recent years, there were some dissents between The United States and
European countries like Germany or France. I do not think that the solid friendship and
partnership between our countries ever were jeopardized, but as Senator Obama stated in his
speech:” And if we're honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the
Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny”.
Never did, and never will Germany forget how American soldiers helped free the country
from the Nazi regime, them and their families paying a high price, often giving the ultimate
sacrifice for freedom. But, since the war on terror started and the above mentioned dissents
between our countries about how to lead this war emerged, feelings on either side of the
Atlantic have cooled down a bit, be it caused by former German foreign minister Joschka
Fischer claiming “excuse me, but I am not convinced” in a somewhat disrespectful way when
Donald Rumsfeld tried to convince Germans to join the invasion of Iraq, be it caused by
President Bush who addressed long time friends and allies as “old Europe” causing some
That is why I was glad to see Senator Obama being greeted like this, but I would have felt the
same if it was Senator Mccain who came here and spoke to the people.
Barack Obama claimed that he did not come to “speak as a candidate for President, but as a
proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world”. Some doubts might be
allowed here. It can hardly be denied that Barack Obama of course speaks as a candidate for
President. The people gathered there were addressed on the surface, but the true audience the
candidate spoke to was not the one between Siegessäule and Brandenburger Tor, it were the
men and women watching his effort to sharpen his foreign-policy profile on American TV
channels. Hundreds of thousand cheering listeners and the historical setting of course were a
welcome decoration for a election campaign speech.
When friends and relatives, often strong Obama supporters and still in a certain euphoric state
of mind about this speech, asked me how I evaluated it, I have to tell them that it appeared to
me a bit blurry, a bit shallow and providing too little, sometimes wrong, detail.
Speaking about 9/11, Senator Obama of course is right when he says that “the terrorists
plotted in Hamburg.” It is a sad part of the recent history of my country indeed to see that
students from Egypt, Morocco and Saudi-Arabia abused the hospitality of Germany and
developed at least parts of their evil plans undiscovered by authorities on German ground.
But, in this context I would like to remind Senator Obama that they did not only plot these
inhuman deeds in some backrooms in Hamburg, they too went to flight schools and received
their flight training in places like Venice, Florida or Scottsdale, Arizona and attended public
combat training schools in Dania, Florida. They lived undetected by American authorities just
like they did before undetected by German authorities. Senator Obama has every right to
remind us what went wrong here, but a little addition to his remarks must be allowed in
There is not much to disagree on with Barack Obama when taking a closer look at his words.
“The defeat of terrorism”, “the ban of nuclear weapons around the world”, “trade that is free
and fair for all”, “peace between Israelis and Palestinians”, “the stopping of global warming”,
“lifting the child in Bangladesh from poverty”, “sheltering the refugee in chad”, banishing the
scourge of AIDS and so many more subjects the Senator declared as aims are noble and
desirable goals indeed. Nobody who is sane would deny that. But based on my personal
experience, having witnessed the speeches of so many politicians from all parts of the world, I
must admit that the more one of them promised, the greater the images were that he planted in
his listeners heads, the bigger the disappointment was when this man came into power.
Every individual, be it a “ordinary” person or a politician, needs visions and goals. But
standing there in the crowd listening to Senator Obama speaking the people into ecstasy with
his visions of peace, health and prosperity for mankind, I can not help but wonder if it would
not be more honest to put the goals for now on a somewhat lower, more accomplishable level.
Speaking from the perspective of my own country, one of the leading industrial nations that is
facing the problems and challenges of globalization and changing markets, and which`s
inhabitants have hopes and dreams similar to those of the people of the United States:
Yes, Senator Obama, the “dissident in Burma”, the “blogger in Iran” and the “voter in
Zimbabwe” need the support from countries like ours. But to accomplish this, to sensitize the
people of our nations for those problems, we first must find a way to improve life for the
single mom in Houston, Texas, finding it difficult to afford a dignified existence for her and
her children, or for the factory worker in Dortmund, Germany, who is working hard for little
pay and is under constant threat of losing his job to people from eastern Europe who will do
his job for even smaller pay. Once we achieved this, they will open themselves for the
problems and sufferings of people in other parts of the world.
So what is my conclusion of the speech by presidential candidate Obama, which I had the
honour to listen to?
I heard the good intentions and visions of a man who certainly is able to elate the masses with
them. Did he elate me? I have to negate that. As an individual among this crowd, I felt too
much like a tool for Senator Obama`s election campaign, a part of a show that was set up to
deliver monumental pictures to the voters in the USA. The speech was brilliant in structure
and rhetoric, but to me personally, it lacked substance. If it had the desired effect on the
people of the United States Of America is not for me to know, but I am sure that Senator
Obama is well aware of the facts that elections are not won in Berlin, Germany; Paris, France
or London, United Kingdom. They are won in Berlin, Wisconsin; Paris, Texas or London,
Before his speech, if anyone had asked me whom I would vote for in this election if it was up
to me, I probably would have answered like the above mentioned 60 percent. After the
speech, I would be more careful with an answer. To me personally, it delivered more
questions than it provided answers.
Senator Obama, like any other individual from the United States, will always be greeted in
Germany with great friendship and hospitality. If his next visit to Berlin will be as Senator,
tourist or President Of The United States Of America, is up to the people of this great nation
on November 4th. Whatever they decide, as a German I am looking forward to see friendship
and partnership between our countries prosper to face the new challenges of this world
together, no matter what the name of the next President of the United States Of America will