Former US President Barack Obama was greeted with thunderous applause at an event in Berlin and warned against the polarization of society and disinformation. “I think those are some of the biggest threats to democracy,” Obama said. “Some young people think everything they see on Tiktok is true. Whoever thinks that of you, it’s not.”

The 61-year-old spoke on Wednesday evening in a hall at Ostbahnhof with 17,000 seats. Tickets were offered in advance for around 61 to 550 euros.

Politics, climate change and crushes

The German moderator Klaas Heufer-Umlauf led through the evening. The former President spoke to him about his perspective on current political issues such as climate change and good political leadership. Obama never forgot well-placed punchlines: “Ask my wife Michelle, I’m wrong ten times a day.” He then became enthusiastic about his wife, especially when he thought about being home with her again soon.

The father of two adult daughters has been in Europe for a few days and completed a similar appointment in Zurich at the end of last week in front of around 10,000 paying guests. In Berlin he then met a good friend: “Last night I had dinner with an old friend – Angela Merkel. Today I had lunch with the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz.” The two come from two different parties, but share the same core values.

Democracy, debates and differences

There are always substantive differences, such as in trade policy. “That’s what a healthy democracy is: having a debate about how best to move our society forward and make sure everyone is doing well,” Obama said. “But in a democracy there are rules for dealing with disagreements and there are things that are more important than the issues of the day or the need for one party to impose its agenda over the other.”

Obama was President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A close and friendly relationship developed with Merkel, as the then Chancellor made clear during Obama’s farewell visit as President in 2016. During his 2008 election campaign, he gave a celebrated speech in front of an estimated 200,000 people at the Berlin Victory Column. As President, he spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 2013.