Few come to see Obama in Berlin

Almost nobody came...
Almost nobody came…

What a difference 5 years make: Obama braves blistering Berlin heat to make speech before invite-only crowd of 4,500 (that’s 195,500 FEWER than last time he was in Germany)

It was a more muted affair for President Obama in Berlin today as he spoke at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate before an invite-only crowd of 4,500 guests – a remarkable difference from the rock-star welcome he received five years ago in front of 195,500 cheering supporters.

Then, Obama had it all to play for – the glowing presidential candidate symbolizing America’s revived hope for the future. This time, he arrived back in Berlin under the cloud of NSA surveillance programs which have outraged many Europeans and the ever-growing crisis in Syria.

The President removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves as he battled the 86F temperature on Wednesday, quipping: ‘People of Berlin, your welcome is so warm I’m going to take off my jacket.’

What a difference five years makes: 200,000 people came out to see then presidential candidate Barack Obama speak in 2008 at the Victory Column, around a mile from his speech today

At times wiping away beads of sweat, the President read from paper because the teleprompter wasn’t working.

He used the bulk of his speech to call for a reduction in the world’s nuclear stockpiles – as he stood  behind high walls of bullet-proof glass in the public square. The two-inch thick sheets are routinely used when the President appears before large crowds in public spaces.

Appealing for a new citizen activism, Obama renewed his call for the world to confront climate change, a danger he called ‘the global threat of our time’.

In a wide-ranging speech that enumerated a litany of challenges facing the world, Obama said he wanted to reignite the spirit that Berlin displayed when it fought to reunite itself during the Cold War.

Obama’s Kenyan half-sister made a rare public appearance as she joined Michelle and her daughters for emotional visit to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial

‘Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on,’ Obama said at the city’s historic Brandenburg Gate under a bright, hot sun.

‘”And I come here to this city of hope because the test of our time demands the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago.’

The German press had mixed reviews for Obama on Wednesday, a marked difference from five years ago when ‘Obama-mania’ greeted him in the streets.

National newspaper Die Zeit published an article online on the Berlin speech, saying that Obama appeared to be the ‘young, fresh, uninhibited’ political force he was five years ago – but that the time between his speeches has been marked by ‘bitter disappointment’.

The article said Obama’s battles over gun control and equality for same-sex marriage must be remembered, otherwise his speech in Berlin could be seen as just ‘nice words’ in light of his decisions on Guantanamo and the NSA surveillance.

Other than his landmark speech, the President spent Wednesday in talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and other top politicians including president Joachim Gauck.

He touched down with his family in the German capital on Tuesday night, waving to the crowds gathered at Tegel Airport.

His wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha visited the city’s Holocaust memorial on Wednesday, accompanied by the President’s half-sister Auma, who studied in Germany.

Five years ago, when he was still seeking election as President, Obama received a rapturous reception on a brief tour of Europe where he was greeted as a leader who could give the world a fresh start after the controversial presidency of George W. Bush.

Now he is a much more divisive figure – although his re-election last year was welcomed by most Europeans, recent revelations about his administration’s spying on internet communications have tarnished his record in the eyes of many.

Mr Obama’s speech tomorrow will inevitably be compared with JFK’s, which took place on June 26, 1963 at the Rathaus Schöneberg, a few miles away from the Berlin Wall which had been under construction over the previous two years.

Kennedy’s speech, considered one of his best, held up West Germany as a symbol of freedom on the front line of the battle against communism.

It featured the famous line: ‘All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”‘ – Daily Mail