Germany gives Clinton a lesson in history

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The Independent Online
GERMANY old and new rolled out the red carpet for the American President, lavishing him with a two-day synopsis of its roller-coaster ride through two centuries of history.

In Potsdam, summer capital of Prussian kings, Bill Clinton feasted yesterday on the favourite dishes of Frederick the Great. After lunch with Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the Sanssouci, the most powerful man on Earth made a detour to Frederick's tomb, paying homage to the first European leader to have signed a friendship treaty with the infant United States.

Later, the motorcade swept into Berlin, the German capital of the past and the future. Chancellor Kohl was on hand again for a joint appearance, both statesmen dwelling on trans-Atlantic ties at the dawn of European Union and Nato expansion towards the east.

Mr Clinton then met Gerhard Schroder, the Social Democrat politician expected to settle into Chancellor Kohl's armchair after the September elections. Mr Schroder got a lot more time with the President than the German government had bargained for. Instead of the side-show allocated to the challenger in the script drawn up in Bonn, Mr Schroder hogged the limelight, contrasting his growing stature in the international arena with the ebbing power of the Chancellor.

Germany's ceremonial President, Roman Herzog, declared: "Berlin has become the symbol of the link between our peoples." Cue-in the Berlin Airlift anniversary, the reason President Clinton crammed Germany into his foray overseas. The Soviet Union imposed a year long blockade on West Berlin 50 years ago.

Today, President Clinton will be at Tempelhof airport to mark the event and deliver his keynote address to Berliners. The speech-writers have a tough act to follow. Two of his predecessors captured the Free World's imagination and wrote their names in the history books respectively with "Ich bin ein Berliner" - John F Kennedy - and "Tear down that wall, Mr Gorbachev" - Ronald Reagan.