Berlin police Thursday prepared for a crowd of a million expected to turn up to hear Barack Obama’s speech. While they felt fit to fend off unfriendly behavior, German enthusiasm for the US senator kept them guessing.
Bunches of air balloons bearing the image of Barrack Obama have been pinned to the lampposts along the June 17 boulevard. The lawn in the neighboring Tiergarten park has been freshly mowed, and two giant video screens have been set up to give latecomers a chance to catch a glimpse of the political superstar.
"It was not an easy task to match our security concerns with Obama's wish for an open event where people can enjoy freedom of movement," said Berlin police spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski. Therefore, maximum security precautions are only taken within a circle of 250 meters (820 feet) around the Victory Column – the venue of Barack Obama's speech. This area is fenced off and people are not allowed to carry large bags and posters.
Change – Yes he can
Police advised that spectators seeking to get close to the Democratic senator had to arrive at least three hours early. Yet, while waiting they can indulge in pizza, bratwurst and beverages in one of the two dozen fast-food stalls lining the two-mile long boulevard. There are also life performances of German pop band Reamonn and Reggea singer Patrice.
"Obama stands for a new era in politics," he said. "He is someone who can change the world."
Stefan Schiller, a Berliner who watched the senator's motorcade drive by on this Thursday morning, hopes that Barrack Obama is able to put German-American relations on a better footing. His wife, Doris, agreed.
"It was really sad to see how President Bush has fueled anti-American sentiments with his policy," she said. "We have so much to thank Americans for in this city."
Berlin – a city that matters for US policy
Barrack Obama's speech in Berlin is the only public address during his current tour of European countries. Observers say no other place on the continent has greater significance for American policy in Europe.
It was here where the United States and its World War Two allies defeated Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, and where allied airplanes led by the United States rescued millions of Berliners from starvation during the Cold War Soviet blockade in 1948.
In the Footsteps of JFK
Will Obama capture Berliners like JFK?
Germany's leading mass circulation Bild newspaper last week already compared Obama's Berlin trip to a visit made by late US president John F. Kennedy in 1963. At the time JFK plunged the city into a similar frenzy by proclaiming "Ich bin ein Berliner" or "I'm a Berliner." He made this statement to assure Berliner's of America's unflinching support after communist East Berlin had built the Berlin Wall shortly before.
John Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, warned the Democrat senator against using the German language for rhetoric stunts.
"I strongly advice him not to even try and do that," Kornblum said on Thursday on German television. "It's too difficult to find the right message in our times. After all, Berlin is no longer a beleaguered city."
Some 67 percent of Germans want Barrack Obama to become the next US president, a recent opinion poll said. They say he represents change both in transatlantic relations and in world politics. A majority of Germans could even fancy him being chancellor of Germany.
Robert Powell, an American who lives in Berlin said Obama had qualities that made it easier for him to get along with foreigners.
"He spent parts of his childhood in Indonesia, and there he has learned to adapt to people with different backgrounds," he said.