BERLIN, July 24 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama in a major speech in Germany urged Europe to stand closer by America's side to win the war in Afghanistan and help solve security issues around the world.
Were the Rolling Stones giving a free concert in downtown Berlin? That was the feeling one had when approaching Berlin's Victory Column, in front of which crowded some 100,000 Germans, many of them teenage girls, who had rushed there hours in advance to see -- yes, believe it or not -- a politician from a foreign country.
The city had been awash in Obamania for days, and when the senator from Illinois finally took the stage, beaming, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause, and, of course, the "Yes, we can" shouts rang out.
Criticized at home for what may be a lack of expertise in European security issues and military matters, Obama played the tune that Europeans wanted to hear most desperately -- a United States that banks on cooperation and takes the old continent seriously.
Europe and the United States should join forces to "defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it," just as both powers defeated communism, Obama said. Sources inside the United States are not taking Europe seriously, he said, and that was a big mistake. "America has no better partner than Europe. ... Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe."
Of course, Germany is easy ground for Obama: His approval ratings here are anywhere between 66 percent and 91 percent, and his speech, which included references to Berlin's difficult past as a city in the center of the Cold War mind battlefield, will win him some new fans.
"This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom," he said, speaking not far from where a wall once divided the city and the country. Yet the history of Berlin, which managed to overcome a Russian blockade with the help of a huge U.S. airlift and finally brought down its own wall, proved "there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."
Obama drew loud cheers from the crowd when he called for a world without nuclear weapons, but he got less enthusiastic responses when he urged Germany to do more in Afghanistan and Iraq -- a request that had been widely anticipated.
When it comes to fighting terrorism, defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and keeping rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States and Europe have a "shared destiny," Obama said. The Western powers should also share the "sacrifice," the senator added, a clear reference to the additional responsibility Washington wants Germany and other allies to take in Afghanistan over the coming years, where the bloody burden of fighting the Taliban is shouldered mainly by U.S., British and Dutch troops. He warned Germans, who overwhelmingly despise U.S. President George W. Bush, placing all their hopes in Obama, that "the change of leadership will not take away this burden."
"We must renew the resolve to rout the terrorists in Afghanistan," he added. "For our shared security, the work must be done. … The Afghan people need our troops and your troops."
Noting America's past mistakes as well as his love for the ideals the country stands for, Obama called for global reconciliation, which sparked cheers and thunderous applause from the crowd at the Victory Column.
"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," he said. "The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand," he said.
Obama also delivered a strong pledge to reduce America's carbon dioxide footprint and join countries like Germany in an effort to stop global warming. "We must come together to save this planet," he said.
Before his speech, Obama had come together for an hour each with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Chancellery and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Foreign Ministry.
Merkel and Obama had a "very open and deeply reaching conversation," with topics ranging from NATO missions, climate protection, global trade and, of course, trans-Atlantic relations.
After his meeting with Obama, Steinmeier said he recognized the senator shared his political philosophy of "cooperation instead of confrontation" and praised the atmosphere of the talk as "open and trustful."
Security was extremely tight for the visit: Nearly 1,000 German police officers provided security, as did the large Secret Service team that arrived in Berlin with the presidential candidate.
Several incidents alarmed officials both before and during the trip. On Thursday, a taxi driver delivered a suspicious package to Berlin's posh Adlon Hotel, where Obama is staying. Security authorities decided to evacuate the building and sent in a team of explosives experts and bomb-sniffing dogs, but later said the package contained books, not bombs. A few hours earlier, shortly after Obama's plane had touched down at Berlin-Tegel Airport, an unknown individual had called airport authorities and threatened to detonate a bomb, which also turned out to be a hoax.
On Friday, Obama will travel to Paris to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy before wrapping up his tour in London by visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor, the Middle East envoy Tony Blair. But the reception the senator got in Berlin likely won't be repeated.