BERLIN — Facing a sea of people in this city divided by a wall during the Cold War, Barack Obama on Thursday said Europe and the United States have a “shared destiny.” A curious and receptive Germany got its first exposure to what commentators here called “Obamamania.”
“People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment. This is our time,” said Obama, echoing his signature theme of destiny as he talked about how East and West Berlin were united after the wall erected by the communists came down.
With the U.S. invasion of Iraq never popular here — and the lingering war a source of a loss of U.S. credibility — Obama said of the United States, “We’ve made our share of mistakes.”
Obama’s campaign outdid itself on stagecraft, filling a portion of the Tiergarten, the main park here, with about 200,000 people, according to a police count cited by the campaign — the largest crowd he has drawn.
He spoke with the soaring Victory Column as a backdrop that lined up with the historic Brandenburg Gate, about a mile away. Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy also delivered iconic speeches of solidarity with the German people in this area where a wall once stood.
“I know I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city,” Obama said as the crowd laughed and cheered.
The campaign of Sen. John McCain, swimming against a tide of Obama publicity, said in a statement, “Obama took a premature victory lap today in the heart of Berlin.”
Presumptuous or not, the campaign spared no detail — providing giant cranes for camera crews to get crowd shots — to capture images intended to present Obama on a world stage as he has never been seen before, even as Obama protested that he was speaking not as a presidential candidate but as a “citizen.”
Obama is on a nine-day overseas campaign swing designed to help plug holes in his foreign policy resume and blunt any perceptions among U.S. voters of a stature gap.
German news channels pumped up the visit, carrying live coverage of Obama’s day in the country — he flew here from Israel after a pre-dawn visit to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where he wore a white yarmulke while the rabbi of the wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, read from Psalm 122.
Obama, making his first visit to Berlin, exported his aspirational campaign to Germany in the only public appearance of his trip, calling on Europeans to rekindle relations with the United States to fight terrorism and Muslim extremism, and for NATO to step up and do more in the Afghanistan war — as Obama has said the United States must do.
Obama opened the European leg of his trip Thursday morning with an hourlong meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama campaign senior strategist Robert Gibbs said they talked about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Iran nuclear threat — the Israelis told Obama that is their top concern — climate change and NATO.
Obama finished last-minute edits on his speech on the plane from Israel, said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s national security speechwriter, with the intent to create a “story of how Europe and America can work together.” Talking to reporters on his plane en route to Berlin, Obama said, “I am happy with the speech.”
Karen Daberkow, 51, who works in a Berlin museum bookshop, said she came to see Obama in person after watching him dazzle crowds on television. She liked the serious speech well enough but was a little disappointed. She said, “He didn’t want us to see his charisma.”