a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

German blogger series: Barack in Berlin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 27th, 2008

It’s time for another installment of everyone’s favorite transatlantic blogosphere extravaganza — the “” German blogger series, now in our handsome, spacious new web site! This week’s episode — the first in over two years, I regret to say — takes us, of course, to Barack in Berlin. Play the video of the speech, if you like, as you read the reactions. It’s an utterly unscientific sample, of course, but some of the bloggers cited have fairly large readership in Germany.

The various reactions I found are below the fold; the upshot is… well, who knows. Maybe the obvious will do: clearly, it was the political event of the summer in Germany; clearly, there’s quite a lot of good will for Obama and what people hope he stands for in this country. There’s also some wariness and some hostility to the hype, just like here. Make of it what you will, but I think both the crowd and many of the reactions I found bear out that there’s a world out there that would like to be better friends again. That seems like good news, and a deserved plus for Obama.

Speech transcript here. Reactions follow.

Jens Scholz

[…]I thought the speech was good: I like pathos too and there was some of that, especially when he used this preacher’s technique of starting successive sentences the same way (he maybe didn’t need to do that so often). And: no German. Thanks very much, I was really a bit embarrassed by Clinton back then.

There wasn’t much new content. At least for Europeans — world problems are probably more on the front burner for us than for the average American. What I thought was good was his attempt to put all these themes — terrorism, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, global warming, immigration, racism, and so on — on a new basis, one he might have said a little more succinctly, maybe “we’re all in this together.” What he said was nothing less than to say that we’ll only make progress if we rely on a different idealism than the one propagated by the current US government. One that would have ruled out Abu Ghraib or unilateral military actions because one didn’t want to share the conquered oil.

I thought using the Berlin airlift as an organizing principle [Klammer] for the speech was funny. The airlift was only necessary back then because East and West had exacerbated the situation with provocations and power games, and then escalated their conflict on the backs of Berliners. But I understood what he was getting at, and that was OK.

Konstantin Klein — who’s spent some time in the US, in the DC area as a matter of fact — offered no opinion on the speech, but signals his support obliquely, warning that “Obama hasn’t been elected [president] yet… Ashcroft lost against a dead man in 2000 [so] it’s possible that a young charismatic guy can lose to an old bag.”

Nothing, at least so far, from Andreas Schaefer, or from Peter Praschl of le sofa blog. MH (“Instant Nirvana’): “Hey, at least he’s good at looking cool.”

Spreeblick (“Spree view” — the Spree is a river in Berlin) live blogs the speech. He’s funny, but winds up being unimpressed:

[…] 18:10, at the first big screen TVs
Incredible, 80,000 people maybe and not a one who rolls his own cigarettes. I left my rolling paper at home and am looking for anyone who can help: but everyone here is wearing a shirt or a miniskirt and they all look very educated and like they earn correspondingly comfortable salaries and are globally aware and therefore smoke Gauloises or Marlboro or Indian carnation cigarettes (?). On stage “Gentleman”* discovers that he’s not much of a warmup act and directs some warnings at Bush. Shortly thereafter he opines that we, that is Germany, have to prove that we’ve got groove and therefore ought to sing or clap along with him or just kind of sway around or something [mitschunkeln, I don’t know –ed.]. The TV producers have some trouble, but finally find three or four blonde ladies who clap and “schunkel” with a lot of groove. […]

19:12, at the first big screen TVs
OK, where is he?

19:25, at the first big screen TVs
Ah, there he is.

19:32, at the first big screen TVs
No, that’s not him. Obama was exchanged at the last minute for a political science professor who I have to admit looks a lot like him, who will now give a lecture about the role of communists in Berlin. He does flirt, still young at heart, with some of the students in the first row. […] Those who want to pass Professor Doctor Obama’s exam should know one thing: communism bad. And “raisin bomber” [Rosinenbomber, slang at the time for the airlift planes -ed.] is “freedom plane” in English. Which raises the question if it was “French plane” before that.

19:40, at the first big screen TVs
It’s all about tearing down walls, and about America and Europe. [Obama’s] speechwriters seem to really like the rhetorical tricolons. The mood among the adoring throng has cooled off noticeably since the initial enthusiasm, I’m occasionally overcome with shivering myself, having to do with embarrassment for the hapless foreigner [Fremdschaemen]. Pathos drips from the stage, WE fight injustice, WE are responsible for the capture of Serbian war criminals, WE are NATO and so forth. […]

20:00, in the Tiergarten
No one yelled ‘Encore, encore’, which was the good news of the evening. Obama however was not impressive at all, my legs hurt, crowds are making me aggressive and I really need a shower to get all the pathos sprayed from the stage out of my hair. The only impressive thing was Obama’s rejection of nuclear weapons, his strongly expressed wish to have a world without nuclear warheads. Other than that he was conformist, didn’t beat up on Bush, didn’t campaign, and, especially nice: he spoke to us (he really said this) as a “citizen of the world.” One of us. Maybe it’ll be my turn next time.

Now I feel a little dirty, the way you always do when you’ve been used as campaign backdrop. No shining sentence for posterity, quite the opposite. That was probably the weakest speech since Lyndon B. Johnson. We’ll be talking about that.

But not now. Now I need a shower.

Spreepiratin (“The Spree Pirate (f.)”) is also skeptical, and a bit weirded out by the sheer size of the crowd:

200,000 people at Obama’s speech. 200,000 people who pass by me on their way home from America’s new golden child.

I m sitting behind the train station for other reasons and am gaping with amazement (staune). I gape and gape at the smart banker types, the hip middle class, family Mueller from Britz, my neighbors and yours. Gape at the huge numbers of Obama t-shirts, US-flag icons and homemade banners, carried past me by happily smiling masses.

And I ask myself, what is attracting the people. They’re usually so listless. Where were they all for the protest against the Spree media, against health care reform. For the G-8 demonstrations? Protests against data archival? Against dog muzzle regulations for all I care?

Crowned in advance. The guy has charisma, not much of a program, but promises a change. Reason enough to wish him well. But reason enough to forget the TV show and get up from the sofa?

It seems to me the people just want Führer. And somehow I’m really disgusted.

Don Dahlman (“irgendwas ist ja immer” — “it’s always something”) has a couple of items, one a transcript, the second a lengthy reaction deserving a lengthy excerpt:

[…] America — it’s the big brother. I’ve heard it that way since I first went to school. America drove out the Nazis, brought chocolate, rock ‘n roll and Coca Cola. They shot people to the moon, they invented all kinds of stuff that’s important somehow, and they determined the last 60 years at the movies. But then there’s this Doctor Hyde side. Reagan and Bush Junior are two good examples. Sometimes one was surprised what the Yanks (Amis) were up to this time, but that was basically the kind of groan you get when a family member has gone off the deep end once again. You’re mad about it for a little while, but at some point everything’s OK again, and then you’re secretly a little glad about that.

[…] I’m not at all sure if the Berliners wouldn’t have run to Ms. Clinton too. Because it may not really matter to many which Democrat was to be the candidate. It might even have been some Republican, maybe not Schwarzenegger, but someone from the left wing of that party. Main thing: someone who shows that the big brother has come down from his trip of the last years. Main thing: someone comes along and admits the mistakes. Main thing: one can let out the pent-up friendship a bit again.

I think that’s why 200,000 people were there yesterday. Because one hopes that a President Obama would be someone who shuts the door on the yelling of the past years, who ends things, breaks up Guantanamo, gives Iraq a future, takes the completely screwed up financial markets to the woodshed and maybe Homeland Security too while he’s at it. Someone like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who presumably stood for the America that one used to like so much. Open to the world, hospitable, hopeful. I almost suspect that Germans are waiting for Obama to be elected so they can finally take a breath again, because the big brother has come home to his family and one can end the painful schism in the family.

If one isn’t mistaken.

I’m a bit worried that one is expecting a little too much of Barack Obama.

DISCLOSURE to further clarify the nonscientific nature of the sample here: Jens Scholz, Andreas Schaefer, Konstantin Klein, and Peter Praschl are online friends I’ve made over the years; I’ve actually met Klein here in DC once — great guy.
BLEG (=”blog”+”beg”) to any German readers: links to other Obama reactions by German bloggers would be most welcome.

* EDIT, 7/29: A music act of some kind; here’s a link courtesy of Mr. Spreeblick.

6 Responses to “German blogger series: Barack in Berlin”

  1. Jens Says:
    here’s a small collection…

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks very much! Not familiar with FdOG (“Friends of Open Society,” translation)) but I’ll be interested what Mr. Fallenstein came up with. Is he an American living in Germany?

  3. Daniel Fallenstein Says:

    Here’s my take: This is the Moment when… Senator Obama called Germany to join the War – Mit Bildern

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Strictly speaking, of course, Germany already has joined the war, since there are German troops in Afghanistan, and …double-checking… yup, that’s all Obama was talking about. On the other hand, the German govt has limited that deployment to the northern, more peaceful areas, on the other other hand they’re sending another 1000 there as of June.

    But you’re right, Obama asked for more troops, and seems to have got applause, even though Germans tend to oppose that in surveys. Here’s a “Real News Network” piece (“Obama sells Europeans on Afghan War“) pointing out the same thing, though with less approval.

  5. fred Says:

    Thanks a lot for the translation!
    Just a little correction: The warm-up guy was not a gentleman, but Gentleman.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I enjoyed it, great piece. Thanks for the correction, which I’ll make next; should have translated it that way in the first place.

    Now that I’ve read the speech a couple of times myself, I agree that the nuclear disarmament item was really good news. I suppose I’m with Obama in hoping for more active help in Afghanistan, though I also appreciate what Germany is doing already. I distinguish Afghanistan from Iraq; though we’re screwing up in similar ways in both places, Afghanistan was a justifiable and important thing to do. Unlike the Swiss guy in the “Real News Network” piece, I don’t think that conflict will inevitably be lost — at least I hope it won’t be. But I do think marginalizing the Taliban might take some more creative thinking than is customary around here.

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