Obama speech causing controversy in Germany

SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate after declaring “ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963. Ronald Reagan stood at the gate in 1987 and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Following in the footsteps of two U.S. presidents whose images he often evokes, Barack Obama is planning a ...

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594144_080709_brandenburg5.jpg
BERLIN - MAY 26: Visitors walk through the Brandenburg Gate May 26, 2005 in Berlin, Germany. The Brandenburg Gate is among the city's major landmarks. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images

John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate after declaring "ich bin ein Berliner" in 1963. Ronald Reagan stood at the gate in 1987 and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

Following in the footsteps of two U.S. presidents whose images he often evokes, Barack Obama is planning a speech of his own there, too. But the address, planned for July 24, has apparently caused a stir between local authorities and the German government.

SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images

John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate after declaring “ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963. Ronald Reagan stood at the gate in 1987 and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Following in the footsteps of two U.S. presidents whose images he often evokes, Barack Obama is planning a speech of his own there, too. But the address, planned for July 24, has apparently caused a stir between local authorities and the German government.

The decision is formally up to Berlin’s mayor, who reportedly has given Obama his stamp of approval to speak at the gate. Advisers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel worry, however, that allowing the speech there would be seen as a formal endorsement of Obama by the German government:

The Brandenburg Gate is the best known and most historically significant site in Germany,” said a Chancellery official, explaining why until now only elected presidents have been allowed to perform there.

A spokesman for Merkel this morning said the speech would be
“inappropriate” and referred to it as “electioneering.” More German politicians are also weighing in on the address, with the head of the German Liberal Democratic Party stating his support of the speech, while the head of the German Greens has voiced his skepticism.

Obama is tremendously popular in Germany, enjoying the support of 72 percent of the population. The Berlin address is expected to be Obama’s only public speech during a trip that includes visits to England, France, Israel, and Jordan and is designed to shore up the candidate’s foreign-policy credentials.

What will Obama say during the speech? Some expect he will spell out a new vision for U.S-European relations. But I like blogger Lynn Sweet’s prediction best: “Ich bin ein Obama.”

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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