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Germany

Obama's Berlin Speech Plans Get Mixed Reaction in Germany

US presidential contender Barack Obama is expected to hold a rally in the German capital in late July. Berliners are thrilled, but Germany's leader feels a little uneasy about the candidate's election campaign event.

Obama balloons in front ot the Brandenburg Gate

Merkel thinks it's a "bit odd" that Obama wants to speak at the Brandenburg Gate

A spokesman for conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she had "limited understanding" for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate's interest in holding a major policy speech in front of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate during his visit at the end of the month.

Merkel, wearing an orange jacket, with European leaders posing in front of the Brandenburg Gate during an EU summit

Merkel (center) thinks the gate should be reserved for elected leaders

"It is unusual to hold election rallies abroad," he said. "No German candidate for high office would even think of using the National Mall (in Washington) or Red Square in Moscow for a rally because it would not be seen as appropriate."

Members of Obama's team have confirmed that he will visit Berlin on July 24 as part of a European and Middle Eastern tour that will also take him to France, Britain, Israel and Jordan.

They said that he plans to give a speech in the German capital. While Obama has reportedly not yet made a decision on where his appearance will take place, Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German reunification, has largely been pegged as the most likely spot.

Obama "…will choose (a site) that makes most sense for him and his German hosts," the senator's spokesman told reporters, adding that Obama was looking forward to the opportunity to meet Merkel.

Steinmeier welcomes Obama

In sharp contrast to Merkel's views on a stage for Obama's speech, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, welcomed the idea.

Steinmer and Merkel with an empty chair between them

Steinmeier and Merkel aren't particularly close

"The Americans contributed decisively to saving the city of Berlin; that is why we should make historic sites such as the Brandenburg Gate available to them," Steinmeier, who has a history of clashing with Merkel, told Frankfurter Rundschau daily.

"If Barack Obama decides to take a trip to Europe and to visit Berlin as well as Britain and France then we should warmly welcome it," he said. "We should see his desire to visit as a sign of the importance that trans-Atlantic ties have for him -- and react positively."

Steinmeier's spokesman said that presumptive Republican candidate John McCain would also be welcome to speak at the gate should he choose to do so.

Berlin city officials have meanwhile expressed their willingness to let Obama use the gate as a backdrop for his speech.

"I would be happy to if Barack Obama uses Berlin as a platform to give a major policy speech," Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, a Social Democrat, told Berliner Zeitung daily. He added that his city government would support the visit, but not organize it.

Presidential gate

Reagan waving with the Brandenburg Gate in the background

Reagan spoke at the gate on June 12, 1987

The Brandenburg Gate has been used for American presidents before. In 1987, then US President Ronald Reagan mad a famous appearance in front of the landmark, which was still cut off by the wall at that time. In his speech, Reagan called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

Former US President Bill Clinton also appeared at the gate in 1994, ending his speech with the words "Berlin ist frei," or "Berlin is free."

The last former US president to speak in front of the gate was George Bush, Sr., who inaugurated the new US embassy, which sits next to the gate, on July 4, 2008.

US President John F. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech on the other hand took place at Schoeneberg city hall, which was the seat of the Berlin mayor before the reunification of the city.

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