The countdown has begun. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the White House, is coming to Berlin on Thursday, and already, the German press has kicked off a week of what is likely to be more or less constant coverage and analysis. And there is likely to be a certain amount of fawning as well.
Germans have fallen in love with the man many in Europe have come to see as the anti-Bush -- the man who many hope will steer America back toward the path of peace, love and happiness. Almost three-quarters of Germans would vote for Obama were they given the opportunity to do so; in France, that number approaches 90 percent. Berlin authorities are expecting tens of thousands -- maybe even hundreds of thousands -- for his appearance later this week.
Originally, Barack Obama had hoped to speak in Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate. That idea, however, was torpedoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's doubts about turning the place -- where both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton spoke -- into a stage for a campaign rally. Instead, Obama will appear in front of the "Siegessäule" -- the Victory Column -- down the street from the Brandenburg Gate.
That site too has been criticized. The Victory Column commemorates three Prussian war victories in the second half of the 19th century -- over Denmark, Austria and France. It was also moved to its present site by the Nazis to make way for the construction of the never realized über-capital "Germania."
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."
German dailies on Monday take a closer look at the Obama phenomenon and coming visit to the German capital.
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday writes:
"The team of American presidential candidate Barack Obama had hardly settled on a new site for his planned open-air address before new concerns were voiced. The Victory Column, some have reminded us, was not built to commemorate a silver medal won by the national women's football team rather it was for a military victory over France. There are cannons on it! Prussian militarism!"
"When it came to the Brandenburg Gate, which also wasn't built merely as a rain shelter, nobody said anything about militarism. That site, on the other hand, was seen by CDU politicians as being too prominent for an American who is just a candidate. One should think about who one pushes around -- one could see him again."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Hardly a debate (in Berlin) is complete without a reference to its historical meaning The US senator and US Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama isn't allowed to speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate but is given a stage at the Victory Column. But because the monument is decorated with cannons stolen from Prussia's enemies during 19th century wars, and because Adolf Hitler moved the column from its earlier home in front of the Reichstag (Germany's parliament building) to its present-day site, new questions of meaning are raised. It is sobering to realize, however, that the debate over the historical meaning of a place is seen as more relevant than the meaning of the event itself."
"One shouldn't forget that the campaigner Obama simply wants to hold a major foreign policy speech for the benefit of his voters in America and wants a fitting backdrop. Nothing more. It isn't the place that creates dignity, rather that which happens at the place."
The financial daily Handelsblatt apparently agrees, and looks at what Berlin might expect from Obama's speech.
"With the speech at the Siegessäule on Thursday, a new phase is beginning. And there are a number of signs pointing to the fact that those pleasantly anticipating an Obama presidency might not be quite as euphoric should he get elected. The reasons are clear: Obama's superstar status in Germany is based primarily on two factors. One is the fact that he is not George W. Bush . The second is that Obama has remained quite vague until now: Everyone can see in him what he or she wants. But now the senator from Illinois is beginning to mold a concrete foreign policy."
"Soon, it will be clear what "change" really means. Obama wants to withdraw from Iraq but at the same time he wants to bolster troops in Afghanistan. That increase shouldn't just come from the Americans, but from the Europeans as well."
The paper writes that his speech in Berlin isn't just meant for the American voters. His choosing the German capital for the speech "sends a clear message, even if the charismatic politician has opted for a subtle delivery: 'Dear Europeans, dear Germans, should I be elected, I am going to take you at your word. More international cooperation means more European engagement in crisis regions.' Obama, should he become the superpower's next president, will not suddenly transform into a dove. He too will use the US military to reach his political goals."
-- Charles Hawley; 11:15 a.m. CET