He asked for the continent’s help in stabilizing Afghanistan, preventing nuclear proliferation and slowing global warming. It was a dose of hard reality about the demands he would make as president amid a 25-minute speech on Thursday that otherwise celebrated the opportunity of a rekindled relationship.
“In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more — not less,” Obama said. “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the only way, the only way to protect our common security and advance our common humanity. That is why the greatest danger to all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.”
Obama started the speech with an unlikely premise, suggesting that his words be considered not as those of a candidate for president, but as “a fellow citizen of the world.” He did not say the word “president” again, and he avoided mentioning President Bush and his Republican challenger, John McCain, by name.
Yet the message of the event was unmistakable: As president, he would be different from them.
“If we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart and forgotten our shared destiny,” Obama said. “In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future.”
“Both views miss the truth,” he added.
He used imagery and words that evoked Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who both traveled to this city at critical junctures in American history and gave memorable speeches. He linked the challenges of the Cold War, which came to define Berlin, to modern threats such as terrorism, human rights abuses and poverty.
In a sign of the resistance he could face as president, Obama drew more applause for his call to end genocide in Darfur than for his plea that Europe commit more resources to the war in Afghanistan.
“People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment,” Obama said. “This is our time.”
Obama spoke before of a crowd of more than 200,000 — larger than any he has attracted in the United States — that stretched from the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate, where Reagan called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and end the Cold War. At pains to cast the speech as something other than a campaign rally on foreign soil, Obama entered and exited the stage without music or fanfare, giving the event a certain abruptness.
Beyond the stage, however, the day carried the usual trappings of an American campaign event, but with a European flair.
The food tents served German beer. Some attendees wore T-shirts that read “Global Tsunami for Change” but waved small American flags. German TV anchors went live from ersatz studios erected on media risers packed with foreign journalists.
The country got swept up in the visit from the moment it was announced. Crowds began gathering outside the Obama’s hotel after he arrived Thursday morning, and they remained throughout the day. German TV networks broadcast the speech live. Newspapers compared Obama to President John F. Kennedy.
“The savior is coming,” a German journalist said sardonically as Obama was introduced.
Kathrin Grabener, the news desk chief for RTL Television, said her station fielded complaints Thursday from viewers who took issue with its journalists for simply pinting out the Obama was not yet president.
“Viewers were protesting: ‘How can you say he might become the president? He is the president.’ They already think he is the president,” Grabener said. “We called it ‘Obamamania’ on our program today.”
The McCain campaign, meanwhile, sought to capitalize on criticism in some quarters that Obama was getting ahead of himself — and perhaps audacious for picking a grand stage in a foreign country.
“While Barack Obama took a premature victory lap today in the heart of Berlin, proclaiming himself a ‘citizen of the world,’ John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election,” McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. “Barack Obama offered eloquent praise for this country, but the contrast is clear. John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America. Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it.”
Obama aides have defended the scope and the setting of the event, saying he could not give a speech directed at the public without inviting the public.
And Obama himself sought to challenge an American aversion, which loomed large in the 2004 presidential election, to all things European.
“True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice,” he said. “They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy, of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.”
“That is why America cannot turn inward,” he added. “That is why Europe cannot turn inward.”