Despite criticism of his political legacy, Barack Obama remains a welcome guest in Germany: in Berlin, the ex-president philosophizes about democracy and political leadership on the big stage.
At the very end – after 60 minutes – Barack Obama addresses his audience again with haunting words about climate change. “What gives me hope is the next generation,” said the former US President last night in Berlin. “When I travel the world, I find that this generation of young people is intelligent, idealistic and innovative.”
And yet she sometimes feels a burden that can be discouraging. “I want to tell you that it is a joyful responsibility. It is a great privilege to affect and improve this world.” It is an attempt to encourage his listeners – followed by an appeal: “And for the older people here, my message is: Get out of their way.”
Public is well-disposed towards Obama
This is followed by thunderous applause in the blue-lit hall at the Ostbahnhof – blue like the color of his democratic party in the USA. Even though Barack Obama hasn’t been US President since 2017, he still knows how to captivate the masses.
Moderator Klaas Heufer-Umlauf leads through the evening in Berlin and talks to Obama about his view of current political issues such as climate change and good political leadership. While the former head of the White House knows how to counter criticism of his political work, he is humanly approachable – and fallible. “Ask my wife Michelle, I’m wrong ten times a day,” jokes the 61-year-old, who can be sure of the favor of a well-disposed audience.
In Germany, Obama is celebrated like a pop star to this day. And on this evening – announced as “An evening with President Barack Obama live in person” – the omissions of his eight-year presidency are not in the foreground. Instead, Obama’s words seem to trigger nostalgia in the hall.
Many still remember the family photos in front of the White House: Michelle and Barack together with their daughters Sasha and Malia – and of course the dog Bo. Obama’s self-mockery, his jovial fist salutes, the president on the basketball court and his iconic mic drop. The contrast to his successor Donald Trump could hardly be greater.
Glitz and glamor at the White House
For many, Obama, the charismatic man, is still the epitome of nonchalance. And he still knows how to stage it on all channels. With his wife Michelle, he once formed the most famous power couple in the world, brought glamor and grandeur to the White House, and opened it up to jazz and rappers. Now the two theaters and concert halls fill up when they advertise their books. The Penguin Random House publishing group is said to have shelled out tens of millions of dollars for the memoirs of the two.
After leaving office, the Obamas founded the production company Higher Ground Productions, which produces a number of films and series for Netflix. The 44th President of the USA is said to have received particularly high fees as a speaker compared to other ex-presidents.
One can only speculate about the amount of money he received for the performance in Berlin. The tickets were offered in advance for around 60 to 550 euros.
Dinner with Merkel, lunch with Scholz
Obama was in Europe before that, at the end of last week he held a similar appointment in Zurich in front of around 10,000 paying guests. Before his big appearance in Berlin, he met a good friend in a more intimate setting: “Last night I had dinner with an old friend – Angela Merkel. Today I had lunch with the new chancellor, Olaf Scholz.” Obama has had a close and friendly relationship with Merkel since his presidency from 2009 to 2017, as the then chancellor made clear during his farewell visit as president in 2016.
Obama announced a change when he entered the White House. He wanted to create a completely different America: fairer, more tolerant, more colourful, more cosmopolitan. The advance praise was huge, and to this day it is said that a few speeches would have been enough to make him the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The overall political balance is mixed to sobering
The NSA scandal divided him from many allies in Europe, and his fundamentally different understanding of statehood, data protection and the handling of the US Guantánamo prison camp also met with criticism. In climate policy, on the other hand, the USA under Obama swung in line with its western partners.
With “Obama Care” he tried to lay the foundations of a welfare state. And although his overall political record may be mixed to sobering, in addition to these achievements, it was above all his charismatic demeanor that made him popular in Germany and Europe – to this day.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.