By most reports the turnout for Barack Obama's speech yesterday was 200,000 people, packing the broad avenue in front of the Siegessäule (Victory Column). This is the same stretch of asphalt that was often the site of the huge annual open-air techno party called Love Parade. And as this Reuters photo suggests, there was plenty of love to go around:
The Tagesschau daily news website posted a poll today asking whether people thought all the fuss surrounding Obama's visit was justified; more than two out of three who responded said no, the implication being that most Germans found his speech uncontroversial if not inspirational. Reporter Corinna Emundts declared that "The senator from Illinois came, spoke and conquered" (tagesschau.de), and Michael Schlieben, writing for Die Zeit, calls Obama "a modern hero who meets with approval everywhere from the taz [strongly left-leaning] to the FAZ [conservative]. Not that there weren't other responses. Stefan Kornelius snarks in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that four years after winning an election would have been better timing for a "mass spectacle" of these proportions - though he does also point out that Obama succeeded in making the point, for the benefit of Americans at home, that it might indeed be possible for people in other countries to love the United States again, the past decades' warmongering notwithstanding. The Obama supporters trolling the crowd passed out not Obama banners but American flags, which did indeed get waved - something that would have been unthinkable in Berlin even half a year ago.
In Germany, the notion 'mass spectacle' calls to mind, even now, the Nuremberg rallies and the crowds who flocked to cheer their charismatic Führer. One friend from Berlin wrote to me yesterday that the sight of all those hands ecstatically raised to hold digicams aloft reminded her of the old films of crowds making the Nazi salute. This isn't so much a comment on Obama and his speech as a basic discomfort with the very concept 'charismatic politician.' Looking at old films, it may be hard for us to understand how it was that Hitler was able to summon the charisma to galvanize large crowds, but clearly that was his specialty. It would be hard to imagine a less Hitler-like figure than Barack Obama, but some Germans seem to be made nervous by the very fact that they like him so much.
By the way, it turns out that Obama had a German great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.