Berlin steps up security for Obama visit | News | DW | 18.06.2013
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Berlin steps up security for Obama visit

A huge security operation has been mounted in Berlin as the city welcomes US President Barack Obama. It's his first visit to the German capital since initially taking office in 2009.

During his visit to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, US President Barack Obama joked about the scale of security operations that always surround him. No less than eight US military helicopters carried his entourage into the center of Belfast.

"As our daughters pointed out as we were driving in, I cause a big fuss wherever I go," he said in a speech. The size of the security footprint surrounding the president was apparent in Berlin immediately ahead of his arrival.

Obama landed aboard Air Force One on Tuesday evening at Berlin's Tegel Airport accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters. The family were greeted by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, before being taken to the Ritz-Carlton hotel. No official engagements have been planned for the rest of the day, with Obama scheduled to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

The climax of Obama's Germany visit is planned for Wednesday afternoon, when the president is scheduled to give an open-air speech on the Pariser Platz, the city square near the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

A platform and grandstands have been erected on the square, partially fronted by the US embassy, with all 6,000 guests having been carefully vetted. The security operation being mounted by German police involves some 8,000 officers.

"The President of the United States is subject to the highest possible threat level," Berlin police spokesman Alexander Tönnes told DWTV. "That means, even if we don't have any concrete intelligence, we have to be prepared for someone trying to disturb his visit or perhaps even worse. We want to prevent that, which means we have to take systematic and comprehensive measures."

Protests took place in the capital ahead of the visit, with demonstrators voicing particular concern about both drone attacks and US global electronic surveillance programs.

Previous visits, previous presidents

The speech comes almost 50 years to the day after the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" address of Obama's predecessor John F. Kennedy, two years after the erection of the Berlin Wall. The Gate itself was the scene of another momentous Cold War moment, when President Ronald Reagan called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

The visit is Obama's first to the German capital in the four and a half years since he became president.

Obama last visited Berlin as the Democratic Party candidate in 2008. In two visits to Germany as president, Obama attended a NATO summit in the French-German border towns of Kehl and Strasbourg, traveling to the southwestern town of Baden Baden as part of his itinerary. Later that year he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the eastern city of Dresden, also visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp.

rc/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)