So it’s been decided: Barack Obama will give his big Berlin speech not in front of the Brandenburg Gate, nor in front of the Schöneberg City Hall (where JFK spoke, and where I wanted to see Obama). Instead, he’ll appear next to the Siegessäule. That’s “Victory Column,” in English, but no one here – including the resident English-speakers – ever uses the English name.
Originally, the Siegessäule was build as a memorial commemorating Germany’s victories in its wars of unification in the late 1860s through 1871. The cannon on it are reputedly real ones, seized from the French and then gold plated.
You might know the Siegessäule as the pedestal for the iconic golden angel in the Wim Wenders movie, Wings of Desire.
But if you live in Berlin, the Siegessäule has more immediate associations. It was the focal point of the Love Parade, a sort of mobile rave, back when the parade was still held in Berlin. Yes, some people still listen to techno here. You can even find some classic, 1970s-style punks if you now where to look.
More importantly, the Siegessäule’s obvious phallic symbolism – not just the monument itself, but all those big golden guns affixed to it – made it an obvious mascot for Berlin’s gay community. There’s even a mazagine for gay men that uses it as its namesake. (Bizarrely, the monuments Wikipedia pages don’t mention this – neither in German nor in English!)
I’m not sure if the Obama campaign is wise to the gay connection. I’d like to think they are. But the campaign has sometimes been tone-deaf on issues related to sexual orientation (though I think Obama’s heart is basically in the right place). Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is openly gay, so this city – with its large and vibrant gay community – would actually be a great place to take a gutsier stand on issues such as marriage equality.
The street between the Siegessäule and the Brandenberg Gate (Strasse des 17. Juni) was most recently used as the “fan mile” when the World Cup was held here in 2006. And that’s how the press here is billing Obama’s stage – as a new “fan mile.” There were reportedly about a million people in that space during the last day of the World Cup, when my beloved Jürgen Klinsmann and his upstart team came to enjoy their accolades. I was there too, even though I had scarlet fever (unbeknownst to me at the time). This is how it looked then (with the Brandenburg Gate done up as a stage, viewed from halfway between the Siegessäule and the Gate):
I have a feeling we won’t see quite so many American flags on the coming Thursday, although who knows – the Berliners might be less inhibited about that than the (generally very progressive) expat Americans who live here.
And I’m pretty sure we won’t see any of these signs because Klinsi is only married to an American, which doesn’t quite make him eligible. More’s the pity!
Anyway, the World Cup comparison is yet another sign of how Germans view Obama as a star. And while I don’t think he’ll attract a million fans, I think he could well draw a larger audience here than he’s ever pulled in the United States. I guess I’d better plan to get there early – and find a babysitter for the Tiger, who repeatedly tried to get lost in the crowd during the World Cup.
The last two pictures were taken by my husband.