Friday, June 21, 2013

Freedom with Justice: Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and John F. Kennedy

On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama gave his speech at 90+ F temperatures to a selection of invited guests on the east side of the Brandenburg gate.  Afterwards, Germans wondered a little bit about just how imprisoning people without judicial cause in Guantanamo, killing civilians in Afghanistan with drone strikes, and collecting data on citizens’ internet and cell phone use went together with his oft-repeated theme of “Freedom with Justice”. But then the heat made it all one big blur in Berliners’ brains as they headed to the next lake to cool off.

Also on Wednesday, as freedom and justice fighter Nelson Mandela himself was struggling with his failing health in far South Africa, Ruby sailed through her entrance exam at Berlin’s Nelson Mandela High School:
Her future peers, a group of kids from all over the world, were whisperingly coached by their ambitious, wealthy diplomat parents in the hallway before the interview, reminding me of American soccer moms. Happily, today we got Ruby’s acceptance email for the new 8th grade class at this high demand international school. This despite the fact that she answered the question “What does your dad do?” with “He owns a bar.” Oops, wrong dad to refer to. Our “High Mobility Family” letter (Hochmobilitaetsbescheinigung, yes, that is a word) submitted to the school was based on Charlie’s work requiring frequent travel and change. Not on Uwe’s Bowling Alley/Bar in Berlin-Wedding.

Charlie and I escaped the heat of Berlin by heading to Dublin and then the beautiful Boyne Valley. Mild sun, tempered by cool sea breezes and today’s gentle rain made me appreciate the fact that we don’t have to endure the heat and smoke-tainted air of New Mexico right now. We had a great pub lunch in Dublin and a nice train ride to Drogheda. I swear our cab driver taking us to the hotel from downtown tonight is paid for by the local cultural preservation council – his name was Patrick Collins and he made lovely Irish small talk about the weather. Unlike Americans, the Irish use no superlatives –  the untoppable “awesome” becomes “fairly good”, or “not too bad”. Tomorrow we’ll look at some ancient ruins in Newgrange, older than the pyramids and Stonehenge.

The Irish meanwhile, a few days after the current US first family came through here as well, are commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland with a series of emotional events involving his family and the people and places he touched back in 1963. Obama left much less of an impression in both Ireland and Berlin this week. But it would have been hard for anyone to top JFK's act - visiting Ireland as the first Irish-American US President, or saying something as dead-on as “Ich bin ein Berliner”, right after the wall was built. Yet, the US have a long way to go, walking the walk, in order to be credible in Europe when talking about “Freedom with Justice”.

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