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Aboard Obama's Plane to Berlin


Berliners wait for Sen. Barack Obama's arrival outside his hotel near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, July 24, 2008. (Dan Balz / The Washington Post)

By Dan Balz
BERLIN--Barack Obama wandered back into the press cabin of his chartered campaign plane early this morning and shared some thoughts about the speech he will give tonight and other aspects of his trip to Europe and the Middle East.

The charter was parked at the Tel Aviv airport awaiting departure for Germany. Obama had just arrived after a pre-dawn visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where he was greeted by a lone, but loud and persistent, heckler. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee described the scene at Judaism's holiest site as a bit "rowdy," adding, "I was expecting more reverence."

Obama had gone to the site in the Old City shortly after 5 a.m., and was escorted across the ancient plaza by the Rabbi of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich. As the rabbi read from Psalm 122, "A Song of Ascents of David," a man standing nearby yelled repeatedly: "Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale! Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale."

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord,'" read the Rabbi. "Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem."

When the prayer was concluded, Obama placed a personal note in a crack between the large stones in the wall, as is the custom, placed his hand on the wall and bowed his head, standing quietly. He told reporters on the plane later that Rabbi Rabinovich had presented him with the gift of a large book chronicling the history of the wall, a remnant of the Temple Mount that dates back about 2,000 years.

A reporter asked Obama if he wanted to share with others his prayer at the wall. He declined.

Conversation quickly turned to the candidate's new plane, which was recently reconfigured to include spacious swivel chairs in Obama's cabin, business-class seats for the staff in the second section, and two more sections with standard three-across seats on either side of the aisle.That's where the reporters get to sit.

"It's crowded. It's packed," Obama said, commenting on the full load of staff, reporters, TV crews and Secret Service who are traipsing around with him this week. When a reporter noted that Obama's cabin was far more spacious, he laughed. "I'm not going to lie to you guys. But listen, I suffered in these seats for an ample amount of time... My legs kept bumping up in the original configuration."

Reporters offered no sympathy. "You're not going to let us take turns in your Baraclounger, are you?" one asked.

Obama promised to bring reporters up to his cabin at some point--but not right that minute. "I'm sleeping right now, so you're not allowed," he said.

Obama said he's not gotten much shut-eye since leaving Washington a week ago. He showed his fatigue last night, as he scurried from meeting to meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Israel and the West Bank. According to one pool report, he was overheard telling former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyhu, "I could sleep standing up."

I ran into Obama as he was leaving the King David Hotel for a dinner last night and asked him how he was feeling. "I'm a little beat, but I'm doing all right," he said.

By this morning, when we arrived in Berlin, Obama had caught some more shut-eye and looked fresher. He said he has found himself waking up in the middle of the night during the trip, because his body clock had not adjusted to the time zone changes. Israel and Jordan are seven hours ahead of Washington, for example, and Berlin is six hours ahead.

Someone mentioned to Obama that a number of reporters had not had any sleep overnight because of their 3:45 a.m. departure from the King David hotel for the Tel Aviv airport. "The difference though is, sort of mid- afternoon, you're not in middle of some briefing . . . as it catches up to you," Obama said.

He will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before his public address in Tiergarten Park, which is scheduled for about 1:15 p.m. Washington time.

Although the German government scuttled an early proposal for Obama to speak at Brandenburg Gate, where Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan made famous appearances, the Illinois senator will be sleeping quite near that location. The candidate's hotel stands adjacent to the historic landmark in Berlin.

Aboard his plane early this morning, someone asked what was the high point of the trip so far. "This," Obama deadpanned, referring to his 15-minute appearance in the back cabin with reporters. "I had to earn it," he said. "I said, 'When do I get a chance to go back and talk to the press?' "

Amid laughter, he was asked for his second-favorite moment. He paused.

"You know I really get a kick out of spending time with the troops. Their morale is high, but they really appreciate acknowledgement of what they're doing," Obama said. "You know, everywhere we went in Afghanistan and Iraq they were just really eager to tell their story, what they were doing. And it was moving. And it's neat to see the mix. You have a bunch of 20-year olds and then you'll get a 40-year old or 50-year old who's in the Guard; a Missouri banker who's helping to try to set up a agricultural project. You know, that's pretty spectacular."

Very few of the troops wanted to talk politics, Obama said, other than to inquire what life on the trail is like. Did he think the troops gave him an honest assessment of the situation in the war zones? "I think if you get them outside of earshot of their commanding officers or, you know, whoever they're reporting to, and I think a lot of times you do," he said.

Obama expressed some frustration at how difficult it is to talk with ordinary Iraqis when visiting the country. "That's the tough thing about the war zones, you just, you can't talk to the local population," he said. "It's just too controlled." He added that some sheiks and regional officials were closer to the ground and "gave you a better sense of how ordinary Iraqis are thinking about it."

He said his visit to Iraq was the first chance he had for a small-group conversation with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces there. He called Petraeus "a very smart guy," "an extremely capable person" and someone he could work with--even though Petraeus disagrees with Obama's plan to get combat forces out within 16 months if he is president.

Obama also had high praise for Ambassador Ryan Crocker, calling him "a real unsung hero" in Iraq. "Very savvy but incredibly humble and self-effacing," he said.

Obama recoiled when a reporter asked whether the Berlin speech was really going to draw a million people, as some reports have estimated. Other estimates have put the number at 100,000. "Let's tamp down expectations here," he said.

He said his staff had just informed him that the space in Tiergarten Park was much larger than he originally realized, and joked that he might have to spend the afternoon hours in Germany trying to build an ample crowd.

"This is one of those where we really have no idea what's going to happen. It's sort of a crapshoot. I'm happy with the speech though," he said..

Initially, Obama balked at talking to us about the speech, but he eventually relented. "It's not a wonkish policy speech," he said.

Obama's aides went to great lengths to say the speech event was not a campaign event. Obama said it was not a political rally "in the sense it's not designed to get them to the polls."

"Hopefully it will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I 'd like to see between the United States and Europe," he said.

What about the audience back home? "I'm hoping to communicate across the Atlantic the value of that relationship and how we need to build on it," he said.

He was asked whether he saw parallels between the his speech and those given by Kennedy and Reagan. "They were presidents," he said. "I am a citizen." But he said the selection of Berlin as the site of the speech was a reflection of the city's history-shaping role.

"There's no doubt that part of what I want to communicate on both sides of the Atlantic is the enormous potential of us restoring a sense of coming together," he said.

Was the speech is one aspect of proving himself as a presidential candidate? "No," he replied. "I'm just giving a speech."

By Washington Post Editor  |  July 24, 2008; 6:33 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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Comments

To mpwynn@spro who ask Obama about gas,milk prices,Cheap jobs, why do you ask him and not ask your Bush president who with his super billion-dollar expenses for Iraq war got USA into increasing deficit?
For all the hate shown by white KuKluxKlanners to Obama, we Asians (Iam from Indonesia) view all the spectacles about USA candidacy with great interest,(I think the same goes for Europeans),and rather with disgust view the smallminded I-am-not-so-lucky-as-Obama-so-I-envy-him bloggers.
I forgot, the soaring world gas price get us Asians in the same trouble too with gas,food,jobs,due to mr Bush's (and maybe helped by McCain?) wise policies!

Posted by: On santi | July 25, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I am puzzled why are so many Americans (in this blog) who hates Obama,are they KuKluxKlanners, or a they white unruly unethical young guys from broken homes,full of atress about themselves and now cast their stress upon Ob(l)a(ck)ma?
We Asians (and Europens too,I think) view all this USA candidacy spectacles with great interest,and with disgust to the smallminded

Posted by: Om santi | July 25, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Better shape up BrackO.
It's not nice to snub the troops who were wounded(and the taxpayers)for making it possible for you and your press groupies to take this little(campaign commercial)junket.

Posted by: daryl | July 25, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Better shape up BrackO.
It's not nice to snub the troops who were wounded(and the taxpayers)for making it possible for you and your press groupies to take this little(campaign commercial)junket.

Posted by: daryl | July 25, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Nice work, Dan! One is able to get the feeling of being aboard the plane.

Posted by: James Canning | July 24, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Excellent reporting by Dan Balz throughout Obama's trip; best among the lot; congratulations!

Posted by: Jan from Los Angeles | July 24, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse


Anyone else getting bored by this azzhole...a democrate spending money like there si no tomorrow????? Meanwhile, we in America wake up daily now cringing at the price increases and the impact on our failies!

The disconnect of people from Government is worse now than ever before.........


shut the he11 up Obama, you are becoming a BORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Sean McM | July 24, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

when he comes back he should be boo Joe is in Jerusalem .What is he doing there ?

Posted by: maggie | July 24, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Now that Obama has impressed the Berliners at Germany's historic and visibly striking Tiergarten Park, it's time for him to come on back to America and impress the folks down at the Monroe County Courthouse in Union, West Virgina. Oh, and by the way, he should bring all those fancy press people with him to hear what these proud, hard-working American citizens have to say about the price of milk and gas and what it's like to work three jobs at minimum wage. Are you listening Senator Obama?

Posted by: mpwynn@spro.net | July 24, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

ARE REPUBLICANS REALLY DETERMINED TO WIN THIS ELECTION?

http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/2008/07/john-mccains-peculiar-path-along.html

... perhaps not.

Posted by: PacificGatePost | July 24, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Looks at the crowd outside Obama's hotel. wow.
Are they excited to see the guy or what.
that is really exciting for me to see. how people in other countries are reacting and feeling.
I admit to being someone who cares about how Europe feels. Maybe because I'm half french and because of my family over there.
It interests me.

Posted by: vwcat | July 24, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Hey ReformthesystemAndDeceptiveCampaigning,
your obsession with gays, socialists, Muslims, and other people's masculinity, or your portrayal of those who you characterize to be gays and socialists etc, worries me only about one person. Can you guess who? That's right, you. Obviously you are well educated and well read but even from all your book learning and theological and historical knowledge you have failed to see that there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats, between the ideas and thoughts of the western religions as a whole. It is individuals such as yourself, who continue to pit "us against them", create polarites based on hatred and unbalanced conspiracies, that fuel the fire of age old conflicts, and that do nothing to help us, as a species, better ourselves and, in turn, better the world. So, when you paint pretty pictures using such filigree phrases such as "paranoid propaganda apparatus" remember this: you are still holding the mirror you have crafted from your own hands up to your own face, not to the face of the world. Good luck to you Sir.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

He is promoting his new website. It just happens to be the lead story on his site and it almost fit. The site is nothing but a black, Jew and everything else hating site not even worth looking at.
----
Come on Zach - What does Obama's trip to Europe have to do with Normandy? What is your connection. I feel like I am wasting my time writing this because your statement is so out there you could not possibly be able to give a coherent answer.

Posted by: Brian | July 24, 2008 10:31 AM

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

You are right it was Rudolph Wilde Plaza where Kennedy made his, "Come to Berlin" Speech. (I didn't have to look that up by the way) You wonder how a writer for the WP can be so ill informed?

========
A small correction: John F. Kennedy did NOT speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, only Reagan did.

Posted by: andy | July 24, 2008 10:15 AM

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Presumptive DP nom was thought to have practiced the faith of his father and step father when he was an 8-year-old; as a late-teen prep-school and upscale-college student, he was according to his books something of an isolated coke-sniffing atheist; then as a yuppie disciple of Jeremiah Wright's South Chicago sermons that asked God to damn America, he has been referring to himself as a "Christian". Now, wearing a yarmulke and placing notes in the Wailing Wall, he spent just 5% of his time in Palestine visiting Palestinians (and none at the places of the Crucifixion and Resurrection he once said he believes in). This is only to convince the NY and LA electorates that he is really takes the Jewish side and next week he should be called Baruch instead of Barack (forget about the Hussein part).

The propaganda film that Baruch and his sidekicks could very well be imagined to be producing and editing during the current flights of "Obama One" would not be "If it's Thursday this must be Berlin", which would also show that the socialist mayor of Berlin, a gay man, has already expressed his passionate love for presumptive DP nom by making enormous efforts to get out a welcoming crowd. (Presumptive DP nom's paranoid propaganda apparatus might realistically be thinking of salting their upcoming film with a few scenes from "As Good as It Gets" to indicate security in his own masculinity, and disguise his de facto sympathy for gay marriage.) The climactic scene of such a film will no doubt be a kind of take off from Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 "Triumph of the Will", depicting not only a kind of 1934 party triumph at Nuremberg in a modern setting but presumptive DP nom in the role of the combat veteran JFK facing off to Chairman Kruschev's recently built wall, not by speaking JFK's ungrammatical German sentence "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("Ein Berliner" is a jelly doughnut.), rather than the correct Ich bin Berliner. Presumptive DP nom will no doubt correctly imitate a German sentence or two, just as he imitated a few Spanish sentences in Puerto Rico without admitting that he really knew no Spanish. Such a film will airbrush out the speech location's memorial to the military conquests under Chancellor Bismarck, which presumptive DP who has repeatedly shown an ignorance of history may only associate with a place in which to campaign somewhere around North Dakota.

Nevertheless, based on something like 36 hours, 34 minutes and 10 seconds in secure fortress locations around Kabul, 39 hours, 42 minutes and 22 seconds in the heavily protected Iraq green zone, 28 hours and 30 minutes in Mossad-protected Israel with a 45 minute venture into the West Bank, and presently 24 hours or so in Berlin surrounded by 700 polizei among the adoring gay and socialist crowd, obamafanatics across the US will now be able to be sure to a theological certainty and not just a mathematical certainty that their hero of heroes has military and foreign policy experience and that their opponents' view that he is just a well-rehearsed "empty suit" character are simply all wet.

Posted by: ReformthesystemAndDeceptiveCampaigning | July 24, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Come on Zach - What does Obama's trip to Europe have to do with Normandy? What is your connection. I feel like I am wasting my time writing this because your statement is so out there you could not possibly be able to give a coherent answer.

Posted by: Brian | July 24, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate the inclusion of the questions to which the Senator is providing answers.

Posted by: Monica Smith | July 24, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse


A small correction: John F. Kennedy did NOT speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, only Reagan did.

Posted by: andy | July 24, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I read about the ongoings in the US presidential election and the candidates and it gets me to wonder what really generates perceptions in some Americans to vote a Bush. Granted, there may have been the possibility that Kerry unmatched Bush as regards war against terror, but Americans need not make the same mistake. The qualification for the job of a president should not be about military records or years in government, but should be about conscience to serve and to lead people positively - great vision and attitude to realising that vision.

Most folks in here in Europe dislike Bush not for the US faltering US economy or high oil prices, but for the war in Iraq. McCain seems to be enthusiastic about wars. He may be a proponent of security through wars, but how we see it is that he is a war-monger - something Bush is not, to be fair. I think America will suffer hate with a McCain in the White House.

Americans need to look at the larger picture when they make decisions, especially when casting the vote.

Posted by: Alex, Scotland | July 24, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

As an independent he has done an amazing job on this trip and has shown himself to be Presidential. He also has proven that he could be a wonderful commander and chief. Even if you don't agree with his politics you have to give him the fact that he has shown in the last week a better presidential image to the world than his rival.

Posted by: Crews2me | July 24, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

What strikes me from the photos is the way people are reaching out to him. Whether they are leaders, a king, troops, or religious figures, they truly seem welcoming and open to meeting with him.

Quite a contrast to photos of our current president - most look like they can't wait for him to leave.

Barack Obama is going to do a lot of good for our country, and in short time will make the world forget our mistakes of the past eight years. We are fortunate to have such a dynamic candidate.

Posted by: Susan | July 24, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

The Europeans get it, why can't more Americans? They favor Obama 65-35. Just think of what electing Obama will do to our standing in the world!

Posted by: Luke | July 24, 2008 8:47 AM | Report abuse

As an American living in Europe, I cannot express how thrilled I am so see someone of Mr. Obama's character representing the USA. The world is responding to this man, exactly what we need in order to convince the world that America can be great again.

Posted by: Dawny Chambers | July 24, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

" . . . a lone heckler . . . ,"

I didn't know Joe Lieberman was in Jerusalem.

Posted by: thesuperclasssux | July 24, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

American Journalists are Trampling the Sacrifice of Our Fathers, Mothers, Sisters and Brothers
(Unfortunately, the Journalists taking part in this travesty far outnumber the headstones at Normandy) from zachjonesishome.wordpress.com Specifically:
http://zachjonesishome.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/obama-media-jounalists-trampling-on-the-sacrifice-of-our-fathers-mothers-sisters-brothers/

Posted by: ZachJonesIsHome | July 24, 2008 7:33 AM | Report abuse

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