Many Americans have rocked huge crowds in Berlin. Here are videos of John F. Kennedy in June 1963, Ronald Reagan in June 1987, Bruce Springsteen in July 1988, and Barack Obama in July 2008.
Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan spoke in West-Berlin and stressed America's solidarity and commitment to freedom.
Bruce Springsteen performed his political songs in East-Berlin, the biggest rock concert the GDR had seen. When the Berlin Wall fell a year later, President George Bush senior was not a loud rock star, which would have been inappropriate and added insult to injury to the Soviet Union. (Poking a wounded super power in free fall would have been dangerous.).
Senator Obama was greeted like a rock star when he spoke in Berlin during his presidential campaign. Berliners longed to hear his message of hope and change after the disappointment in America caused by the Bush junior presidency.
1. John F. Kennedy deserves to be called the biggest rock star for his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, although rock music was not popular yet in June 1963 at the height of the Cold War. The square at the Schöneberger Rathaus was packed, and nearly every adult German who was not there was watching the speech on TV or listening on the radio. Germans still love him; despite the criticism in Fred Kempe's book.
2. Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech was very important, but the president's overall perception in Germany is not all that positive. Since Atlantic Review likes the "underdog", he gets the second place in this ranking anyway. You are a rocker when you perform right at the frontline of the Cold War. Ambassador Kornblum described the planning in the great American Interest article "Reagan's Brandenburg Concerto" twenty years after this 1987 speech.
3. Bruce Springsteen achieved what JFK and RR could not: He rocked the East-Berliners. In his 1988 rock concert he said: "I came to play rock 'n' roll for you East Berliners in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down." The communists tried to portray him as a "hero of the working class," but they had long lost the propaganda battle, when the 160,000 strong crowd sang "Born in the USA". A hymn to the enemy, which the communists constantly described as decadent and belligerent. From Reuters:
"Springsteen's concert and speech certainly contributed in a larger sense to the events leading up to the fall of the Wall," said Gerd Dietrich, a historian at Berlin's Humboldt University. (...)
[TV anchorman] Jobatey told Reuters recently it was hard to know if Springsteen had helped set in motion the chain of events leading to the Berlin Wall's fall 16 months later. But he said it was a magical evening just before the upheaval gained momentum. "The music was great and he showed people a different experience, a different way life, a different world," Jobatey said. "There was an incredible vibe to it all. It was an amazing thing to experience in the middle of East Berlin."
He said the concert probably affected East Germany more thoroughly than the 1969 Woodstock Festival did America.
"People didn't want to leave when it was over," he said. "The police gave up after a while. I walked back across town for about two hours and everywhere everyone was happy and on a real high. But it didn't feel like a revolution, just yet anyhow."
4. Barack Obama came to Berlin twenty years after Springsteen and was greeted like a rock star by a crowd of some 200,000 Berliners. And more than five million watched at home.
I was in the crowd and recorded interviews with a diverse group of attendees with my colleague Ben Heine. It was fun to produce this video. The best I have produced so far, with more than 5000 views on Youtube:
Ben concluded back then on atlantic-community.org: "The majority of Germans support Barack Obama for the US presidency, not because they believe he will radically change US policy, but because he is expected to return it to the familiar pre-Bush trajectory." I agree and we had a long discussion on Atlantic Review: What Germans Think of Barack Obama: Continuity We Can Believe In
President Obama might return to Berlin this year (Morgenpost, in German), but I doubt he will get the same rock star welcome.
Springsteen will definitely come back to Berlin for a concert on May 30th 2012. This time in the western part of Berlin. I am sure his new single will rock Berliners once again. I like it a lot.
5. President George Herbert Walker Bush made Germany's smooth reunification possible and received every award we have. He rocked the world, but was not a rocker. Therefore appreciation, without a video. Anybody else who should be featured here with a video?