Obama hosts noticeably low-key state dinner honoring Chancellor Merkel

President Obama honored German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a decidedly low-key state dinner on Tuesday night. 

The fourth state dinner of Obama's administration was a black-tie affair, and the first for newly arrived White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bird. It also was noticeably lower-key than previous state dinners the Obamas have hosted. Musician James Taylor was the only celebrity in attendance, and he provided the after-dinner entertainment.

More than 200 guests were invited, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended, but Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is of German descent, declined, choosing instead to stay in his district.

There was equally little in the way of high fashion during the red-carpet arrivals, save for first lady Michelle Obama, who wore an ivory beaded sleeveless gown by Naeem Khan, and Pelosi, who donned a cream-colored Thierry Mugler gown with a choker.

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Klobuchar wore navy blue, and joked with reporters that her dress had cost her $178, and her shoes, $29.

The real focus of the evening was Merkel herself. Prior to dinner, a ceremony was held in the Rose Garden where Obama presented Merkel, who grew up under communism in East Germany, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he had awarded her earlier this year.

"Tonight we honor Angela Merkel, not for being denied her freedom, or even for attaining her freedom,” Obama said at the medal ceremony, “but for what she achieved when she gained her freedom.”

The theme of Merkel’s leadership carried over into the president's formal toast, which he gave before dinner.

“Now, it’s customary at these dinners to celebrate the values that bind nations,” Obama began, “but tonight, we want to do something different. We want to pay tribute to an extraordinary leader who embodies these values and who’s inspired millions around the world — including me.”

Merkel was equally warm in her toast, addressing the president and first lady as “dear Barack and dear Michelle,” before praising Obama as a leader who “has been able time and again to put down important international goalposts.”

With toasts out of the way, the meal began with a chopped salad made from vegetables grown in the White House garden. The first course was tuna tartare, followed by an entrée of surf-and-turf: filet mignon and Maryland crab ravioli. Dessert was an apple strudel, a culinary nod to the visiting delegation.

The evening’s décor featured white linens and silver accents inspired by German Bauhaus design, which emphasizes architectural form and clean lines. The flower arrangements were low bouquets of yellow calla lilies and green blooms.


For photos of the event, click here.