Barack Obama's farewell to arms in Berlin

When John F Kennedy spoke in Berlin half a century ago he unwittingly set the standard. Obama clearly felt he had a hard act to follow

When John F Kennedy spoke in Berlin half a century ago and uttered the words “Ich bin ein Berliner”, he unwittingly set the standard for every US president who came after him.

Ronald Reagan memorably used his set-piece Berlin speech to call on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, something he can never have dreamt would happen two years later.

Barack Obama – who had drawn ecstatic crowds in Berlin as a presidential candidate – clearly felt he had some hard acts to follow yesterday. And the welcome was warm. But the response to his offer of nuclear reductions was tepid, seeming as it did to reflect another age. Mercifully, Berlin no longer exudes a sense of danger, and the Brandenburg Gate no longer marks the frontier between freedom and oppression. But that also means that it is time for US presidents visiting Berlin to leave the long shadow of JFK’s speech behind.

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