Ich bin ein Berliner in Berlin
"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 East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West. The message 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. Another notable (and defiant) phrase in the speech was also spoken in German, "Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen" ("Let them come to Berlin")--addressed at those who claimed "we can work with the Communists", a remark which Nikita Khrushchev scoffed at only days later.
The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, both a notable moment of the Cold War and a highpoint of the New Frontier. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an exclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000, Kennedy said,
Kennedy used the phrase twice in his speech, ending with it, and pronouncing the sentence with his Boston accent, reading from his note "ish bin ein Bearleener", which he had written out in English phonetics.
Germany's capital, Berlin, was deep within the area controlled after World War II by the Soviet Union. Initially governed in four sectors controlled by the four Allied powers (United States, United Kingdom, France, and Soviet Union), tensions of the Cold War escalated until the Soviet forces implemented the Berlin Blockade, which the Western allies relieved with the dramatic airlift. Afterward, the sectors controlled by the NATO Allies became an effective exclave of West Germany, completely surrounded by East Germany. 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, 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 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. Officially, Berlin was under joint occupation by the four allied powers, each with primary responsibility for a certain zone. 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. On July 25, 1961, Kennedy insisted in a presidential address 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.
Genesis and execution of the speech
The Ich bin ein Berliner speech is in part derived from a speech Kennedy gave in 1962 in New Orleans; there also he used the phrase civis Romanum sum. The phrases "I am a Berliner" and "I am proud to be in Berlin" were typed already a week before the speech on a list of expressions to be used, including a phonetic transcription of the German translation. Such transcriptions are also found in the third draft of the speech (in Kennedy's own handwriting), from June 25. The final typed version of the speech does not contain the transcriptions, which are added by hand by Kennedy himself. Additionally, Ted Sorenson claimed in his memoir Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (2008) to have had a hand in the speech, and said he had incorrectly inserted the word ein, incorrectly taking responsibility for the "jelly doughnut misconception", below,
The speech first culminates with the first of two mentions of the Ich bin ein Berliner phrase: "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner!" The crowd is quiet while Weber translates and repeats the president's German line; Kennedy is obviously relieved at the crowd's positive response and thanks Weber for his translation. Weber translates this compliment also. According to Daum, after this first successful delivery, "Kennedy, who fiddles a bit with his suit jacket, is grinning like a boy who has just pulled off a coup."
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. The public square in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg 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.
Jelly doughnut misconception
There is a misconception that Kennedy made a risible error by saying Ich bin ein Berliner (emphasis added): the claim is made that Kennedy referred to himself not as a "citizen of Berlin", but as a "jelly donut" (US) or "jam doughnut" (EU), known in parts of Germany as a "Berliner".
An op-ed from The New York Times demonstrates the misconception:
Whereas the citizens of Berlin do refer to themselves as Berliner, they generally do not refer to jelly doughnuts as Berliner. While these are known as Berliner Pfannkuchen (literally, "Berlin pancake"), commonly shortened to Berliner in other areas of Germany, they are simply called Pfannkuchen (pancakes) in and around Berlin. According to the German History Museum, the theoretical ambiguity went unnoticed by Kennedy's audience. As German professor Reinhold Aman writes, "Ich bin (ein) Berliner means 'I am a Berliner' or '...a male person/native of Berlin' and absolutely nothing else!...No intelligent native speaker of German tittered in Berlin when J.F.K. spoke, just as no native speaker of German, or one who does know this language would titter if someone said, Ich bin ein Wiener or Hamburger or Frankfurter."
The doughnut claim has since been repeated by media such as the BBC (by Alistair Cooke in his Letter from America program), The Guardian, MSNBC, CNN, Time magazine, and The New York Times; mentioned in several books about Germany written by English-speaking authors, including Norman Davies and Kenneth C. Davis; and used in the manual for the Speech Synthesis Markup Language.
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 phrasal template has arisen in a variety of rhetorical contexts in popular culture.