Obama in Germany Open Arms for the German Chancellor

Prior to US President Barack Obama's trip to Dresden this week, his allegedly tense relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel had filled the headlines. But on Friday, the two were all smiles. And Obama had a message to the gathered journalists: 'Stop it!'

The elderly woman in the red fleece jacket was, for a moment, disgusted. "What?" she demanded. "That was it? He's already gone?" It was shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning and the woman had just arrived at the Altmarkt square in Dresden's city center, where a band was playing "Copacabana" on a stage decorated with red, white and blue balloons. The woman was standing in front of a huge television screen that the city had mounted for the occasion, and it was showing images of the US president on the steps leading up to Air Force One. He waved quickly and disappeared into the aircraft.

Seconds later, though, came the all-clear. The images were from an archive video from an earlier state visit. Barack Obama's visit to Dresden was indeed brief, but he didn't take off quite as quickly as the woman had feared. Indeed, as a few dozen people were assembling in central Dresden for the city's Obama party on the cool Friday morning, the president wasn't far away, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the city's famous Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault). The building houses the exquisite Baroque collection of August the Strong, who died in 1733, but Obama didn't spend much time admiring the artwork. Following an hour of talks, the two immediately moved on to the city palace for a press conference.

There, too, an "all-clear" was on display, at least when it comes to the alleged difficulties in US-German relations. But it took awhile. At first, they stood stiffly together on the podium, each listing off the topics they had just finished discussing in private. Merkel praised Obama's Thursday speech in Cairo as "meaningful" and Obama urged progress on the Middle East peace process. They said they wanted to cooperate on issues such as Iran, the economic crisis and global warming. Merkel dutifully proclaimed that eastern Germans were overjoyed by Obama's visit. The president replied by saying how beautiful Dresden is despite its difficult 20th century history. He also added that he values Merkel's clarity and intelligent analysis.

The exchange was more cordial than convivial.

But then, a journalist asked whether there was anything to reports of tension  between the German chancellor and the American president -- accounts that have been fanned by Obama's decision not to visit the German capital Berlin on this trip.

A 24-Hour Day

Obama was quick to take the floor. Referring to the reports, he said "they are … based on no facts. The truth of the matter is, is that the relationship not only between our two countries but our two governments is outstanding." He said that the itinerary of his trip to Germany was determined in large part by the logistical challenges of trying to pack everything into a 24-hour day.

"So stop it, all of you," he said, to laughter. "I know you have to find something to report on, but we have more than enough problems out there without manufacturing" more.

Merkel smiled in satisfaction, and then offered her own response to the question. "Allow me, if I may, to say that it's fun to work together with the American president." She said she values the analytical nature of their discussions and she that she "very much look(s) forward to … future cooperation."

As if to underline the message, a discussion has begun regarding Obama's possible attendance at November celebrations in the German capital to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The invitation has been issued, but Obama has not yet accepted. Any deepening of the US-Germany relationship will likely have to wait until after the German general elections in September.

Neither Merkel nor Obama, of course, offered many details on how ties might be deepened. Merkel promised cooperation when it comes to the US desire that Germany accept some prisoners due to be released from Guantanamo -- though her own interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has vehemently opposed the idea. Obama insisted that "we have not asked (Merkel) for hard commitments and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion as to whether there are ways that we can solve this problem."

'All the Hard Work'

Guantanamo, however, isn't the only issue where the US would like to see more German and European engagement. Pakistan and Afghanistan have likewise proven a challenge, but the two leaders mentioned them only in passing on Friday. We have to "maintain that commitment," is all Obama said.

As a result, another topic defined the discussions and, in particular, the questions from US journalists -- Obama's Cairo address and the Middle East peace process. "Yesterday was just one speech," the president said. "It doesn't replace all the hard work that's going to have to be done." In the coming weeks, George Mitchell, his Middle East envoy, will travel to the region again. Merkel offered Germany's help during the next steps because of the country's special relationship to Israel and its commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.

After a short detour to the Frauenkirche -- Dresden's famous Church of Our Lady -- Obama retreated to his hotel room for interviews with US media. One of the topics was the 65th anniversary of the invasion of American troops in Normandy, where Obama will be attending festivities this weekend. A commemoration of the "Greatest Generation" -- US veterans of World War II -- is a visit aimed at Obama's audience back home just as much as this afternoon's trip to the Buchenwald concentration camp  memorial.

The pictures from Dresden are hardly as compelling. At the edge of the secured zone, a few hundred tourists and locals attended an "Obama Welcome Party." They watched the press conference on a big screen but Barack Obama himself remained hidden from their view as a result of the police barriers.

Long Gone

At the Altmarkt square, people made do with a cardboard cut-out version of the president instead. They stood in line at the Sächsische Zeitung newspaper stand waiting to be photographed with the life-sized Obama figure. For 50 cents, the photograph was printed as a faux front-page story on a "special edition" of the paper. The headline: "Obama in Dresden -- I was there."

But a few meters away, on the square in front of the Frauenkirche, there finally was a chance for the city's prominent guests to mingle with the crowds. Obama, however, was not the one to seek out the spectators. The president entered the reconstructed church through a back entrance and he left the same way. He was long gone in his limousine when a woman approached the security barrier and beamingly shook extended hands.

It was Angela Merkel.

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.