Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 07:57:20 AM EST
Apparently, Barack Obama will hold a campaign rally in the German capital Berlin. As most of you know, there was a debate on whether he should be allowed to give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate right on the newly finished Pariser Platz. Charles Krauthammer, as BarbinMd correctly pointed out, turned the Brandenburg Gate into a holy shrine, which "you earn".
Well, as a German, let me point out: it is a holy shrine. Which is why they had it wrapped for 4 years with T-mobile advertisment only to have it reopened by Bill Clinton in front of 200,000 celebrating Berlin citizens. But anyway, anybody who has lived to see the Berlin Wall, anybody who has been to West Berlin while is was an island of hope in an ocean of oppression, knows what it means to be able to walk through it and why it was there that on the night of November 9th, 1989 people stormed the Wall. And it was not because of Ronald Reagan, whose speech is not part of the collective German memory.
Promoted by afew
I do feel a bit uncomfortable for this central part of the German capital being used for a campaign event. But it wouldn't be the first time: throughout the Weimar Republic era, it was a place of political demonstration because marching through it meant the symbol of occupying the governing district of Berlin. Which is why on January 30th, 1933 the Nazis marched through the gate to the Reichschancellery in the nearby Wilhelmsstrasse.
The open gate symbolizes a lot: the end of German seperation, the Reunification, the end of the Cold War, and it is the backdrop for every welcoming of a German soccer (correctly: football) team.
So, as I read today, a compromise has been reached on the location of Obama's speech: He will give it on the Western side of the Gate and on what is Called "Großer Stern" close to the Siegessäule, the Berlin victory column.
Of all places in Berlin, I think this is the worst. First of all, this square will not look full below 100,000 visitors, second, blocking it will put to halt Berlin's central East-West road, possibly causing traffic jam throughout the central part of the city, and third, though the Brandenburg Gate is in sight, the speech will have moved from a monument for liberty to a rotten monument for militarism and war.
The Siegessäule was built to remember the German victory against France in the war of 1871. A war in which Prussia defeated France and created the German Empire, a unification based on "blood and iron" as Bismarck called it. Putting hard reparation obligations on France and confiscating the Alsace region, led to a constant conflict, finally causing the outbreak of the First World War.
As Barack Obama will face the crowd, he shall take a look around at all the statues of the Prussian generals like Roon and even Bismarck who are standing there, rotting in the rain. So if he gives a speech there, it should be one about peace and cooperation aware of the fact that the golden canons on the column were taken from occupied France in order to humilate France and to perpetuate the illusion of permanent German military dominance in Europe.
One should also know that "Siegessäule" is the title of Berlin's largest gay monthly newspaper.
This being said, I am proud that Obama chose Berlin for his speech. When he finishes itr, he should take a small walk from the Siegessäule to the Brandenburg Gate, walk to the right and visit the Memorial for the Murdered Jews in Europe. Then he should turn around and should walk through the Gate - something which was impossible for so many years...
As for Charles Krauthammer's theory: It may be shrine, but once you walk through it and feel the spirit of liberty and democracy you can drown your memories of Ronald Reagan in the Starbuck's coffee store right next to it.... In the end, it is just a gate.