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Obama to speak in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent   |   July 10, 2008 at 9:49 AM
BERLIN, July 10 (UPI) -- Sen. Barack Obama has planned a campaign stop in Europe and wants to speak in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Some German officials are not too excited, given the security challenges such an event would pose.

The green light came Tuesday: Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, decided Obama would be allowed to speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate on July 24, if he indeed wished to do so. The Brandenburg Gate certainly is a special venue: It was here in 1987 that U.S. President Ronald Reagan called upon the Soviet Union's last communist leader: "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Two years later, the Berlin Wall indeed fell, and Reagan has had a special place in the heart of Berliners ever since.

The decision to receive Obama was preceded by some differences between Wowereit and the German government, which welcomed Obama's visit but had reservations about his plans to speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Germany's most famous landmark.

Only presidents and prime ministers have spoken here, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has only "limited understanding" that the history-laden venue is being used for campaigning, a government spokesman said Wednesday. And, careful to avoid taking sides, the German government made it very clear that Sen. John McCain would be equally welcome.

The biggest challenge to the venue is providing security, however.

The space west of the gate, which in the past has been used to host public viewing events during soccer tournaments, is easier to secure, but already booked for July 24. Here, Germany will send its athletes off to the Beijing Olympics.

This leaves as a speaking venue only the Pariser Platz, on the eastern side of the gate. It's a space confined by many buildings, and it's a popular tourist destination, so it can't be closed off days in advance. The Secret Service is already checking its security options, the online version of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said.

The Pariser Platz venue would be one with historical significance: During the Cold War the square was part of the death strip behind the Berlin Wall; it has been beautifully reconstructed over the past 15 years, with the latest addition being the new $143 million U.S. Embassy, which opened on Independence Day.

"The setting would be great," an unidentified Obama adviser told Spiegel Online, adding he hoped to see images of 100,000 cheering Germans. That, of course, reminds one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who in 1963 won the hearts of Germans with a passionate speech in Berlin's Schoeneberg district.

"The memory of John F. Kennedy's appearance is still very much alive," the adviser was quoted as saying. "Berlin is a bridge between East and West, and German-American ties are very strong."

Obama is expected to deliver a speech on trans-Atlantic relations, which have had few ups and lots of downs during President George W. Bush's eight years in office.

"The senator during the campaign has often been criticized for not showing sufficient interest in Europe," the adviser told Spiegel Online. "This visit is an answer to the criticism, and for this reason he will address this theme."

To Europeans, Obama represents the hope for a new America -- one that listens to Europe's concerns, and one that banks on multilateralism. In that respect, the senator from Illinois is more popular in Europe (he would score 72 percent of the votes, according to a recent poll) than his conservative rival. And that's notwithstanding the fact that McCain is the real Europe expert: He has traveled to Europe repeatedly over the past years and is an expert on several European security issues.

Obama fans flocking to Berlin will have to expect some tough words from the presidential candidate: The senator will likely call on Europe to take on additional responsibilities in Afghanistan, maybe even in Iraq.

Obama won't stay long in Berlin; on July 25, at the latest, he is expected to continue his journey to Israel and Jordan, as well as -- and this is much more important for Obama's campaign -- to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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