Feasting on Bavarian beer and sausages on Sunday, President Barack Obama celebrated the decades-long US friendship with Germany despite recent challenges and said that the country "is proof that conflicts can end and great progress is possible."
Obama kicked off an overnight visit to attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders by focusing on mending relations with host-nation Germany, by visiting the picturesque Alpine village of Kruen with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"This morning as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known my message to the German people is simple: We are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world," Obama said as he addressed the cliched Bavarian scene, accompanied by the sounds of long, wooden alphorns.
Obama is closer to Merkel than most heads of state, although their relationship has been tested in the past couple of years, particularly after it emerged that the National Security Agency had tapped the Chancellor's cellphone. The revelation caused fury in Germany, with its legacy of secret government surveillance, but Merkel seemed eager to move on as she addressed Obama as "dear Barack."
Describing the US as an 'essential partner', the Chancellor briefly mentioned the phone-hack, before focusing on bilateral cooperation.
"We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it," Merkel said through a translator.
Obama and Merkel met privately afterward at the nearby Schloss Elmau resort to coordinate their summit agenda before joining the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. Russian President Vladimir Putin was ousted from the group last year over Russian aggression against Ukraine, and fighting with pro-Moscow separatists has spiked in the past week.
"The two leaders discussed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and agreed that the duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia's full implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine's sovereignty," the White House said in a statement.
The White House said they also talked about the economic opportunity presented by the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the importance of coordinating for a successful international climate agreement this year.
During the visit to Kruen, about 800 Germans filled the village square wearing the traditional Bavarian attire: wool hats decorated with feathers and goat hair plumes, women in dirndls and men in lederhosen. Well before noon they gathered at long tables covered in blue gingham tablecloths, drinking beer in what looked more like a biergarten than the setting for a presidential address.
"Gruess Gott!" Obama began, a literally translattion of the phrase "greetings from God," the typical Bavarian greeting.
"I have to admit that I forgot to bring my lederhosen but I'm going to see if I can buy some while I'm here," Obama joked. He said when he first heard the G7 would meet in Bavaria, he hoped it would be during Octoberfest.
"But then again, there's never a bad day for a beer and a weisswurst," Obama said. "And I can't think of a better place to come to celebrate the enduring friendship between the German and the American people."
After his remarks, Obama and Merkel joined one of the tables, sampling pretzels and the weisswurst sausage and toasting tall beer glasses. The label on the glass indicated they were drinking a wheat beer from the local Karg brewery in nearby Murnau. "It was a very fine beer. I wish I was staying," Obama said as he prepared to depart to plunge in to two days of heavy discussions.
Next week, Germans will be looking towards future US relations beyond Obama's presidency. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush plans to kick off a six-day European trip with a speech scheduled for Tuesday in Berlin to the economic council of the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative party led by Chancellor Merkel.