After receiving a hailstorm of criticism for considering Brandenburg Gate for a public speech, as well as official German dissuasion, Barack Obama moved the venue to the Siegessäule monument. Obama will speak about “historic” US-German relations, but once again, Obama’s own grasp of history has been proven deficient. Not only does the site contain a monument to Prussian victories over other American allies in Europe, its placement was decided by Adolf Hitler — in order to impress crowds in his idealized version of Berlin called Germania:
Still, even as the issue of his speech’s location has now been settled, a number of politicians in Berlin are still dissatisfied with the site. The Siegessäule — or Victory Column — was erected in memory of Prussia’s victories over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/71). The column originally stood in front of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, but was moved by Adolf Hitler to its current location in 1939 to make way for his planned transformation of Berlin into the Nazi capital “Germania.”
“The Siegessäule in Berlin was moved to where it is now by Adolf Hitler. He saw it as a symbol of German superiority and of the victorious wars against Denmark, Austria and France,” the deputy leader of the Free Democrats, Rainer Brüderle, told Bild am Sonntag. He raised the question as to “whether Barack Obama was advised correctly in his choice of the Siegessäule as the site to hold a speech on his vision for a more cooperative world.”
Andreas Schockenhoff of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats said, “the Siegessäule in Berlin is dedicated to a victory over neighbors who are today our European friends and allies. It is a problematic symbol.”
Hitler didn’t just move the monument to its more central location. He had a taller column built for it as well, to emphasize its message of German military domination over Europe. He saw it as a message to Germans of their destiny — as well as to other Europeans as their destiny as well. It was never meant as a symbol of peaceful, multicultural co-existence.
Team Obama has outdone themselves on symbolism with this choice. They’ve managed to make their hosts uncomfortable for a second time with their choice of rallying point, and perhaps more so this time. If one wanted to talk peace, what worse location could one choose than Adolf Hitler’s favorite monument to militaristic domination? One has to wonder how France, Denmark, and Austria will feel about Obama rallying German masses under the Siegessäule. Deja vu?
Obama could be excused for his gaffe, except for two reasons. His team certainly understood the historical weight that the Brandenburg Gate would have lent his event, so why didn’t they bother to ask the Germans about the Siegessäule? Quite obviously, the Germans understand the meaning and subtext of the monument, and most of them wonder why Obama does not. Maybe this is a better example of clueless Americans traveling abroad than those who can only say Merci, beaucoup.
The more basic question is why Obama feels the need to conduct a campaign event among Germans. Meeting with foreign leaders makes sense for a man with no foreign policy experience whatsoever, but that doesn’t require massive rallies among people who aren’t voting in this election. In his rush to look impressive for no one’s purposes but his own, Obama has made himself look ignorant and arrogant all over again.