Crazy about Barack: Obamamania Infects Germany

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Berlin political circles -- both liberal and conservative -- are fawning over US presidential candidate Barack Obama. Many in Germany see him as a cross between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., but expectations may be exaggerated.

Prost, Barack! Germans are intoxicated by Barack Obama's political message.
AFP

Prost, Barack! Germans are intoxicated by Barack Obama's political message.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier had hoped to meet personally, but Barack Obama has a lot on his plate at the moment and Germany's foreign minister had to make do with a telephone conversation with the presidential candidate during his recent visit to Washington. Still, that's all it took to stir Steinmeier's enthusiasm for the candidate.

The American may be deep in the midst of a campaign, but members of Steinmeier's entourage told SPIEGEL that Obama's foreign policy questions were very engaged, and he peppered his conversation with questions about the German foreign minister's views on Russia, Iran and Afghanistan.

The conversation lasted about 15 minutes and was very focused. Obama's rhetorical "cruising altitude," was apparently quite high, an advisor to Steinmeier said. At the end of the conversation, the Democratic presidential candidate promised to come to Germany as soon as possible.

The few minutes spent on the telephone gave Steinmeier the impression that Obama is prepared to fundamentally reconsider the course of US foreign policy. Steinmeier was impressed, and only a day later he publicly outed himself as the senator's latest fan. "Yes we can," the minister, not known for his emotional outbursts, chanted, evoking Obama's campaign slogan during a speech at Harvard University. Steinmeier used the term to express his desire for a renewal of trans-Atlantic relations.

'Germany Is Obamaland'

But the foreign minister hasn't been alone in his admiration for the candidate -- Berlin has been teeming with Obamamania for weeks now. Even conservatives are taken by the Democrat. After the Bush era, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democrats can easily imagine working together with a liberal Democrat in the White House. And Norbert Röttgen, chief whip for the Christian Democrats in parliament, sees Obama as the messenger of a new wave of politics that could also provide a model for Germany.

"Germany is Obamaland," says Karsten Voigt, the German government's coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations. He says Germans see the African-American senator as a kind of "mixture of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr."

People are projecting their hopes and dreams on Obama, adds Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. He's perceived here as peace-loving and cooperative, and those are the kind of traits Germans admire in a foreign politician.

Obama's Republican contender John McCain is viewed with greater skepticism in Berlin, where the 71-year-old Vietnam veteran is considered by many to be a Cold War relic. McCain, for example, announced that he wanted to kick Russia out of the G-8 and instead found a "League of Democracies" that, in emergencies, could also circumvent the United Nations around the world. Those aren't the kind of words that get a warm welcome in Germany.

McCain is not an unknown quantity in Germany, either. As a dyed in the wool trans-Atlanticist, he regularly participates in the annual Munich Security Conference. The senator has a reputation there for his sharp attacks against German politicians -- his fits of rage are feared and his political positions are known because of the numerous debates he has taken part in.

Obama, though, is less known. The best even the most dialled-in US experts in Berlin have managed is a handshake with the senator. He routinely denies requests from members of the German parliament to visit with him in Washington. Most of the information they have on Obama comes either from YouTube films or the papers. "Obama has no relationship with Europe whatsoever," said Hans-Ulrich Klose, the foreign policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats.

Still, if Obama becomes president, many Germans are hoping for a political honeymoon that lasts for at least a few months. Veteran diplomats believe there will be a "window of opportunity" that will make new initiatives possible.

But most believe the honeymoon won't last too long, experts agree. "The Germans' hopes are almost excessive," says government coordinator Voigt. "Some trans-Atlantic problems won't simply disappear because Obama is president." Obama, too, he said, would be willing to deploy troops without first getting permission from the United Nations.

"Disappointment with Obama is a foregone conclusion," added the German Marshall Fund's Stelzenmüller.

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