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Looking to Berlin for Inspiration by Paul Steege This past Friday, the _Philadelphia Inquirer_ headlined a notice about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie moving into the Palais Parkschloss in Berlin-Wannsee with the caption: "Brad: ich bin ein Berliner." Coming at the end of a summer with any number of variations on iconic statements about Berlin, this reduction of Kennedy's iconic 1963 speech to a society page quip seemed to underscore the farcical nature of the trend to reprise Cold War rhetorical formulations. Motivated in part by Gabrielle Spiegel's recent essay on the dangers of carelessly deploying historical analogies in current debates about the legality and efficacy of torture, I thought I'd try briefly to consider whether the quotation and near quotation of memorable passages from Berlin's Cold War history should matter to historians. This summer both American presidential candidates used historical analogies to appeal to voters. Republican John McCain paraphrased Kennedy in the face of Russia's August military incursion into the Caucasus, proclaiming that "Today, we are all Georgians." But Barack Obama's July speech in Berlin provided a more extensive rhetorical repackaging of Berlin's twentieth century past. Given the setting, Obama's thematic focus is perhaps unsurprising, but the widespread anticipation that he would deploy some sort of historical analogy underscores the performative role history now seems obliged to fill. For weeks, pundits speculated whether Obama's speech would try to channel John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. Instead, he gave us a German leader now largely forgotten on this side of the Atlantic: Ernst Reuter. Ernst Reuter was a portly, beret-wearing, Social Democratic politician and mayor of West Berlin from December 1948 until his death in 1953. A one-time Soviet Commissar, he broke with the German Communist Party in 1922 and remained a vehement opponent of Communism for the rest of his life. After spending most of Nazi rule in exile, he returned to occupied Berlin in late 1946, just as the battle for political control of the city was beginning to heat up. We recently passed the sixtieth anniversary of Reuter's iconic speech in the midst of the Berlin Blockade that called on the world to look to Berlin. On September 9, 1948, Reuter joined other non-communist politicians in Berlin at a massive demonstration to protest Soviet-led efforts to disrupt the municipal government and to denounce Soviet restrictions on ground transport into the city. While the anniversary earned a few polite recollections in Berlin, the speech generated much more interest when Obama quoted it at length this summer. He recalled Reuter's appeal to the world to "look to Berlin" (rather strangely translated as "look at Berlin") and also called on his global audience to look to Berlin while also urging that it "reject the Cold War mind-set of the past." In his speech, Obama repeatedly stressed the need to tear down walls. But in its core historical comparison--the transformative moment of the Berlin blockade and airlift--his rhetoric built up a wall that wasn't there. The Soviet control measures that comprised the Berlin blockade were never total. And for all of its technical and symbolic achievements, the Anglo-American airlift never provided all that West Berliners needed to survive. During the entire Blockade, Berliners continued to move back and forth across the city and even to travel into the surrounding Soviet Occupation Zone. In the face of ongoing scarcity, they turned to the same survival practices that had sustained them since the end of the war: deal-making, foraging, and other practices seen then and now as black marketeering. Reuter spoke to and for all Berliners, not only in the western half of the city. He appealed to the world for help, not primarily for the material aid of the airlift but for a steadfast commitment to "our common ideals." His iconic appeal rested on Berliners' achievements. While it is true that the airlift proved instrumental in transforming the German-American relationship--it helped change former enemies into allies and even friends--it also demonstrated the material limits of military intervention, even in pursuit of humanitarian ends. The airlift succeeded as a symbol of freedom only because Berliners acted materially on their own behalf. The almost universal willingness (in the West at least) to assert the absolute stakes in this first Cold War clash--to claim that it was about life and death for West Berliners--helped to explain to the world why the Cold War subsequently demanded the world's total commitment. The West's ultimate victory in the Cold War came not from that sort of total dedication--which its Soviet counterparts also shared--but from local actions that undermined the Cold War's claim to explain everything. Historians may feel that they have little opportunity to explain anything to a broad public audience. When we do get the chance to join in a conversation overshadowed by any number of iconic declarations (such as those made by Obama), we often get just a few minutes of airtime or a few hundred words in a newspaper column. In that context, I am unwilling to reject historical analogy as a useful way of making shorthand interventions in the history of the present. At the very least, historians can attempt to complicate the way the public consumes its historical clichés. If we refuse this admittedly fragmented engagement with the past, we must accept that we are restricted to the academic monograph or scholarly journal article--or perhaps the celebrity gossip columns. NOTES  "Sideshow," _Philadelphia Inquirer_ (26 April 2008), E2.  Gabrielle M. Spiegel, "'Getting Medieval': History and the Torture Memos," _Perspectives on History_ 46, no. 6 (September 2008), 3-6.  McCain to Georgian President: "Today, We Are All Georgians," _Washington Post_ (12 August 2008), http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/08/12/mccain_to_georgian_pre sident_t.html (29 September 2008).  Anniversary accounts in Berlin: Sven Felix Kellerhof, "Vor 60 Jahren: Als Ernst Reuter die Völker der Welt rief," _Berliner Morgenpost_ (9 September 2008), <http://www.morgenpost.de/berlin/article876483/Als_Ernst_Reuter_die_Voelker_ der_Welt_rief.html > (20 September 2008). There is also a post on the website of the Deutscher Bundestag: <http://www.bundestag.de/aktuell/archiv/2008/22206932_kw37_reuter_rede/index .html > (20 September 2008). For the text of Obama's speech, see "Transcript: Obama's Speech in Berlin," _New York Times_ (24 July 2008), <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/us/politics/24text-obama.html?scp=3&sq=ob ama%20berlin%20speech&st=cse >) (30 September 2008). On the Obama speech, see Andreas Daum, "No Free Lunch: Obama and Nietzsche in Berlin," _History News Network_ (28 July 2008), <http://hnn.us/articles/52730.html > (18 September 2008). Susan Neiman, "Change Germans Can't Believe In," _New York Times_ (26 July 2008), <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/26/opinion/26neiman.html > (20 September 2008) and her more enthusiastic essay on the _Huffington Post_ <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-neiman/obama-in-berlin-finding-t_b_1160 26.html >.  On Ernst Reuter, see especially David E. Barclay, _Schaut auf diese Stadt: der unbekannte Ernst Reuter_ (Berlin: Siedler, 2000).