A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama in Berlin


Q: Did 200,000 people show up in Berlin for food, beer and a free concert and not to hear Obama’s speech?

A: It’s possible that some people were there for those reasons, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. The lead singer of one of the bands says that Obama was definitely the main attraction.

FULL QUESTION

Did the German people turn out to hear Barack Obama speak or for a rock concert?  The right-wing press is stating that the big turn out in Germany, 200,000 people, was really for a free rock concert.

FULL ANSWER

We’ve received a number of e-mails from readers asking just what attracted the record crowd at Sen. Barack Obama’s speech in Germany July 24. Some readers cited blogs that suggested that the large turnout was due to a free concert before the speech, and others said free food and beer were given out during the event. So what’s the real story?

According to the Berlin police, there were indeed more than 200,000 people estimated to have attended Obama’s speech at the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, making this the largest crowd that Obama has addressed throughout his presidential campaign. As part of the event headlined by Obama’s remarks, two popular German-based musical acts, rock band Reamonn and reggae artist Patrice, performed.

Reports and postings on sites such as The Bulletin, Newsmax, No Quarter and Red State mentioned the musical performances, suggesting that the crowds came for the bands and not Obama. We found one claim that free food and beer was offered; that charge is in a press release from the Just Say No Deal Coalition, a group that vows its members won’t vote for Obama in protest over the Democratic primaries, which it calls "a flawed system that disenfranchised … voters." We e-mailed a spokeswoman to ask where the group got that information, and she couldn’t point to a concrete source, saying only that "I believe Townhall (unsure of URL) has comprensive [sic] data — as well we were ‘fed’ info from peeps on the ground." We found no such information on Townhall.com.

A number of the questions we received from readers pointed to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program as their source for the concert claims. The conservative radio host actually got his information from Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters, who wrote on July 24:

Sheppard: Well, it has been learned that before the presumptive Democrat nominee spoke to a crowd in Berlin Thursday, two popular German acts — reggae artist Patrice and rock band Reamonn — entertained the gathering audience. Will media report this tonight, or just gush and fawn over the huge crowd again?

Why Did They Come?

It’s possible that some people who attended Obama’s speech came for other reasons. Unless each person in attendance had been asked why they were there, we can’t say with certainty to what extent the musical acts or anything else affected the turnout – and neither can bloggers and talk-show hosts. It’s worth noting, however, that at the same time conservative bloggers are saying Obama needs help drawing that large a crowd, the McCain campaign is calling him "the biggest celebrity in the world."

And there are several pieces of evidence that suggest the concert wasn’t the big draw. In fact, the lead singer of one of the bands, Reamonn’s Rea Garvey, wrote a blog entry saying that the musical performances were not the main attraction. He said the band was asked to perform, but that the focus was on Obama:

Garvey: The show was ok the focus was obviously on Barack Obama and none of us in the band tried to [sic] hard to alter that, we enjoyed getting out of studio for a day and being on stage at such an event. … I was glad that the show was secondary and that the meeting after the show became primary because I wanted to know what man can command 1000s of people to an event just to hear him speak! No hit singles, moments of singing along or dancing just Listening.[sic]

ABC News’ Jake Tapper reported that the Obama campaign did pass out fliers to draw attention to the event, but there was no mention of the performances or food and beverages on them.

Michael Dorning, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, who was also in attendance, wrote that he didn’t notice people leaving after the musical acts were finished:

Dorning: Some conservative bloggers have been circulating claims that a warm-up concert by a German band may have been partly responsible for the more than 200,000 people Berlin police estimated attended a Barack Obama rally in their city. But for those present, it was clear that the crowd was inordinately excited by the appearance of the American presidential candidate.

From the media area next to the main platform, there were no visible signs that people were leaving after the band performed but before Obama spoke. As Obama walked onto the platform, cries rose from the crowd of "Yes, we can," his campaign slogan.

We also e-mailed Dorning and asked if he saw any free food or drinks being distributed; he said he saw refreshments available but they were for sale.

An Obama campaign official says that the performances were used to fill a block of time before the speech and that the acts were only confirmed two days prior to the event and not promoted in advance. Gates to the event opened three hours before Obama addressed the crowd. As for the food and beverages, the official says that refreshments were sold, not given away for free.

Bloggers made similar claims about Obama and a concert after an estimated 70,000-plus people showed up for a speech in Portland, Ore., back in May. The Portland-based group The Decemberists performed there.

But it is common for musicians, comedians or other entertainers to serve as warm-up acts at political events, and that goes for Republicans as well as Democrats. Earlier this month, one-half of the country duo Big and Rich, John Rich, performed a song he wrote specifically for McCain at an event in Florida hosted by the state’s Republican Party. McCain attended the event and addressed the crowd briefly.

– D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Sheppard, Neil. "Will Media Report Concert Before Obama’s Berlin Speech?" NewsBusters.com, 24 July 2008

Garvey, Rea. "Virgin Blog Diary #29." MusikBlogs: Reamonn Blog, accessed 12 Aug. 2008

The Rush Limbaugh Show. "Tear Down the Imaginary Walls!" Transcript, 24 July 2008

Dorning, Mike. "Berlin crowd clearly drawn by top of ticket." Chicagotribune.com, 31 July 2008