“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,” Obama said at Berlin’s Victory Column.
“The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers — dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean,” he said.
Obama called attention to problems facing all people — and pointed out their multi-national roots.
He said the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks plotted their attacks in Hamburg, Germany, and trained in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Those attacks, he pointed out, killed thousands “from all over the globe.”
Obama said cars in Boston and factories in Beijing “are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.”
“The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all,” he said.
“We cannot afford to be divided. 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,” he said.
Obama started his speech by introducing himself as a “proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”
“This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life,” he said.
Thousands gathered for Obama’s highly anticipated speech — an event the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said was not a “political rally.”
Berliners got ready early for Obama’s address, setting up food stalls and entertainment platforms along an avenue near the site of the event.
Crowds gathered at the Victory Column to listen to musical acts in the hours leading up to Obama’s arrival.
Obama originally had hoped to speak in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate, where President Kennedy was photographed during a 1963 visit after the rise of the Berlin Wall. Expressing solidarity with the people of the divided city during the same trip, Kennedy declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
That phrase — which means “I am a Berliner” — expressed the unity of the West in the Cold War era.
The gate also was the site of a speech by President Reagan in 1987 in which he memorably urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the wall.
But use of the landmark apparently was vetoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who a spokesman Wednesday said disapproved of plans to co-opt it as a “campaign backdrop.”
Asked whether he looked to Reagan’s and Kennedy’s Berlin speeches for inspiration, Obama said, “They were presidents. I am a citizen.”
“But obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of post-World War II effort to bring a continent together, to bring the West together — East and West together,” he said.
Nonetheless, as a youthful Democratic presidential hopeful who has promised change if elected and invoked comparisons with Kennedy, Obama’s strategists hope a warm welcome from Germans will play well with voters.
Obama said he wanted to communicate to both sides of the Atlantic “the enormous potential of us restoring a sense of coming together.”
As the crowd awaited Obama’s arrival, volunteers set up shop on street corners and were registering Democrats who live abroad to vote.
“Anyone an American citizen?” bellowed one woman holding a homemade “register to vote” sign.
Some in the crowd were looking to cash in on the Obama frenzy. For 5 euros (about $8), one could pick up two unofficial Obama buttons.
One button that seemed popular among shoppers had a picture of him superimposed with Kennedy. Another had Obama’s head atop the body of a beer garden waiter holding seven huge glasses of German brew. The button’s slogan said “Obamafest.”
Obama is in Berlin for the latest leg of an international trip intended to bolster his foreign policy credentials at home and set out his vision for a new era of transatlantic cooperation.
So far, his trip has taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Obama is expected to stop in France and Great Britain before returning to the United States.
Obama has said he is making the trip as a senator and not a presidential candidate.
Obama’s speech follows talks with Merkel.
Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director, described their conversation as “warm and productive.”
“Sen. Obama offered an overview of his trip and key impressions from discussions with leaders in the region, focusing, in particular, on the urgency of stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. They also discussed climate change and broader economic challenges,” Gibbs said in a statement.
Robin Oakley, CNN’s European political editor, said Obama enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe.
“He is one of those politicians who reaches parts other politicians don’t reach,” Oakley said. “After the unpopularity of George W. Bush, the world is waiting to love America again, and many see in Obama, with his youth and his optimism, somebody who can bring that about.”