BERLIN (Reuters) - Barack Obama got rock star treatment from hundreds of thousands of adoring Germans on Thursday, who climbed lamp posts to get a glimpse of the U.S. candidate they would like to vote for but can’t.
“He’s a pop star politician. Germany doesn’t have any of those,” said student Johannes Ellendorf, one of more than 200,000 people listening to Obama’s speech in the centre of Berlin.
Waves of applause roared through the wide boulevard linking the Brandenburg Gate with the Victory Column, as Obama told Berliners the United States and Europe had to stand together and be partners who listened to each other.
Relations between Germany and the United States cooled over the invasion of Iraq, and many Germans said they hoped for a renewal in ties under a possible new U.S. president.
“I was really struck by his message for peace — that we shouldn’t just focus on every single conflict between Germany and the United States but look at our shared responsibility,” said 40-year-old Matthias Bauschulte.
Watching the crowds, 65-year-old Hans-Gerd Stoever said the excited atmosphere reminded him of the scene in 1963, when he watched U.S. President John F. Kennedy tell a cheering crowd “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).
“The streets were so crowded then, everybody was full of expectations — like now,” the white-haired Stoever said.
“But it’s a completely different situation today. We live in a different world. And Obama has to walk his own way,” he said.
Some Berliners wore buttons featuring Obama’s photo and the slogan “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
Others climbed lampposts near Obama’s podium at the Victory Column, a 230-foot (70-metre) high column built to celebrate 19th century Prussian military triumphs.
Chancellor Angela Merkel had opposed Obama’s initial plans to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of reunification, where former U.S. President Ronald Reagan told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”.
Merkel argued that the Gate, situated in the former no man’s land between West and East Berlin, was a place for presidents, and not an appropriate venue to hold campaign speeches.
Speaking a few hundred meters away, but still in sight of the Gate from his podium, Obama dotted his speech with references to the once-divided city and urged Germans not to let new walls divide the nations of the world.
A Pew Research Center poll showed Germans favor Obama over Republican John McCain by a 49-point margin.
The applause in the Tiergarten park weakened noticeably when Obama urged Germany to help the United States bring stability to Afghanistan, saying: “The Afghan people need our troops and your troops”.
Many Germans are opposed to their soldiers’ involvement in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission.
“He has high expectations of the Germans increasing their military engagement,” said Dennis Buchner, 31. “That will certainly spark debate in Germany.”
Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich; Editing by Giles Elgood