Berlin, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel rolled out the red carpet for President Obama on Wednesday evening, hosting a dinner in his honor at the storied 17th-century Schloss Charlottenburg to mark his first Official Visit to the capital city. A special guest was invited to please the hoops-obsessed President Obama: Dirk Nowitzki, a native son who is the star power forward for the Dallas Mavericks. (Above, the President and Chancellor with Nowitzki)
The festivities came hours after President Obama delivered his address at the Brandenburg Gate, and "signifies the incredible friendship between our two countries," President Obama said during his toast.
"In these stunning surroundings tonight, we're reminded of the breadth of that history and the friendship between our two peoples," President Obama said.
Schloss Charlottenburg is the only surviving royal residence in Berlin built by the Hohenzollern family, and the pale-yellow palace, dating to 1695, is filled with priceless art and statuary.
The President honored Merkel with a State Dinner at the White House in June 2011, presenting her with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom. But the Chancellor's reciprocal dinner was less formal, since it was not a State Dinner. The President wore a dark suit, and Merkel was in a cream jacket and slacks.
The dinner was held in the Orangery, a long, airy chamber lined with high arched windows that open onto lush baroque gardens. It was softly lit with orange lights, and the invited dignitaries, government officials, and diplomats sat at round tables with cream cloths, decorated with tiny tea candles and floral centerpieces of cream and pink blooms.
Wednesday happened to be Nowitzki's 35th birthday, and the seven-foot-tall athlete was seated at the round Head Table for fourteen with the Chancellor and the President and Mrs. Obama. They first met in 2011, when the President honored the Mavs at the White House for their NBA championship. (Above, the Head Table)
President Obama's half-sister Auma Obama was also at the Head Table, seated beside Dr. Sauer, who sat beside the First Lady. Ms. Obama lives in Kenya, but studied and lived in Germany as a young woman.
Both Merkel and the President noted his speech at the Brandenburg Gate as they toasted; the President addressed an invited crowd of 4,500. The day was unseasonably warm, and he removed his suit jacket as he laid out his vision for a just and peaceful word, calling for a reduction in the world's nuclear stockpiles by as much as a third, including negotiating with Russia "to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures."
"Many people here in Germany feel a great sense of admiration towards you--because, in many ways, you personally embody the image of the United States as a country of unlimited possibility," Merkel said, as she noted the positive response to the President's speech--watched, she said, all over Germany.
"Mr. President, your visit shows yet again how close this friendship is," Merkel said. "It is a friendship that is not only close but is unshakeable in its foundations."
"Allow me to raise my glass and drink to your very good health Mr. President, and to the very good health of Michelle...and to the people of America," Merkel said.
The President's speech at the Gate came fifty years after President John F. Kennedy made his iconic Cold War "Ich bin ein Berliner" address on June 26, 1963, a fact touted by both Germany and the US. But Mr. Obama in his toast made light of his own speech, noting that in 1963 newspapers reported "that more than 1,000 people fainted" when Kennedy spoke, due to an "emotional response."
"We did not have 1,000 people faint today," President Obama said to laughter.
"The few who did, did so because of the weather and not because of my speech."
The crowd on Wednesday was far smaller than in 2008, when Mr. Obama spoke to more than 200,000 people in Berlin while still a Senator.
He continued his toast with high praise for Merkel: "I'm extraordinarily grateful for our partnership and our friendship," he said.
"As I've said before, you're an inspiration to me and to people around the world...on a very personal level, I'm thankful to Angela."
"Immigrants from Germany and German Americans have continued to shape America" since Schloss Charlottenburg was first built, the President said.
"For our independence, we thank von Steuben," President Obama said, naming Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian officer who helped Colonial citizens trump the British in the Revolutionary War.
"For our prosperity, families like Chrysler and Guggenheim, Heinz and Hershey," President Obama said, naming giants of industry and food production.
"For inspiration, Einstein, Steinway, Steinbeck, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig," he said, riffing from physics to baseball.
America's national obsession with denim can also be credited to German immigrants, the President said.
"Young Americans like our daughters will always be grateful to Levi Strauss for their blue jeans," the President declared to laughter.
The President's habit of beer drinking has been made much of since he took office, and he is also the first President in history to charge his White House chefs with homebrewing beer. He capped his German namechecking run with native beer barons.
"Americans will always be grateful especially for some very important German immigrants -- Anheuser-Busch," President Obama said to more laughter and applause as he mentioned Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch.
Earlier on Wednesday, Dr. Sauer escorted Mrs. Obama, Auma Obama, and First Daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 12, to one of the few remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall, and to the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (Above, the President chats with Nowitzki)
President mentioned the outing in his toast.
"We're incredibly grateful that Sasha and Malia have had the privilege to see not only the beauty but also the history of this city," President Obama said.
"When we were in the hotel room, Malia was reciting back to me everything that she had learned about the formation of the wall, and the history of reunification."
Mrs. Obama and the girls laid flowers at the Wall in memory of the victims killed trying to cross to escape from the Communist East Berlin to West Berlin.
"Nothing is more gratifying than when you see your children understanding not only the facts of history, but also the values that drive history," President Obama said.
As he closed his remarks, the President mentioned the Freedom Bell, a gift in the 1950s from the American people to the people of Germany.
"Before the bell was given to our German friends, it traveled all around the United States. Millions of Americans joined the effort, lending their support and signing their names to a declaration of freedom," President Obama said.
He raised a wine glass filled with water as he ended his remarks.
"I want to close tonight by proposing a toast--I left my wine there, so I'll go with water," President Obama said.
He quoted the inscription on the bell: "We believe in the sacredness and dignity of the individual. We believe that all men derive the right of freedom equally from God. And we are proud to join with millions of men and women throughout the world who hold the cause of freedom sacred."
"Zum wohl," the President concluded in German, to applause.
*The full transcript of President Obama and Chancellor Merkel's toast remarks.
The First Family arrived in Berlin on Tuesday night, traveling from Belfast. They departed Berlin immediately after the dinner, heading back to Washington, DC, aboard Air Force One, shortly after 10:00 PM local time.
Ahead of his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, President Obama attended a formal arrival ceremony in the morning at Schloss Bellevue, the Presidential Palace, with German President Joachim Gauck, where they reviewed troops before a bilateral meeting. That was followed by a bilateral meeting and working luncheon and joint press conference with Merkel at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. (Above, the President and Merkel with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit at the Brandenburg Gate)
The President's visit to Berlin came after spending two days at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. It was the President's third trip abroad in his second term. He next travels to the African continent, departing on July 26.
*CLICK HERE for links to all posts about the visit to Germany.
*CLICK HERE for links to all posts about the G8 Summit.
*Top photo and photo of the First Lady and Chancellor by Pete Souza/White House; other photos via the German Missions in the United States/pool.