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Obama in Berlin, taken aback by expected crowd

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BERLIN Last night New York-based photodiva Scout Tufankjian and I went to the Eastern Comfort boat, which has a weekly English language party. Down in that part of Berlin, the wall still stands. It’s colored with beautiful graffiti on each side.

 

One of my colleagues did the research and informs me the image depicts Soviet Union dictator Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany dictator Erich Honecker.

 

The art to the right shows guards looking the other way while people climb over the wall.

 

Here are some more images of the wall set up downtown for tourists to view.

 

 

I set the scene for Obama’s arrival in Europe in today’s paper:

 

BERLIN — Europeans view Barack Obama’s massive speech here as a symbol of a potential new direction for international relations and cheer him as a rejection of President Bush, but the leaders he will meet when his Western Europe trip begins Thursday may have more in common with his political rival.

Conservatives in recent years have assumed power across Europe - a near reversal from what President Bush faced when taking office in 2001.

The left-wing parties that thrived in the late 1990s have dissipated, and conservatives have sprung to leadership positions or have crushed opposition in recent power shifts here, in France and in Italy.

Mr. Obama had a taste of the ideological bent when preparing for his event here, as conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel blanched at suggestions that the historic Brandenburg Gate be the site for his German speech. As thousands of adoring Europeans, tourists and Americans living abroad plan to witness the speech at the city’s “Victory Column,” Mrs. Merkel may be changing her tune.

“I would say that he is well-equipped - physically, mentally and politically,” the chancellor told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in anticipation of her private meeting with the Democratic presidential hopeful.

Mr. Obama also plans to meet with opposition leaders here and in France and England later in the week.

Should Mr. Obama become president, he would be “the only left-wing leader remaining among the Group of Eight nations,” according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, which noted that three of the 27 countries in the European Union have liberal leanings.

Visitors to Berlin were buzzing all week about the visit. Korean tourists nodded and said, “Oh, yes, Obama,” when asked whether they knew of the man on the cover of so many German newspapers and magazines.

“He’s a better partner for us,” said Wolfgang Jordan, who sells schoolbooks in Hamburg, Germany. “George Bush has never tried to think from our position.”

“Obama? Es cambia,” said Emiliano, a tourist from Spain, giving the Spanish word for “change.”


Read the full story here.

 

I didn’t have room in the piece to fit all the references to JFK that folks on the street made when asked about the Obama rally, but Isabel Jordan, 21, of Hamburg, summed up the sentiment fairly well while making the Kennedy comparison.

 

She said it was his “charisma,” but also said she feels President Bush has ignored the international community. “Obama can be a president who can touch the world. He seems to represent the future,” she said.

 

Obama told reporters on his campaign plane early this morning that he does not think there will be a “million screaming Germans,” despite some estimates the crowd could grow that large.

 

Here is a portion of the transcript:

Q:  Do you feel prepared to speak to a million screaming Europeans?
BO: I doubt we are going to have a million screaming Germans.
Q: So half a million?
BO: Let’s tamp down expectations here. If we get tens of thousands.
Q: Let’s start a pool.
BO: We could. I did not realize my staff basically just told me that this space is bigger than I realized.
Q: Is that a good or bad thing?
BO: It is a potentially bad thing. We are sort of on the high wire all of the sudden. It’s like wait how many does this accommodate?

 

The Obama entourage arrived here late this morning after leaving Israel. The senator visited the Western Wall before dawn, and actually encountered a heckler who screamed “Jerusalem is not for sale!”

 

The square in front of Brandenburg Gate has become a police hub and the vibrant tourist spot filled with vendors and musicians early this morning was blocked off with security gates.

 

 

 

Here’s some video I took this morning:

 

 

 

There weren’t a million folks here, but Obama got a rousing welcome as he arrived at the Adlon Hotel following his meeting with Chancellor Merkel. I caught some video from my sixth floor window :

 

 

Here’s more from the press availability on the plane:

 

Q: Have you been surprised by all the crowds that come to your international events? The press?
BO: You know what I think I anticipated was that I think the world is keenly interested in this election and I think they are hungry for a sense of where America’s going. So certainly there is a curiosity factor.
Q: Would you describe this as a campaign speech tonight?
BO: As opposed to.
Q: Just asking? You are in a campaign, you are giving a speech, it would be OK to describe it as a campaign speech?
BO: I am not speaking to the people of the crowd aren’t voters. So in that sense it is not designed to get them to the polls. You know it is not a political rally. Hopefully it will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I would like to see between the United States and Europe.
Q: The audience is also back home right? Not just in the crowd.
BO: Well, I mean, I am hoping to communicate across the Atlantic the value of that relationship and how we need to build on that.
Q: Did you look to the Reagan and Kennedy?
BO: See what happens when I come back to say hi, and we are going to have a bunch of flights back and forth. So we will talk to some folks.
Q: Did you look at the Reagan and Kennedy speeches in Berlin in framing your remarks, parallels?
BO: They were presidents, I am a citizen but obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of the post world war II effort to bring the continent together and bring the west together and then later to bring the east and the west together. And so I think it is a natural place to talk about.
Q: Did you see this speech as something (inaudible) if you were elected president?
BO: No. it is just a speech. All right guys.

 

Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter,
The Washington Times


Bookmark my blog at http://www.washingtontimes.com/weblogs/bellantoni


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