President Obama spoke to a sparse crowd of invited guests at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Wednesday for no special reason at all. Perhaps he wanted to imitate more famous speeches in that same location by President Kennedy in 1963 when JFK said "Ich bin ein Berliner" and by President Reagan in 1987 when Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
At the gate in 1945, Russian troops dynamited the infamous cement swastika that topped off the gate during the Nazi era, and at the gate in 1989, Berliners celebrated the reunifaction of the city after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall was the reason that both Kennedy and Reagan spoke against that historic backdrop because when they spoke it symbolized the division of Germany at the center of the Iron Curtain across Europe. But there is no dividing line there today, so it was a very odd location for Obama to yet again talk about closing Guantanimo prison for Islamic combat soldiers in Cuba. Maybe Obama thought that idea would be a popular one with today's Berliners but they mostly just yawned and tried to escape the oppressive heat.
For presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, image is all about photo ops. Even for Obama himself, the appearance at the Brandenburg Gate was not about any policy substance at all as much as it was to get his picture taken in that historic location. In a way, this need to imitate other presidents of the Cold War era is a little sad in that President Obama apparently thinks photos alone will substitute for real history and a real legacy. Instead, the photo will likely wind up as a mere curiosity in some Obama Library in the future but as an artifact devoid of any real meaning.