Berlin is a place where US presidents make history.
In this once divided city, Barack Obama, the outgoing President of a now divided USA, came bearing a baton, a torch of global international leadership to pass on to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He lavished praise on his “closest ally” in office. Frau Merkel almost appeared to tear up as he recounted her personal history being the story of Germany’s success. President Obama practically said he would vote for her, if he could.
How history’s wheel turns. In his own analysis, it does not move in a straight line, it zigzags. Donald Trump’s election, Brexit, the rise of some populist movements; all have been woven together by digitisation, and the easy percolation of false simple answers to complex truths, he says.
Frau Merkel responded with the same analysis. She will find it easier to face off the rise of populist parties, due to the German electoral system. But her lament for the direction of the world was not hidden. She, alone in the G7 industrialised nations, made her welcome to Mr Trump, conditional on respect for human values.
Berlin frets at the sight of Nigel Farage by Mr Trump’s side, of his advisers offering support to the Le Pen family. Diplomatic circles here in Berlin question the new White House’s commitment to internationalism, NATO, stopping Vladimir Putin, and the transatlantic alliance.
Mr Obama tried unconvincingly to square his pre-election disdain for the notion of a President Trump with the fact that it is now happening. His “cautious optimism” was not about Mr Trump per se, but about the fact that if he did not perform in a job “demanding seriousness” he “won’t be there very long”.
“The President-elect is going to see fairly quickly that the demands of being President cannot be treated casually,” he said: a classic lawyer’s way of appearing to conform to conventions, while not changing his view of Mr Trump even slightly.
Angela Merkel stood next to him, and the overall impression I got was total agreement – and agreement that Obama should carry on doing it.
For starters, there is now open talk that a Trump White House means that Germany will have to look after its own defence and security – so Germany as a military power to match the French and the UK.
But President Obama is resting much more on Frau Merkel’s shoulders. He “hopes” the President-elect “stands up” to Russia and doesn’t take the dealmaker “realpolitik” position at the expense of “smaller countries”.
And the following things can’t be taken for granted: the transatlantic relationship, free speech, civil liberties, an independent judiciary, the US system of Government and “our way of life”. Mr Obama clearly thinks Mr Trump is the cause of this uncertainty.
He may be expecting far too much of Frau Merkel. This is a Germany that struggled with the burdens of Eurozone leadership, prolonging the man-made crisis for years of human misery.
German history means that Berlin is a reluctant imperium even in its own backyard. It operates globally through the European Union. Berlin is in protective, not leadership mode. And the next move it awaits is who Donald Trump chooses as Secretary of State.
A US President in Berlin tends to direct history – Barack Obama leaves Europe uncertain where the world is heading, Sky News reports.