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Plaque commemorating Kennedy's speech next to the front entrance of Rathaus Schöneberg
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"Ich bin ein Berliner" ,"I am a Berliner", is a quotation from a June 26, 1963 speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin. He was underlining the support of the United States for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West.

The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, and a notable moment of the Cold War. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an enclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg, Kennedy said,

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'

Some reports claim that Kennedy came up with the phrase at the last moment, as well as the idea to say it in German. Kennedy asked his interpreter Robert H. Lochner to translate "I am a Berliner" only as they walked up the stairs at the Rathaus (City Hall). With Lochner's help, Kennedy practiced the phrase in the office of then-Mayor Willy Brandt, and in his own hand made a cue card with phonetic spelling. However, a U.S. Department of State language teacher wrote a 1997 account of visiting Kennedy at the White House weeks before the trip to help compose the speech and teach him the proper pronunciation.[1]

Kennedy's National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy felt the speech had gone "a little too far", and the two revised the text for a softer stance before repeating the speech at the Free University later that day.[2]

This message of defiance was aimed as much at the Soviets as it was at Berliners, and was a clear statement of U.S. policy in the wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall. However, Kennedy was criticized for making a speech that acknowledged Berlin's status quo as reality.[citation needed] The official status of Berlin at the time was that it was under joint occupation by the four Allied powers, each with primary responsibility for a certain zone. Up to this point the U.S. had asserted that this was its status, even though the actual situation was far different. Kennedy's speech marked the first instance where the U.S. acknowledged that East Berlin was part of the Soviet bloc along with the rest of East Germany.

There are commemorative sites to Kennedy in Berlin, such as the German-American John F. Kennedy School and the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies of the Free University of Berlin. Also, the public square in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg (where Kennedy made the famous speech, see image below) was renamed "John-F.-Kennedy-Platz". A large plaque dedicated to Kennedy is mounted on a column at the entrance of the building and the room above the entrance and overlooking the square is dedicated to Kennedy and his visit.

The original manuscript of the speech is stored with the National Archives and Records Administration.



History of Berlin
Coat of arms of Berlin
This article is part of a series
Weimar Republic (1919–33)
1920s Berlin
Greater Berlin Act
Nazi Germany (1933–45)
Welthauptstadt Germania
Bombing of Berlin in World War II
Battle of Berlin
Divided city (1945–90)
East Berlin
West Berlin
Berlin Wall
Berlin Blockade (1948–49)
Berlin Crisis of 1961
"Ich bin ein Berliner" (1963)
"Tear Down This Wall" (1987)
See also:
History of Germany
Margraviate of Brandenburg

   v • d • e 

Germany's capital, Berlin, was deep within the area controlled after World War II by the Soviet army. Initially governed in four sectors controlled by the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the USSR, tensions of the Cold War escalated until the Soviet forces implemented the Berlin Blockade, which the Western allies relieved with the dramatic airlift.

Kennedy delivering his speech in Berlin

Afterward, the sectors controlled by the NATO Allies became an effective exclave of West Germany, completely surrounded by East Germany (West Berlin was not officially a part of the Federal Republic. All of Berlin remained officially occupied by the Allied Military powers until 3 October 1990). From 1952, the border between East and West was closed everywhere but Berlin. Hundreds of thousands of East Germans defected to the West via West Berlin, a labour drain that threatened East Germany with economic collapse.

In 1961 the East German government under Walter Ulbricht erected a barbed-wire barrier around West Berlin. It was officially called the antifaschistischer Schutzwall (anti-fascist protective barrier). The East German authorities argued that it was meant to prevent spies and agents of West Germany (which they considered a fascist state) from crossing into the East. However, it was universally known as the Berlin Wall and the majority opinion was that its primary purpose was to keep East German citizens from escaping to the West. Over a period of months the wall was rebuilt using concrete, and buildings were demolished to create a "death zone" in view of East German guards armed with machine guns. In 1962 the first attempted escape leading to a fatal shooting took the life of Peter Fechter.

The West, including the U.S., was accused of failing to respond forcefully to the erection of the Wall. On July 25, 1961, with the April Bay of Pigs fiasco still fresh, President Kennedy broadcast a Presidential address. Kennedy insisted that America would defend West Berlin, asserting its Four-Power rights, while making it clear that challenging the Soviet presence in Germany was not possible.

Jelly/Jam doughnut urban legend

According to an urban legend, Kennedy allegedly made an embarrassing grammatical error by saying "Ich bin ein Berliner," referring to himself not as a citizen of Berlin, but as a common pastry:[3]

Kennedy should have said "Ich bin Berliner" to mean "I am a person from Berlin." By adding the indefinite article ein, his statement implied he was a non-human Berliner, thus "I am a jelly doughnut".

The story stems from a play on words with Berliner, the name of a doughnut variant filled with jam or plum sauce that is thought to have originated in Berlin.

The indefinite article ein is omitted when speaking of an individual's profession or residence but is necessary when speaking in a figurative sense as Kennedy did. Since the president was not literally from Berlin but only declaring his solidarity with its citizens, "Ich bin Berliner" would not have been correct.[4]

The origins of the legend are obscure. The Len Deighton spy novel Berlin Game, published in 1983, contains the following passage, spoken by narrator Bernard Samson:

'Ich bin ein Berliner,' I said. It was a joke. A Berliner is a doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts.[5]

The New York Times review of Deighton's novel, which appears to treat Samson's remark as factual, added the detail that Kennedy's audience found his remark funny:

Here is where President Kennedy announced, Ich bin ein Berliner, and thereby amused the city's populace because in the local parlance a Berliner is a doughnut.[6]

In 1988 William J. Miller wrote in an April 30 New York Times article:

It's worth recalling, again, President John F. Kennedy's use of a German phrase while standing before the Berlin Wall. It would be great, his wordsmiths thought, for him to declare himself a symbolic citizen of Berlin. Hence, Ich bin ein Berliner. What they did not know, but could easily have found out, was that such citizens never refer to themselves as "Berliners." They reserve that term for a favorite confection often munched at breakfast. So, while they understood and appreciated the sentiments behind the President's impassioned declaration, the residents tittered among themselves when he exclaimed, literally, "I am a jelly-filled doughnut."[7]

In fact, the opposite is true: The citizens of Berlin do refer to themselves as Berliner; what they do not refer to as Berliner are jelly doughnuts. While these are known as "Berliner" in other areas of Germany, they are simply called Pfannkuchen (pancakes) in and around Berlin.[8] The theoretical ambiguity went unnoticed by Kennedy's audience.[9] In sum, "Ich bin ein Berliner" was the appropriate way to express in German what Kennedy meant to say.

Although it is incorrect, the legend has since been repeated by reputable media, such as the publisher of the Morning Call, Tim Kennedy, and the BBC (by Alistair Cooke in his Letter from America program),[10] The Guardian,[11] MSNBC,[12] CNN,[13] Time magazine,[14] The New York Times,[15] in several books about Germany written by English-speaking authors, including Norman Davies[16] and Kenneth C. Davis,[17] and it is even mentioned in a stand-up show by Eddie Izzard, as well in the Speech Synthesis Markup Language specification [18].

As for the creation of the speech, it had been reviewed by journalist Robert Lochner, who was educated in Germany, and had been practised several times in front of numerous Germans, including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. The many video and audio recordings of the event show only enthusiastic applause following the statement; the only laughter occurred later, when Kennedy jokingly thanked his translator for his translation of Kennedy's German sentence into German.

John F. Kennedy's phonetic transcription of the German and Latin phrases in the Ich bin ein Berliner speech

During the speech Kennedy used the phrase twice, ending his speech on it. However, Kennedy did pronounce the sentence with his Boston accent, reading from his note "ish bin ein Bearleener," which he had written out in English phonetics.

References in popular culture

The phrase and the legend are quoted very often in fiction and popular culture in the United States. Besides a direct quote there exist many variations starting "Ich bin ein (+ noun, e.g., Frankfurter)" that is supposed to be understood by the primarily English-speaking audience based on the widespread knowledge of this German phrase and its myth. This verbal template, or snowclone, has arisen in a variety of rhetorical contexts in popular culture

Further reading

  • Daum, Andreas W. (2007). Kennedy in Berlin. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521858243. 


  1. ^
  2. ^ Robert Lochner. "Teaching JFK German". Retrieved 2006-09-24. 
  3. ^ Ich bin ein Pfannkuchen. Oder ein Berliner? | Stadtkind: Berlin
  4. ^ Eichhoff, Jürgen (1993), "'Ich bin ein Berliner': A History and Linguistic Clarification", Monatshefte für den deutschen Unterricht, deutsche Sprache und Kultur (* University of Wisconsin Press) 85 (1): 71–80, ISSN 0026-9271 , cited in Erb, Scott (2003). German Foreign Policy: Navigating a New Era. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. pp. 52. ISBN 1588261689. 
  5. ^ Deighton, Len (1985) [1983]. Berlin Game (first Ballantine Books ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 112. ISBN 0345314980. 
  6. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (December 12, 1983). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  7. ^ Miller, William J (April 30, 1988). "'I Am a Jelly-Filled Doughnut'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  8. ^ Wie heißt der Berliner in Berlin?
  9. ^ John F. Kennedy
  10. ^ BBC NEWS | Programmes | Letter From America | "I am a jelly doughnut"
  11. ^ Richard Hollis: "How we got the measure of a Berliner", The Guardian, September 10, 2005
  12. ^ onegoodmove: Bloopers
  13. ^ CNN - Cold War
  14. ^ Wall-To-Wall Kennedy - TIME
  15. ^ Profile in Courage
  16. ^ Norman Davies, Europe: A History, New York 1998, p. 1113
  17. ^ Davis, Kenneth C. (2007). Don't Know Much about Anything: Everything You Need to Know But Never Learned about People, Places, Events, and More!. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0061251467. 
  18. ^

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Ich bin ein Berliner
by John F. Kennedy
This speech was given by American President John F. Kennedy on 26 June 1963 at 'Rathaus Schöneberg' in West-Berlin, Germany. It was presented in the midst of a five-nation tour of Western Europe. The final lines have become the most famous.
Listen to the Ich bin ein Berliner speech

I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lasst sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany--real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).


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