Walking around Berlin recently, the American visitor could be forgiven for thinking Germany was the 51st state in the Union - and that it would vote heavily for Senator Barack Obama on November 4. Joggers in local parks proudly sport Obama T-shirts; the trendy expat hangout White Trash Fast Food was turned into an Obama campaign center for a day; and a city magazine has published instruction on how to craft little American flags to wave in welcoming the junior senator from Illinois, who visits on Thursday.
The city has been buzzing with anticipation over Obama's visit, and his reported request to use the Brandenburg Gate as the backdrop for his only public address in Europe sparked a local media frenzy. Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with "bewilderment" to the senator's request to speak at this historically charged location, and appeared concerned that approving the request would be interpreted as taking sides in the U.S. presidential race. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for his part, welcomed the suggestion that Obama speak at a venue rendered iconic by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, saying it was "a vital expression of German-American friendship."