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Americans Ann Barocto and Greg Smith came a long way to hear Sen. Barack Obama speak in Berlin. Barocto came from Spangdahlem, Germany, and Smith from Copenhagen, Denmark. The Democratic presidential candidate spoke at Berlin’s Victory Column on Thursday.

Americans Ann Barocto and Greg Smith came a long way to hear Sen. Barack Obama speak in Berlin. Barocto came from Spangdahlem, Germany, and Smith from Copenhagen, Denmark. The Democratic presidential candidate spoke at Berlin’s Victory Column on Thursday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

BERLIN — Ann Barocto packed up the kids and her mother and drove seven hours from Spangdahlem Air Base to see Sen. Barack Obama up close and personal.

"Giant Barack Obama supporter," said Barocto of herself, a 36-year-old major in Air Force Reserve whose husband is serving at Spangdahlem since October. "It’s been hard for me not to be in the States during the campaign. When I heard he was coming to Germany, I was ecstatic."

She arrived more than three hours early for a prime spot in Berlin’s Tiergarten park, in front of the Victory column — with the angel atop the column facing the other way — where Obama was soon to speak on the trans-Atlantic relationship. She was joined by hundreds more international early birds who stood or sat on the pavement in front of a podium flanked by potted palms, and, to the left, a bandstand that caused a great deal of speculation.

"Have you heard who the band is going to be?" asked Greg Smith, an American lawyer, 45, who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Smith’s money was on Bruce Springsteen — "Wishful thinking," he said — although he’d also heard REM was touring Europe.

But he was there for Obama, to see him orate, to enjoy a historic event, "to live the moment."

Smith was also betting that his candidate, at some point, "Dollars to doughnuts, he’ll say, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ " echoing John F. Kennedy’s famous proclamation that some people, to this day, say actually means, "I am a jelly doughnut.’ "

Estimates of the expected crowd ranged between 10,000 and 1 million. By 5:30 p.m., it was impossible to say how many people had gathered, although it was possible to see there were many, many news media representatives. They had all gone through a metal detector, a bag check and a pat-down, just like at the airport.

Non-media people were prohibited from carrying in bags. That wasn’t a problem because there were tents selling wurst and beer.

Which had not gone unnoticed by Yannick Nelis, a Belgian law student, and his group of likewise shirtless five friends. The group were on their "fourth, fifth, sixth" beer, said Nelis, 22, what with their being on holiday and all.

The young men had come not for the speech exactly, but for a good time in Berlin.

"We like him, too," Nelis said of Obama. "It would be better than Bush, that’s for sure."

Just after 5:30 p.m., the band started up.

It was not Bruce Springsteen.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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