Meeting President Obama In Strasbourg


I never, ever intended on using this blog for vanity postings, however, something so incredible happened to me last week and, well, I’ve got to share all the photos with my family and friends so it’s going up on here - do hope you’ll enjoy the read too!


July 12, 2008: backstory

I hop aboard a plane and go to Berlin for the day just to hear Obama speak.

Everyone thinks I’m nuts (and I am, but just a little). Figured this was as close as I’d get ever, cause once he’d become President it’d be impossible and honestly even if he didn’t win, I wanted the chance to see this great leader live, not just on youtube.

I’d volunteered to help man the crowd.

My job was taking email addresses and moving Americans on over to the booths to register to vote.

It was a wonderful day, 200,000+ turned up and I couldn’t have been happier.

Until, Friday 27th March 2009:

letter from the White House invite

I pop into the DAZ to drop off my monthly bill for the dogme-style EFL conversation class I teach there.

While rummaging around in my sack for the invoice, Valerie says ‘Karenne, do you want to meet Obama?’

‘Yeah’ I reply. Where did I put the darn thing? Oh, there’s just too much stuff in my bag. What I really mean to say is ‘duh.’

She smiles and tells me they’ve sent invitations to their entire membership, trouble is I’ve got until exactly 3pm to reply and don’t know my passport number.

She also warns me I might not be in the target group (youth, and I’m hardly that).


Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday:

Checking my emails everyday – nothing.

Wednesday, which incidentally is April Fool’s day, the email arrives telling me I’ve been picked. Is it a joke?

Don’t say anything to anyone except my students whose classes I’d missing.

Thursday comes with a confirmation call, it’s not a joke, telling me I’ve got to be at the ZOF in Stuttgart at quarter past six.

5amFriday April 3 April.

UP. Wash face. Do I have enough to drink on the bus? Passport –check. Books to read –check. Coat to stuff with camera, phone etc – check.

Out the door.

train to hbf Miss the train.

Are you kidding me? Jump on two different connections, get there.


Time to grab coffee at Starbucks.

Thank god.



“This is so coooooool” I scream at Valerie when I see the coaches. The very handsome US consulate representative who’d woken up at 3 to take us on to Strasbourg grins back at me “yeah, this is sooooo cool.”

He smiles and checks my docs and I climb aboard.



Very sadly, Dr Bachteler, who runs the DAZ isn’t very well, he can’t come with us. He specially organized our breakfast though: Obamers instead of the popular german cookie known here as an Amerikaner (it normally has a white icing). LOL.

7.00am – 8.15am

The atmosphere on the bus is just great.

Valerie’s brought a quiz with her: crazy questions include what kind of car did Obama drive to Harvard in, how did Jessie Jackson get Obama into trouble and what did Obama want to be when he was in the 3rd grade?

I read my book, some watch the biography on the TV ahead and others snooze – am so psyched!

Did you know that Barack means blessed?

8.15 – 9ish

We make a stop in Renchtal for trips to the toilet, more caffeine and to wait for the rest of the coaches. There are about 8 from different parts of Germany and we’ll be travelling in convoy, police on all sides, going in both directions. So exciting!

we are in france 9.30am – We’re in France!

The cops’ uniforms are blue and there’s loads of them everywhere – feels like I’m in a movie.

James Bond or Mission Impossible.


10.15am – we’re all still on the buses.

No permission to exit or enter the stadium yet.

getting a smoke

People are going a little nuts locked inside.

Someone gives the okay for the smokers to hide between the coaches – everyone’s becoming a smoker today.

“It’s a town hall, not a Pep Rally” Valerie dutifully reads from her sheet.

“Behave!” she warns. We laugh.

“The letters you’ve got in your hands are color-coordinated, once you’re in, head to the section that corresponds to your color.”

We’re off, we’re on our way. Helicopters chop the sky.

I climb down the stairs clutching my blue letter from the White House.

“Oú?” I ask. Mum’s french lessons try to make their way back.

“N’importe” she says. I look at her. She Paris-shrugs.

“OK, Merci.”


Is there any kind of calm way of saying there was a free seat in the middle, front row?

Is there any kind of calm way of saying:



There is no calm way. OMG.

that is my chair I am in the front row the world has gone mad

I can’t believe it.

I throw my coat over a couple of seats to the left and save them for Valerie and DAZ crew.

They make it a couple of minutes later.

I meet my seat partners, one from Heidelberg and the other Spainish. We practice our questions and wow, can-you-believe-it at each other.

The lady tells me her kids had the chance to come but they’d said no. Teens, eh?

Michael says to me “I dreamed this. I dreamed I would sit in the front row.”

I smile at him. “The angels must be listening.”

And then tell him “I dreamed I got to shake Barack’s hand. But that’s not going to happen, now is it?”

He shrugs back a maybe. “You never know” and I laugh then we have a philosophical debate about how humans are never satisfied.

A week ago we didn’t know if we could come to this.

An hour ago we didn’t know we’d be in the front row! Shake the President’s hand? We’re special enough, just being here.


The rest of the people from the various buses are filing in. They can’t believe we’re in this special section.

I see some friends from Tübingen, the Empire Study group, Lawrence and Scott – howdie! Everyone’s taking snaps of the podium.

This is much, much better than a pep rally!


The French are coming in and we watch the stadium filling up. Lisa Dobie (not sure how to spell her name) sits on a stool.

She tells us that she’s as excited and honored as we all are and then begins to sing…

13.15 The press arrive

13.30 The final cleaning

13.48 Sticking the seal on the podium

13.55 The secret service stand on all corners of the stage.

13.58 The speech goes up on the podium.


He’s here!!!


Michelle looks lovely!

Gorgeous dress – think I’ve seen it before, how responsible!

Obama steps in front of the podium and the crowd quiets.

He tells us that he’ll give a speech for about 15 minutes and then it’ll be down to us, he’ll spend the rest of time answering our questions.

His speech is interesting and as always, he is eloquent.

He talks about the issues of blame, the relationship between Europe, US an the emerging nations; talks about trade barriers and dismantling nuclear arms – the usual politico speak but somehow he makes it all sound true.

And then he takes questions from the crowd and we get a real chance to see his character.

He moves across it just like a boxing coach, more sports personality rather than a politician: relaxed, in control, natural – he owns this stage.

And then Obama listens.

His answers aren’t planned, his agenda isn’t the only only thing in the room and he thinks before he answers, considers what the person has said and what he is going to reply rather than simply saying what we want to hear.

He makes us laugh!

His warmth and honesty shine through and I feel as if he is someone I know personally. My head nods at some of the harder-hitting points, forgetting it was “Obama, The President” just for a moment and just a sage friend communicating.

Did you know that Barack means peach in Hungarian?

15.15? –something around then.

We think it’s all over. We watch as he leaves the stage and then goes to the back, then

there’s a swarm in the crowd over there!

He’s shaking hands.

He moves towards the VIPs on the right.

He’s shaking hands.



He’s coming this way… he is coming towards me and

Shock. I shake his hand. How strange to feel that he is real.


What a world.






Michael gets to shake his hand too.

We all do, Valerie and her sister and her sister’s boyfriend.

And the student who got told she’s looking good and the professor who was thanked for being there and the guy who shook both Michelle’s and Obama’s hands and we are all bubbling, so excited, we share our stories, share love, excitement – our hope that this man will really bring us the change we all want to be a part of.

How very, very cooooooooooooool.

hey spring has arrived finally

And on the way home, I notice

Spring has finally come.

4 Responses to “Meeting President Obama In Strasbourg”

  • Anonymous says:
    April 09, 2009

    Wow, how great. I got to shake his hand in August 07 at the Yearly Kos 2 convention in Chicago, so I know the feeling of "wow, this is real".
    Liz, Rome

    April 11, 2009

    Hi ya, Liz in Rome

    I know, isn't it crazy how we "knew" he's real before but yet shaking his hand made it more so. I know it sounds crazy and probably more than a little silly but it was a wonderful experience! Glad to hear you had it too!


  • Kenny says:
    July 02, 2009

    I wish I could have been there, in the OMG front row. Super cool!

  • Anonymous says:
    January 18, 2010

    I just LOVE your enthusiasm Karenne! it's so contagious! so happy! keep it,keep it, it's precious.



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