Obama’s Berlin speech follows JFK and Reagan

US President Barack Obama will follow predecessors John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan by making a major speech in Berlin, the White House said Wednesday. He will speak in front of Germany's symbolic Brandenburg Gate on June 19th.

Obama's Berlin speech follows JFK and Reagan
Obama's last Berlin speech attracted 200,000. Photo: DPA

Obama will stand at the former dividing line of East and West Berlin and talk about the “enduring bonds” between the United States and Germany and will laud the transatlantic alliance, a White House statement said.

The US president’s speech will come nearly 50 years to the day after Kennedy’s famed “Ich bin ein Berliner” address delivered from the Schöneberg town hall in then West Berlin, two years after the erection of the Wall.

The Brandenburg Gate itself was the backdrop for another climactic moment in Cold War history, when Reagan famously beseeched then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in 1987. It later became the symbol of German reunification in 1990.

It will not be the first time that Obama will have given a major open-air speech to Germans. In 2008, during his presidential campaign, he addressed an estimated crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin in a major foreign policy speech.

That address was controversial at the time because opponents back home accused him of being presumptuous by giving such a major presidential-style address outside America before he was even elected.

It also caused a flurry in Germany following reports, which were never confirmed, that Obama had asked to speak at the Brandenburg Gate but had been turned down by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the event, Obama gave his address, which called on Americans and Europeans to tear down walls between allies, races and faiths, before the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

Obama recorded a surprise video message played to a crowd at the Brandenburg Gate in 2009, at ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Even in the face of tyranny, people insisted that the world could change,” Obama said.

He will spend two days in Germany this month after attending the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Obama’s visit to Berlin has been long awaited by Germany’s political class. Merkel made a joking reference to the idea of an Obama trip to Berlin at the White House in 2011.

“I can promise that the Brandenburg Gate will still be there,” she said.

Though he is yet to visit Berlin as president, Obama has been to Germany twice before as US leader.

In 2009, he crossed into Baden Baden during the NATO summit hosted by the nearby border cities of Strasbourg and Kehl.

Later in the same year, Obama met Merkel in Dresden, visited the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald and dropped in on wounded US soldiers at a hospital facility in Landstuhl.


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