Obama in Berlin

Just a few pictures for the campaign.


Do you think JFK speech (even he did not say Ich bin ein Berliner in front of Brandenburg Gate) and Ronald Reagan speech (Open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!) were so significant for the history that it was appropriate for the German chancellor Angela Merkel to signal it is not the wise idea from Obama to deliver his speech in front of Brandeburg Gate?


James D. Boys, Assistant Professor of International Political Studies, Richmond, the American International University in London

Obama’s trip to Europe comes at a very different point in time. In 1963 the Cold War was raging and there were real concerns in Europe about America’s commitment to defend the continent against a potential Russian invasion/attack. Kennedy’s visit and speech in Berlin was designed to shore up support for NATO and to reconfirm America’s commitment to their European allies. Reagan’s speech, made in front of the Brandenburg Gate came again at an important point in the Cold War and signalled the beginning of the end of the conflict. Symbolically of course the Gate was closed and the Berlin Wall was in its shadow.

Bill Clinton spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the first term of his presidency, but who remembers that?

Obam’s trip comes at a very different time. He is not the president, but merely a candidate for high office. Neither is the world engaged in such a tumultuous struggle, so it is perhaps correct that the speech be moved, though I am sure his advisers would love the imagery that it would have provided. Ultimately, this is what the trip is about: Shoring up Obama’s foreign policy credentials (not that he really has any) and providing some great images for the campaign to come, between now and November.

Paul Giles, Professor of American Literature, Faculty of English, University of Oxford, Director (2003 – 08), Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

It seems to me that both President Kennedy and President Reagan used thfamous background of the Brandenburg Gate to make important statements at crucial times in Cold War history: Kennedy when he was trying to consolidate West German support for U.S. occupation during the 1960s, Reagan when he was trying to bring the Cold War to an end.  There is no doubt that Barack Obama is attempting to affiliate himself iconically with these historic presidents, and I think the German chancellor is right to point out that since this is primarily an election rally, it would best be held somewhere else.  Though he is trying to present himself as a statesman, Obama is still only a presidential candidate.  As always with American politics, the key thing with this event is not so much what Obama says but the form and manner in which he says it.

Mark White, Professor, Department of Hisrory, Queen Mary University London

What I would say about the significance of the two speeches you mention is the following: With Reagan’s, the fact that the Wall did come down shortly after his presidency gave his speech an after-the-fact resonance in the sense that it seemed to anticipate what could happen during the Gorbachev era.  With Kennedy’s, the speech did not have a direct importance in the key events regarding Berlin in the 1960s.  The key episode had already taken place in 1961 — the Berlin crisis of that year and the building of the Wall.  However, the reaction from Berliners to his speech showed the ability Kennedy had to inspire, outside the United States as well as in it.  And it also showed the gratitude felt by many Berliners to the fact that Kennedy had stood up to Khrushchev in 1961 to ensure that West Berlin remained beyond Soviet control.


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