BERLIN – He has drawn record-breaking crowds to rallies all over the United States. But it took a trip to Germany for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to attract his biggest audience of all: More than 200,000 people packed into a central Berlin park on Thursday to hear Obama give a wide-ranging speech on his call for closer ties between Europe and America.
The sea of people in Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park, stretched a full mile, from the Victory Column where Obama spoke to the historic Brandenburg Gate in the distance. Obama’s rhetoric was no less sweeping. The all-but-certain Democratic nominee for president voiced aspirations for a world that abolishes nuclear arms, banishes “the scourge of AIDS,” feeds the poor in Chad and Bangladesh, unites against Muslim extremism and stops global warming.
“People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment,” Obama told the throngs. “This is our time.”
Obama’s campaign staged the event to maximize its visual impact. Cameras captured the scene from helicopters hovering overhead. Aides to the candidate hoisted photographers and reporters on a “cherry picker” crane to survey the view.
The speech was the dramatic showpiece of a nine-day overseas trip.
His advisers hoped the rousing reception – Berlin police put the crowd size at 215,000 – would illustrate Obama’s potential to restore America’s tainted image abroad. He touched on that theme in his speech.
“In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help us make it right, has become all too common,” he said.
Indeed, polls show that many Europeans loathe President Bush and would welcome Obama as his successor.
“He’s young, he’s active, he wants change, and nobody can do worse than Bush,” said Alexander Bobenko, 48, a Berlin mathematician in the crowd.
But critics, led by Obama’s rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the Democrat’s speech showed his presumptuousness about winning the White House.
“While Barack Obama took a premature victory lap today in the heart of Berlin, proclaiming himself a ‘citizen of the world,’ John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Beyond terrorism, Obama also pledged unity with Europe in fighting climate change.
“Let us resolve that we will not leave our children to a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads, and terrible storms devastate our lands,” he said. “Let us resolve that all nations, including my own, will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere.”