On the face of it, Barack Obama’s decision to hold the standout speech of his lightning Europe trip before Berlin’s Siegessäule victory column on Thursday may sound like a good idea.
The Democratic candidate for the US presidency had planned to speak at nearby Brandenburg Gate, symbol of German unification, presumably hoping the patina of past visits there by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could enhance his youthful persona.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, feared granting access would constitute an endorsement of his candidacy – and perhaps annoy her friend John McCain, the Republican contender.
Enter the Siegessäule, a mere stroll away on June 17th Street. With long lenses the TV crews could still shoot Mr Obama as though he were standing next to the Brandenburg Gate.
But while it is not as symbolically loaded as the triumphal arch, the 226ft monument is far from devoid of baggage, some of it potentially embarrassing.
Erected in 1873 to celebrate Prussia’s victories against France, Austria and Denmark, the tower has a bellicose aura that could jar with the senator’s peacemaker image. Its current location and foundation plinth were the work of the Nazi architect Albert Speer, who moved it in 1939 as part of Hitler’s plans to rebuild Berlin as Germania, his future “capital of the world”.
These darker associations have now receded into the fog of history. Home to techno-music festivals and football victory parades, the column has become a symbol of hedonistic fun.
With its peeling gold leaf and cracked stone cladding, it is also an eyesore and a health hazard. The TV crews had better keep their cameras tightly trained on the Brandenburg Gate.
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