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Cheering for the end of an era

“Farewell , Washington cowboy,” intoned an announcer on the German television channel NTV, as the camera followed the ascent of the U.S. Air Force jet spiriting ex-President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, out of Washington this afternoon.

Across Germany on American inauguration day the euphoria that greeted the Machtaenderung — handover of power — seemed as much about the passage of the Bush era into history as it was about Barack Obama’s remarkable ascendance.

At Goya, a trendy Berlin nightclub not far from the Tiergarten, where an inaugural party thrown by Democrats Abroad drew 1,500 celebrants — an even mixture of Germans and American expats — the biggest cheer of the night came at the sight of Bush’s helicopter taking off from the U.S. Capitol. “Endlich!” (finally), cried Martin Drieschner, a German graduate student, washing down his Texas-style barbecued chicken wings with a glass of Berliner beer. There was general mirth all around.

Relief, however, was joined by optimism and a measure of caution. Die Zeit, in a front-page editorial headlined, “Everything, now and immediately,” warned that Obama ‘s talk of a renewal of U.S.-European relations and of respect for human rights would be put to the test in the months ahead.

“Whether Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan, all outstanding presidents had to adjust and readjust, and roll back their ideals,” the newspaper observed. Die Zeit commended Obama’s pledge to close down the prison at Guantanamo, for example, but added that “nobody knows whether Obama’s ‘rediscovery’ of morality and the constitution can weather another terror attack.”

Other German media sounded a similarly expectant, yet cautious note. “The World Looks Up to Obama,” declared Der Tagespiegel, then listed the crises and pressing issues that will confront the new president — the economic meltdown, climate change, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Cuba, the war in Gaza — and asked “Which problems is he going to have to deal with first?”

For the moment, however, the mood on the streets — and in the five inaugural parties that rocked in Berlin until midnight — was one of great expectation. “This man has charisma,” Drieschner proclaimed, reaching for another chicken wing at the Goya buffet. “And, just as important, Bush is history.”

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