Tuesday, June 07, 2011

President Obama's Toast, State Dinner In Honor Of Chancellor Angela Merkel

President Obama
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in the Rose Garden for the State Dinner at 7:30 PM and spoke for a total of about 20 minutes, including a ceremony in which the President awarded Merkel the Presidential Medal of Freedom. More than 200 guests filled the tables in the historic garden outside the Oval Office, the seat of power of the American presidency. The sun was just beginning to set as the President took the podium, and it was a gorgeous evening: Clear skies and a light breeze. The tables were covered in white linen laden with translucent sequins and adorned with crystal candle holders, some with votives and others with large white candles. Green and yellow floral arrangements served as anchors.

Merkel is the first woman and first European leader to be honored by President Obama with a State Dinner, and President Obama praised her as an icon who "has inspired millions around the world -- including me."

"Tonight we honor Angela Merkel not for being denied her freedom or even for attaining her freedom but for what she's achieved when she gained her freedom," President Obama said.

After Merkel received the medal, and a round of applause, there were a few seconds of silence before the President returned to the microphone and said, "I've got to do the toast!"

Raising his glass, he said he was quoting Merkel from an address she gave to Congress in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"To freedom, which must be struggled for and then defended anew every day of our lives," President Obama said.

His glass held a clear liquid--which may or may not have been wine--as he touched it to Merkel's, who toasted with red wine. The President has toasted with water in the past at other important dinners.

Throughout their remarks the President and Merkel often referred to each other by first name.

"Our countries stand up together for peace and freedom," Merkel said through a translator. "Today, the yearning for freedom may well make totalitarian regimes tremble and fall."

The White House chefs created a seasonal, regionally sourced Spring Harvest menu in honor of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden. The full guest list is here.

First Lady Michelle Obama sat at the very long Head Table directly in front of the podium, accompanied by 17 guests during the toasts, including Merkel's husband, Dr. Joachim Sauer; singer James Taylor, who would perform for the evening; and Christoph Eschenbach, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, who would also be called into action. (Above: The President and Mrs. Obama at the Head Table during dinner)

Also at the Head Table were Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd, German architect Helmut Jahn, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James E. Cartwright, Chair and CEO of Kodak Antonio M. Perez, Jane Roberts, a lawyer who is an anti-abortion activist and wife of Associate Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who was seated at a different table; and Robert A. McDonald, chair, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble Company.

Nearby, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, ABC's Diane Sawyer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shared a table with Vice President Joe Biden.

The transcript of President Obama's toast:

Rose Garden
7:31 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good evening. Guten abend. Michelle and I are honored to welcome you as we host Chancellor Merkel, Professor Sauer, and the German delegation for the first official visit and State Dinner for a European leader during my presidency. (Applause.)

Angela, you and the German people have always shown me such warmth during my visits to Germany. I think of your gracious hospitality in Dresden. I think back to when I was a candidate and had that small rally in Berlin’s Tiergarten. (Laughter.) So we thought we’d reciprocate with a little dinner in our Rose Garden.

Now, it’s customary at these dinners to celebrate the values that bind nations. Tonight, we want to do something different. We want to pay tribute to an extraordinary leader who embodies these values and who’s inspired millions around the world -- including me -- and that’s my friend, Chancellor Merkel.
More than five decades ago -- in 1957 -- the first German chancellor ever to address our Congress, Konrad Adenauer, spoke of his people’s “will of freedom” and of the millions of his countrymen forced to live behind an Iron Curtain. And one of those millions, in a small East German town, was a young girl named Angela.

She remembers when the Wall went up and how everyone in her church was crying. Told by the communists that she couldn’t pursue her love of languages, she excelled as a physicist. Asked to spy for the secret police, she refused. And the night the Wall came down, she crossed over, like so many others, and finally experienced what she calls the “incredible gift of freedom.”

Tonight, we honor Angela Merkel not for being denied her freedom, or even for attaining her freedom, but for what she achieved when she gained her freedom. Determined to finally have her say, she entered politics -- rising to become the first East German to lead a united Germany, the first woman chancellor in German history, and an eloquent voice for human rights and dignity around the world.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor a President can bestow on a civilian. Most honorees are Americans; only a few others have received it, among them Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Helmut Kohl. So please join me in welcoming Chancellor Merkel for the presentation of the next Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE: Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Angela Merkel. Dr. Angela Merkel came to symbolize the triumph of freedom by becoming the first East German to serve as chancellor of a united Federal Republic of Germany. She also made history when she became Germany’s first female chancellor. A dedicated public servant, Chancellor Merkel has promoted liberty and prosperity in her own country, in Europe, and throughout the world.
[The medal is presented.]

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You can all applaud. (Laughter and applause.)
I’ve got to do the toast. (Laughter.) I want to conclude by inviting all of you to stand and join me in a toast. And I want to do so with the words that Angela spoke two years ago when she became the first German leader to address our Congress since Chancellor Adenauer all those decades ago. Her words spoke not only to the dreams of that young girl in the East, but to the dreams of all who still yearn for their rights and dignity today: to freedom, which “must be struggled for, and then defended anew, every day of our lives.”

Cheers. Zum wohl. (Applause.)