Video: The Iconic Brandenburg Speeches Obama Must Live Up To

Back in 2008, Barack Obama’s rollicking overseas tour hit a snag. The Democratic presidential candidate, James Mann later wrote in The Obamians, wanted to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that would showcase his widespread popularity in Europe and capacity to rehabilitate America’s reputation abroad. But Randy Scheunemann, John McCain’s foreign policy ...

MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images
MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images
MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2008, Barack Obama's rollicking overseas tour hit a snag. The Democratic presidential candidate, James Mann later wrote in The Obamians, wanted to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that would showcase his widespread popularity in Europe and capacity to rehabilitate America's reputation abroad. But Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's foreign policy advisor, was having none of it. He quickly lodged a complaint with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's staff.

"He questioned why the German government was allowing its most revered symbol, the Brandenburg Gate, to be used for one of the two major-party candidates in an American political campaign," Mann noted. "Merkel apparently agreed with this argument; she soon made clear in public her disapproval." Obama got the message, and spoke before 200,000 ecstatic Germans at the city's Tiergarten instead.

On Wednesday, Obama finally gets his chance to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, where he will reportedly call for the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles by a third. But delivering an address from the famous gate, which dates back to the 18th century and has come to symbolize Germany's Cold War division and reunification, is no easy task. Not only has the monument witnessed pivotal moments such as the 1989 meeting of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, but it has also played host to two landmark speeches by U.S. presidents. 

Back in 2008, Barack Obama’s rollicking overseas tour hit a snag. The Democratic presidential candidate, James Mann later wrote in The Obamians, wanted to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that would showcase his widespread popularity in Europe and capacity to rehabilitate America’s reputation abroad. But Randy Scheunemann, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor, was having none of it. He quickly lodged a complaint with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staff.

"He questioned why the German government was allowing its most revered symbol, the Brandenburg Gate, to be used for one of the two major-party candidates in an American political campaign," Mann noted. "Merkel apparently agreed with this argument; she soon made clear in public her disapproval." Obama got the message, and spoke before 200,000 ecstatic Germans at the city’s Tiergarten instead.

On Wednesday, Obama finally gets his chance to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, where he will reportedly call for the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles by a third. But delivering an address from the famous gate, which dates back to the 18th century and has come to symbolize Germany’s Cold War division and reunification, is no easy task. Not only has the monument witnessed pivotal moments such as the 1989 meeting of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, but it has also played host to two landmark speeches by U.S. presidents. 

Here’s a look back at how Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton left their mark on Brandenburg.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan famously implored Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" (11 minutes into the video). Reagan also broke into German, a virtual requirement for U.S. presidents speaking in Berlin following John F. Kennedy’s iconic "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in 1963, delivered in front of the West Berlin mayor’s office. 

In 1994, five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bill Clinton memorably proclaimed "Berlin is free" (9 minutes into the clip).

No pressure today, Mr. President. 

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.

Russia’s Defeat Would Be America’s Problem

Victory in Ukraine could easily mean hubris in Washington.

Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.
Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.

Russia’s Stripped Its Western Borders to Feed the Fight in Ukraine

But Finland and the Baltic states are still leery of Moscow’s long-term designs.

Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.
Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.

Europe’s Energy Crisis Is Destroying the Multipolar World

The EU and Russia are losing their competitive edge. That leaves the United States and China to duke it out.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.

With Winter Coming, Europe Is Walking Off a Cliff

Europeans won’t escape their energy crisis as long as ideology trumps basic math.