Mon Jul 07, 2008 at 17:34:07 PM CDT
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, centrally located, surrounded by federal government buildings, and opening up onto a massive park, is essentially the German equivalent of the Washington Mall.
And an event from the steps of the Brandenburg Gate holds the same historical resonance, especially for an American president, as, say, Martin Luther King's rally on the steps of the Washington monument.
The location is all the more potent given that --- during the years of the Cold War --- the Berlin Wall ran directly behind the Brandenburg Gate, leaving it visible but inaccessible from West Berlin, as seen here in a photo of Kennedy's famous visit in June of 1963:
The Brandenburg Gate is, to grasp for another comparison, something like Germany's Eiffel tower, a national symbol commonly sported on coffee mugs and tee-shirts. Easily one of the most recognizable locations in Germany, it's flanked by the German parliament building on the one side and, tellingly, by the new $145-million American embassy on the other.
Arguably, given Kennedy and Reagan, no other location in the world still holds the same symbolism for America's historical commitment to freedom and democracy.
German diplomats have apparently been at work behind the scenes to encourage Obama to speak in Berlin:
Germany's ambassador to Washington, Klaus Scharioth, has reportedly worked for weeks to convince Obama's campaign that the candidate's only large European appearance should take place in Berlin.
Obama campaign staff have been in touch with the Mayor's office in Berlin, and Secret Service agents have reportedly already scouted out the area around the Brandenburg Gate. The German news-magazine Spiegel also reports the date has been tentatively set for July 24th.
Interestingly, the Chancellor's office (Germany's executive branch) has apparently shown some hesitation about the choice of location. According to a statement described in the German press --- by my own translation:
"The Brandenburg Gate is the best known --- and one of the most historically significant --- places in Germany," according to the Chancellor's office. In the past, this location has only been used on special occassions for political events, and until now has only been offered to elected presidents.
The Chancellor's office worries that the precedent set by using the Brandenburg Gate might spoil its special significance and make it the scene of more frequent political rallies. The final decision, however, lies not with Germany's center-right Chancellor, Angela Merkel, but with Berlin's heavily Social-Democratic provincial senate, which has apparently already signaled its full support.