BERLIN (AP) — President Barack Obama will visit Berlin next month for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on his first visit to the German capital since taking office, her spokesman said Friday.
The visit comes a few days before the 50th anniversary on June 26 of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 visit to Berlin, then a symbol of Europe's Cold War division, where he famously said: "as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "
Obama will be in Berlin June 18-19, said Georg Streiter, a spokesman for Merkel. Details of the visit have yet to be worked out, Streiter said, but Merkel is looking forward to talks on "a wide spectrum of bilateral and global questions."
Obama will be traveling in Europe following a G-8 summit in Northern Ireland on June 17-18, a meeting that reunites the leaders of the world's major Western industrialized nations.
The visit to Berlin will be Obama's first official trip to the German capital since he took office in 2009. However, he did meet Merkel in Germany twice in his first year as president — first visiting the southwestern town of Baden-Baden as part of a trip to a NATO summit, then visiting the eastern city of Dresden and the former Buchenwald concentration camp.
Obama made a major campaign speech in Berlin before his 2008 election which drew a crowd of more than 200,000. At the time, Merkel refused to let Obama — then the Democratic presidential candidate — speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany's division and later reunification, saying only sitting presidents were granted such an honor. He spoke at a nearby monument instead.
When Obama presented Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, she hinted it might be different next time, saying: "I can promise that the Brandenburg Gate will be standing for some more time." Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, also addressed Congress in Washington in 2009.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has led the response to Europe's debt crisis, but its austerity-heavy approach has drawn criticism abroad. Washington has been a leading advocate of doing more to boost global demand.
Obama's visit will come ahead of German parliamentary elections on Sept. 22 in which the conservative Merkel will seek a third four-year term.