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Barack in Berlin: Is Obama Speech Site Contaminated by Nazi Past?

Finally, Barack Obama's campaign has settled on a site for his Berlin speech. But some German politicians have now criticized his choice as being one full of Nazi-related symbolism.

Finally, it's official. Barack Obama, when he arrives in Berlin on July 24, will hold his speech at the Siegessäule monument in the heart of the city, according to an announcement made by his campaign office in Chicago on Sunday. In his speech, he will speak about the "historic US-German partnership" and about the importance of strengthening trans-Atlantic relations, according to his campaign team.

Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama will speak at the Siegessäule (right) on Thursday.
AFP / DDP

Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama will speak at the Siegessäule (right) on Thursday.

The exact location of Obama's speech had become a matter of intense speculation in Berlin after his campaign team originally suggested an appearance at the Brandenburg Gate. Many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, questioned whether the site -- where Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both spoke when they were in the White House -- was appropriate for a candidate. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who is a major figure in Germany's Social Democrats, was in favor of the Brandenburg Gate site and the Obama visit quickly became yet another excuse for German politicians to fire off barbs at each other.

The Siegessäule is located about a kilometer down the Strasse des 17. Juni from the Brandenburg Gate. His speech is set to begin at 7 p.m. and Berlin is expecting a massive number of Obama fans to show up -- between 10,000 and a million according to one city official quoted in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

Still, even as the issue of his speech's location has now been settled, a number of politicians in Berlin are still dissatisfied with the site. The Siegessäule -- or Victory Column -- was erected in memory of Prussia's victories over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/71). The column originally stood in front of the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building, but was moved by Adolf Hitler to its current location in 1939 to make way for his planned transformation of Berlin into the Nazi capital "Germania."

"The Siegessäule in Berlin was moved to where it is now by Adolf Hitler. He saw it as a symbol of German superiority and of the victorious wars against Denmark, Austria and France," the deputy leader of the Free Democrats, Rainer Brüderle, told Bild am Sonntag. He raised the question as to "whether Barack Obama was advised correctly in his choice of the Siegessäule as the site to hold a speech on his vision for a more cooperative world."

Andreas Schockenhoff of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats said, "the Siegessäule in Berlin is dedicated to a victory over neighbors who are today our European friends and allies. It is a problematic symbol."

Obama's stop in Berlin is part of a week-long trip which took him to Afghanistan on Saturday and Sunday. He is expected to travel to Iraq next before heading to Jordan, Israel, Germany and Great Britain. His trip to Baghdad was preceded by comments by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a SPIEGEL interview apparently supporting Obama's timeline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

cgh/dpa/ddp/reuters

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