Berlin has been getting ready for Obama. The second-term US president will give a speech in the symbolic city on Wednesday.
Barack Obama is still popular with Berliners, but not with the same rapture as in 2008, before his historic first entry into the White House. Then, Obama said: “This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom.”
Berlin has been inspiring American presidents for 50 years.
Kennedy declared US support for democratic West Germany two years after the Eastern Bloc Communists isolated West Berlin by land by building the Wall. His words rang around the world.
Kennedy said: “As a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”
Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, and a former vice-presidential adviser, told euronews correspondent Stefan Grobe: “Absolute jubilation, it was brilliant. I can’t think of another visit by any American president anywhere that had that kind of immediate emotional impact. It was fantastic.”
Haltzel contrasted Kennedy’s oratory with Reagan’s speech shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 20 years later, when he demanded his counterpart in Moscow prove he was sincere about perestroika.
In 1987, Reagan said: “Mister Gorbachov, open this gate.”
Haltzel said: “I think this was a very important speech and I think a welcome speech. And I don’t think the reaction that President Reagan got in Berlin at that time is remotely comparable to the reaction John Kennedy got in ’63, but it was a different time.”
Clinton and Chancellor Kohl strolled through the Brandenburg Gate in 1994 once Germany’s eastern and western halves had again become one country, after the Iron Curtain no longer divided Europe.
Clinton said: “Nothing will stop us; all things are possible: nichts wird uns aufhalten, alles is möglich, Berlin ist frei! Berlin is free!”
Haltzel said: “It was the right thing to say at the time. It was a few years after German reunification. I think he was praising normality – which is always a good thing. But I don’t think it compares either with the ’63 speech by Kennedy or the ’87 speech by Reagan.”