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Über-bama

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25 July 2008 14:16

Guest blogger: David Howarth is an Australian lawyer currently resident in Vienna. These are his observations about the hoopla surrounding Barack Obama's visit to Germany.

If Obama were running for president of Germany the race would long be over. With polls reporting 67% of Germans prefer him to McCain, he is not only way in front of the Republican, but the combined left of the German political spectrum — Social Democrats, Greens and Left party — would currently struggle to get within 20 points of Obama's numbers.

The Bush administration has made it too easy to cast the German-American relationship in cartoon terms: America as the take-no-prisoners, gas-guzzling exceptionlist; Germany as the bleeding heart, combat boot-dragging enviro-nerds. But while Germans look askance at some of Washington's recent excesses, there remains a deep well of affection for America and an enduring gratitude for the US engagement after WWII and during the Cold War — themes cleverly woven into Obama's Berlin speech.

But I'll leave the discussion of serious foreign policy issues to the Lowy regulars. On a visceral level, it is clear what an Obama Administration would mean for the German-US relationship (at least in the short term): love.

For the past few days the press has been in an Obama frenzy. German political commentary is usually played out in detail-rich, weighty newspapers and on the sets of the myriad talkshows featuring politicians, academics, interest groupers and business leaders. There has been some of that and there will no doubt be lots of dense commentary to come, but the remarkable thing about the Obama visit has been how breathless the press coverage has been.

Die Zeit last week carried a story in which the reporter effused that someone in the Obama campaign offices had taken the trouble to correctly add an umlaut to his name, even though the journalist had sent the more English-friendly version, with an -e.  These people know how to impress!

The Spiegel's cover this week had Obama as the hero of the German equivalent of Australian Idol. Of course it all reached a crescendo today when citizen-of-the-world Obama met with Chancellor Merkel, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Berlin Mayor Wowereit and then 200,000 of his new best friends under Berlin's Victory Column. Today the magazine's website afforded Obama an honour normally reserved for the national soccer team's matches: a live ticker of his every move. It gleefully reports right down to the bit where Obama decides to stay in Berlin longer and Paris?... nya... not so much. Both national broadcasters carried the speech live and devoted most of their news coverage to the event. 

Only the reliably dreary Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung refuses to play, with a web poll asking readers, 'Has the Obama visit been given too much attention? Is the excitement about his visit justified?' And don't be home too late.

The tabloid Bild perhaps best conveyed the German electorate's longing for a leader with a glint of Obamagic when it morphed pictures of Germany's leading politicians with Obama-like features. Bild then got a scoop when Obama walked into the gym of the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, where its reporter Judith Bonesky was coincidentally working out (she doesn't explain how a reporter finds herself in the gym at the Ritz Carlton, but presumably the publisher won't mind picking up the tab this time). So gob-smacked was the correspondent that she let Obama open the questioning:

'Hi, how's it going?', he asked with a powerful, very masculine voice. I answered: 'Very well. And how are you?' HIM: 'Very well, thanks!'

After giving readers some commentary on his track pants (he's fit, it seems), his exercise routine and choice in water (could he be caught drinking Evian at home?), our reporter regains her poise and busts a journalistic move with the one question she knows will secure her career at the paper:

I called out: 'Mr. Obama, sorry, could I have a photo? He smiled: 'Of course!'

Obama asked my name. I answered: 'My name's Judith.' He: 'I'm Barack Obama. Nice to meet you, Judith!'

Barack Obama puts his arm around my shoulder, I hold him around the hips – wow, he doesn't even sweat! I think: WHAT A MAN!"

Who says Germans are staid?

Photo by Flickr user brian.glanz, used under a Creative Commons license.

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