I've watched a lot of news reports and read a lot of stories about how our U.S. Representatives, Senators, and President Bush himself have been received when they visit the Green Zone, or other places in Iraq. But I've never seen anything quite like the reception Barack Obama just got at the U.S. Embassy. Obama is in Israel right now, before heading to Europe.
I was listening to NPR this afternoon, on my way into teaching class at Eagle River Community College. Andreas Daum, the author of Kennedy in Berlin and a history professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, was interviewed about two famous speeches given in Berlin by sitting American presidents - JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech of June 26, 1963, and Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech of June 12, 1987.
Baum stated that over a million and a half people greeted Kennedy at one place or another in his Berlin visit, and that 500,000 were there to watch and hear his speech at the Brandenburg Gate. 24 years later, when Ronald Reagan gave his Berlin speech, there were 20,000 or so listeners.
Unlike Kennedy and Reagan, Obama is now - after a change of venue from the Gate - scheduled to speak this Thursday at the Victory column. The column was moved to its present location on Adolf Hitler's orders. Because of its mixed history, Obama's speech will probably be about reconciliation, capping off his visits to the war zones of central Asia and the Middle East, with a pitch that ties together so many heartbreaking aspects of humanity's recent violent past. His speech there may be an historic event.
He's most likely to also visit Tempelhof Airport of Berlin Airlift Fame, the Berlin Holocaust Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. The Berlin police are preparing for up to 1,000,000 people at Obama's speech, which will be his only outdoor speaking event in Europe. After watching his reception at the U.S. Embassy yesterday, I'm predicting Obama will get more people than Kennedy did.
I doubt John McCain has an outdoor Berlin speech scheduled: