BERLIN — Speaking at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate, President Obama today challenged Western democracies not to become complacent in the post-Cold War era, saying “our work is not yet done.”
“Complacency is not the character of great nations. Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity — that struggle goes on,” the president told a crowd of over 4,000 invitees.
“I’ve come here, to this city of hope, because the tests of our time demand the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago,” he said.
The iconic gate, famed for powerful political statements, has become a symbol of this once-divided city’s reunification. Speaking 50 years after President Kennedy delivered his famous “ich bin ein Berliner” speech on the west side of the Berlin Wall, Obama spoke in what was once East Germany.
“While I am not the first American president to come to this gate, I am proud to stand on its Eastern side to pay tribute to the past,” he said.
“The wall belongs to history. But we have history to make as well. And the heroes that came before us now call to us to live up to those highest ideals,” he said.
The president’s speech was five years in the making. Then-Senator Obama wanted to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 2008, but was denied. The Germans said it was an honor reserved for sitting presidents.
Instead, in what has become one of the most famous images of his first campaign, Obama addressed a crowd of 200,000 people at the nearby Victory Column.
That enthusiasm was hard to match today. The crowd endured hours in the blistering, 90 plus degree heat waiting for the president to start. Medics zipped through the audience and staffers urgently doled out water to provide relief.
The president was feeling the heat as well.
“Thank you for this extraordinarily warm welcome. In fact, it’s so warm and I feel so good that I’m actually going to take off my jacket,” he said, squinting through the scorching sun. “We can be a little more informal among friends.”