I was too excited to sleep. I don’t remember having had this feeling of late, but I did remember the feeling from just before final exams in high school and college. Because of anticipation I was up late and rearing to go. As I lay in my sweltering room, waitng for Thursday, I wondered if I was going to be disappointed and if the great Obama would live up to his expectations – or if he was all hot air. Somewhere after 2 AM I fell asleep. Thank goodness. Thursday was going to be a long day and I knew it.
My alarm went off at 6:30 AM and I practically jumped out of bed. Today was the day I’d been waiting for since I first heard the rumor the end of June. Obama was going to be here, in Berlin, on ‘my’ turf – and I had been confirmed to volunteer. To me this meant in some small way, I was a part of the event – and I was helping to host- even though I wasn’t actually putting it on.
Butterflies. I was nervous – would I get to see the speech? Would I even be able to see/hear anything? What was he going to say?
I was worried – would something bad happen to him (God forbid -but that is always a thought in the back of your mind)? Was my German good enough? Did I have enough patience and pleasant smiles? Would anything go wrong?
I was curious – How many people would I get to assist with registering to Vote? How many people would be having discussions with me about Obama – his stand, his platform – in different languages? How many people were going to really show up.
I was in awe – Was I willing to really go do this to myself – estimates of between 10,000 and 1 million people had been tossed about – and I knew not only was I one of them – but NOTHING was going to keep me away. It was like I had to be there, and I HAD to help because I believe so strongly in this man.
Into the City. Dressed in my Obama “gear”, I got on the train at 11:30 AM, heading toward the city and arrived a half an hour later. Coming out of the Unter Den Linden Sbahn, I immediately encountered crowds. I was shocked – the event didn’t start until 7PM. Why were all the crowds here? Then it dawned on me. Obama was staying at the Hotel Adlon (which is practically at the top of the stairs there) and he and Chancellor Merkel were speaking in the conference rooms. These people were crowded about hoping to see him.
Trying to avoid the motionless crowd, I bumped into a man from the Museum of the Kennedys. He handed me an “ich bin ein Berliner” button in exchange for an Obama button I had been wearing on my shirt. He spoke very little english, but his eyes sparked at the thought he might get to see Obama. Who was I to tell him I wouldn’t trade buttons? He had to work today and so did I.
I proceeded around the block. Crowds were 2-4 people deep in places but you could get past them in front of the British Embassy because the guards were keeping everyone moving.
Passing the Holocaust Memorial, I saw people were standing, sitting, and eating lunch on top of the stones. They were waiting. Obama would go there next – after the meeting with Chancellor Merkel. They too were hoping to just get a glimpse of the man of the Day.
Finally, I made it to the corner of 17th of Juni str, with the Brandenburg Gate at my back. It took me 15 minutes to get around the block. For some perspective – on a normal day, you can walk straight from the Sbahn under the Brandenburg gate and be in the same place in under 5. I headed along into the Tiergarten, and to the noon meeting place – realizing I wasn’t the only one who would be late.
Foot traffic was heavy, but moving. By the time I hit the first barricade (no vehicle traffic) and massive police presence at Yitzack Rabin str. I had worked up a bit of a sweat. It was going to be bright and sunny – muggy and warm – in the 80’s after a week of rain. I was glad I’d grabbed the water off my bike. Once there, I found the table and was told to march down to the next security barrier – almost a kilometer (1/2 mile) away. I tried not to groan – I knew that I would have to at some point – and started moving again. No time to waste and hey, I could do with a workout anyhow.
By now, it was 12:30 PM. I had reached the second barricade – the one with the first of the security checks. There was a good group of us – between 60 and 100 volunteers standing about waiting for our creditentials to be confirmed and the official “Team/Crew” badge to be handed to us. Chatter was on Obama, the weather, and some joking bets over how many people we thought were going to come to see him. There was some networking, plenty of introductions, and greetings of old friends with handshakes and european cheek kisses. Then began the badge handout. It was funny how as each of our names were called, we practically jumped to say “HERE” and get our badge. I’d say we were an eager lot.
Once we were checked in, we were taken through and into the shade. Here, we were introduced to the crowd and volunteer management group for the Obama campaign. We were given an overview of the day, the layout of the site, and what the jobs were that we would be asked to do. The kids working for one of the lawyers were put to work minding the press. The bilingual German/English speakers were put to work guiding people through the metal detectors and assisting with handicapped. And the rest of us were spread out to tables –
after some brief training – to greet the crowd, be enthusiastic and most importantly – help get US Citizens living abroad through the process of getting registered to Vote.
3pm – Stations Please.
After our training and being assigned to stations, We had a break for lunch. Most of us had brought our own – I picked up a slab of meat on bread (they called it a hamburger but it really was as I described it) for 3 euros. I ate half – it was just too much. We made it to our post – back up at Yitzack Rabin Str. and there was no table. We went to the park for a half an hour and sat in the shade on a bench. At least it was a bit cooler, and we got to rest our feet. There, I got to know a bit about my fellow volunteers and was impressed.
In the USA, I would assume that most of the volunteers are local. They might come from the state party, and a handful would be from other states. Here, I expected people to come from local “Germany” chapters of Democrats Abroad – like Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. What I discovered after chatting with the people I was volunteering with, was that we were made up of a group of Americans who had travelled – days before – from Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and France – and those were just the ones working at our table. We had come – as Americans from different states – and different nations – As Americans to see and Volunteer for Obama. Wow. Just Wow. Would I have done the same thing – travelled across Europe – to see and volunteer for Obama – if he had chosen to speak in another city than Berlin? I’d like to think so.
6PM – It’s time. We Volunteers had been greeting people and asking Americans if they had registered and/or had their absentee ballots for about 3 hours. Gates opened at 4PM for the crowds to go in, and it seemed like a pretty good stream of people. There were alot of entrances into the different zones – not just the one that I was stationed at so I had no clue how many people had actually arrived. Where I was positioned, the crowds had grown from a few here and there to a steady steam, and I was going hoarse. At one point, I ran to get a water and came back fighting against the inward bound. I felt a bit like a salmon fighting the river.
At 6PM, we were told to break down the tables and start toward the Volunteer meeting point. I was getting tired and my feet hurt, but I knew we had been successful in our task. By my count, I know I walked about 10 people over to the table to get them the address of their state registrar and give them the Absentee Ballot request form – I don’t know how many the other people and/or tables had, but each time I looked back, they were crowded. I’ve heard all together something like 200 people were given forms and even more than that took the online registration data, but we won’t know how many of them will actually send them in. Either way though – even one more person voting and participating is
better than none.
6:30 PM – Crowds upon Crowds.
We’ve been walking for a half an hour. The crowds are heavy, people are sitting on the barricades, have climbed the lamp posts and trees, and are milling around the giant TV screens in the heat. The Beer and drink vendors appear to be doing a brisk business, and we’re shouting as loudly as we can toward those people we might have missed to make sure that they have the opportunity to register to vote as we walk toward our entrance. I’m wondering how we’re going to make it through the metal detectors in time. The speech starts in 30 minutes and we’re still not in place.
I’m with a few others, and we’re sticking to the right side fence. At one point, we’re so hemmed in, we can’t move. I decide that we have Obama Volunteer staff badges, and reach down for mine. The Woman in front of me does the same, and starts saying Excuse me Obama campaign. No one moves. I take a deep breath and authoritatively say “OBAMA CAMPAIGN, EXCUSE US – COMING THROUGH!!” people split in two. I repeat it about 20 times with my hand cupped on one side of my mouth. We make it to the edge of the security fence. Luckily, one of the actual paid staff Obama advisors is there. After a brief word and reviewing our badges, he looks back at the crowd and realizes there’s no way – there’s a 35-40 minute wait to get through the metal detectors. The staff advisor smiles at us briefly, talks to the guard at the corner, and she opens the fence behind the detectors, checking our bags. We’re in, and more than halfway. We might just make it. The paid staff advisor grabs my arm, and says “Stick to the right hand side – there’s a guard and a narrow path between the bleachers. Tell him to let you in and show him your badge.” Thanks we say, wondering where this guy is sending us.
6:45 PM – The Press Box
– we wind up sticking along the fence and aim for the bleachers. By this time, We’ve taken a few pictures and are inside the crush of people. As we move, I’ve got my hand on the shoulder of the person in front of me, and the person behind has his hand on my shoulder. We’re pushing through as far as we can – and see the guard. We ask him where we’re supposed to go – showing him our credentials. He smiles, steps aside and gives us the tiniest 2 foot pathway along the base of the fencing (we were stepping over the feet of them to squeeze past) and sends us in. It’s then that we realize we’re in the press box – about 200 feet from the podium where Obama is speaking.
We’re not in the bleachers (those are reserved for the video cameras and “high profile” news crews), but we have a clear view – breathing room, and can actually see when Obama’s motorcade arrives. Despite the ache in my feet, my legs, and my back, I’m realizing that being willing to Volunteer for a cause and a man I believe in does have its payoffs.
7:10 PM – He’s Late – We’re waiting. The speech was supposed to start at 7PM and Obama’s still not here. The Democrats Abroad Chair is behind me, and I keep snapping pictures of all the “famous” press people I recognize from the TV. I can’t help myself. I’m just amazed to be in the shadow of the Victory Column, have a clear view of the podium, and rubbing elbows with some of the press who are covering the event.
The Berlin Mayor is pointed out to me, as are a few of the German Parliment members. I catch a glimpse of the CNN news crew, and see the one from FOX (who later asks for an interview which we politely decline). The NPR radio coverage is to my right, the German RBB TV is to my left – and I’ve edged my way in to stand on the fence. With my telephoto lens on the camera, no one said a word. A few other Volunteers gathered around at my back, I noticed, and made a mental note to try to get my pictures then make sure to let them in to get theirs – especially since most of them only have “cell phone” cameras and/or no telephoto lenses. No Reason to be greedy – The press has a job to do – and is unlikely to move – I have a prime spot, but I don’t need it so much as to “hog” the photo memories – best to share it and let all of us get a chance.
7:15 PM – Obama arrives – we see him go past on one side of the Victory Monument and a brief cheer goes up. The Press start to scramble to turn on their cameras make sure everything’s ready. Notepads come out, headsets go on. Behind me, the crews that aren’t needed for videoing climb up on the tables and people are pressing closer to the fence. In front, the crowds are standing up,
surging toward the podium and whipping out their cameras in anticipation. A few American flags and prohibited banners come into view – and I wonder how these folks got through security….
Shortly thereafter, Obama takes the stage and waves to the crowd, opening his oration. There is no introduction, just someone saying “Please welcome Barack Obama.” Beautifully Understated and simple. Not alot of fanfare. We Volunteers can be heard on the tape cheering “yes we can” over and over. The rest of the crowd is reservedly cheering – and several of the press crews in the crowd swing around to take video of us chanting through the speech. Yes, WE CAN! YES WE CAN! and OBAMA! OBAMA! It’s painfully obvious where the Democrats Abroad are, and who are the Americans Volunteering for the event.
Obama begins to speak. He thanks everyone and notes that it is the 60th Anniversary of the beginning of the Templehof Airlift. What I see is that as he begins to speak, people are intent – listening and hanging on every word. At different points, there is cheering, clapping and applause. They are digesting the words, drinkng them in like a fine wine and meal at one of Berlin’s Cafes. Yes, people here in Europe are more reserved, but they aren’t all native English speakers. I know some of us got everything Obama said – but he was speaking quickly, via a loud speaker – and I know that many of those attending did not hear or understand everything he was saying. It’s hard to be really over the top
when you’re busy processing from one language into another and sometimes the moment is gone….so you can’t cheer like you might have if you had understood it right off.
A few quotes that stuck out to me that might have been missed by soundbytes:
“This city [Berlin] of all cities knows the dream of Freedom and you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women of both nations came together to work and struggle and sacrifice for for that better life.”
“People of the world, look at Berlin…
Look at Berlin, where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.
People of the world – look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one. “
“No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny. “
“the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. “
“Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time? Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe?
Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?
Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?
People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time. “
Final thoughts – After the speech, I was asked what I thought of it. It was too soon. I had to stop, digest, and re-listen to what he had to say without all the distractions of the press, the crowd, me trying to take pictures and so on. But after about 30 minutes of reflection, I came to the conclusion that it was really all I had hoped it would be.
It was dignified, it was well written, and it was very much Obama’s style of working together for the common good.
What Obama did with his speech – was close one door and open another – and this is what made everyone here pause, smile, and feel proud and empowered.
Obama came to Berlin and said what Kennedy and Regan weren’t around to Say. Congratulations, Berlin and Germany. You are no longer a people divided by a war, or a wall, or even two superpowers with different governing philosophies. You have become united in Freedom and Democracy – Be Proud. Hold your heads up high. We (the world) have succeeded. Revel in it, Enjoy it and be Thankful. At the same time – realize that as a global community, there are still challenges to face and threats posed.
Yes, Obama came to Berlin – not only to ask for help, but to Celebrate goals achieved in the 20 years since the wall fell. He did what needed to be done – and should have been done by George Bush – Obama said “job well done” and recognized the efforts of Europe and Americans working together to make this happen. This is, in my opinion, the KEY to building better relationships in Europe – realizing that we can’t just bully the world to our ajenda – and that sometimes, simply giving recognition of achievements goes alot farther than pointing the finger at one’s problems.
From there, Obama’s speech went into the idea that there is alot still to do – to make the world a better place, and that it is not only America’s responsibility, but also the responsibility of the rest of the western world. He pointed out that climate change, ratial and religious division, and genocide have to stop – and the only way to do this is together. He also pointed out that we have a responsibility to encourage a safer world for our children – in the form of securing nuclear weapons, helping to lift up people from poverty, and providing opportunities of hope to those who have none.
Stacy noticed yesterday that Obama hit alot of topics in his speech – and covered a broad range of things in his almost 30 minute long expanse. He didn’t delve into specifics.
That seems to have been very worrisome for many of the people here. To me, however, I have read his site, and read the stand he has taken and where he has outlined his plans for the future. That’s part of being an educated voter. I think what she says is true – yet I wonder if you’re an educated voter – does he need to delve into specifics that can be torn apart piece by piece for that 2 minute sound byte? The answer is yes and yet no. Yes, to get the topic and the platform out there – but no, I don’t believe that the common domestic policies need to be delved into in a foreign speech. It leaves it open to opportunities on the foreign front – and allows him to speak – not as a head of state or as a congress person – but instead – as a citizen of a grateful nation – who is one of the best orators my country has to offer.
So, was this a campaign stop? Was this friend making? Was this policy making? Was this a foreign tour for fact finding? Or, was this an opportunity to do all the things that our greatest orators of the 20th century – Kennedy and Regan – couldn’t complete? I have decided that it was all of them. Above all, however, it gives Americans something to look forward to – if Obama’s goal is to unite the USA more completely – and bridge that gap between Democrats and Republicans – what better place to come than Berlin, Germany – a
place which is succeeding in Bridging its own gap – reuniting – and use it as an example of what can be. I guess I’m just thankful to have gotten the chance to see Obama’s speech – and be one of his 200,000 (largest crowd he’s ever gathered) strong listeners.
I got home about 2 am – after having gone to the “after party” at Max and Moritz. It was there that I had gotten dinner, a chance to sit down, and a moment to take a breath and digest all that was said. I went straight to bed – and woke up this morning to edit all the photos I took.
The photos are up on my Flickr Site.