The Obamafest in Berlin

Sorry for the delay, but some tummy bug prevented me from writing anything about the Obama visit in Berlin. Anyway, in case someone still cares, here're my impressions: From The Times

And so the Child told his disciples to fetch some food but all they had was five loaves and a couple of frankfurters. So he took the bread and the frankfurters and blessed them and told his disciples to feed the multitudes. And when all had eaten their fill, the scraps filled twelve baskets.

The multitudes were fed indeed as was their thirst quenched. Welcome to Obamafest. I made the mistake to start my pilgrimage a little bit too late with the consequence that I was stuck somewhere in the middle of 200,000 people, barely able to see (not even a screen). But at least I could hear what Obama had to say.

He had to appeal to two very different sensitivities: To the German audience and, more importantly, American voters. In this respect invoking to the shared past and its struggle for freedom was a good strategy. Ernst Reuter was cited, Reagan called upon, and indeed walls came down at least sixteen times during the speech: Not only in Berlin, but also in Belfast, between the rich and the poor, between races and religions.

Yet I couldn't stop wondering: Would the reactions have been as enthusiastic if a German politician – or, God beware, Bush – uttered those words? Probably not, Bush would have been laughed at, a German politician would have been criticised for a number of things. What one has to remember is that Obama did not only appeal to a shared past but also to the responsibilities of a shared future. For him this future, amongst other things, is fought for in Afghanistan. The deployment of German troops in order to rebuild this war-torn country is already controversial amongst the German left; possible combat operations would cause an even greater stir. Obama is going to pursue a more protectionist policy to counteract the recession, he supports the death sentence for child molesters, defends the right of Americans to bear arms. American policies under Obama will see more continuities than his German disciples probably wish for, albeit they chose to ignore it.

Where\'s Obama?

Something which also goes to show the naive romanticism of German sentiments towards the US. Not only would an Obama presidency mean a change in skin colour but also in world views; a sudden change in perception from anti-Americanism towards a promise of salvation, a world without climate change, without a war in Iraq, a dream that somehow must come true because this time one is on the good side (and Germans are especially prone to develop a certain spirituality when it comes to saving the world). McCain all the while remains the great unknown, the average German Obama fan probably doesn't know much about him except that, you know, he's the evil one and some puppet of the war lobby.

On a sidenote: I found it somewhat ironic to be in a crowd demanding "change" when the last time this nation was allowed to vote it opted for a grand coalition of Germany's two biggest parties which is mainly characterised by being extremely inflexible. But then again maybe it's exactly this yearning for modernity that German politics can't fulfil that makes (up) some of Obama's appeal. Cultural pessimism, promises to conserve the state of affairs, a desire for bygone days and clichés shape the political landscape; if Merkel was a man and therefore didn't embody a grain of emancipated modernity some voters probably would have died of boredom by now. Along comes a new icon, young, exciting, promising and somehow progressive, causing people to screen their unfulfilled desires on him.

And there's another argument for the young hopeful: In case Obama wins the presidency American tourists wouldn't have to pretend to be from Canada anymore to avoid being confronted about the alleged evil-doings of their nation by self-righteous Germans and their drive to save the planet by ruling out gas powered heat lamps.