On this date in 1963, John F Kennedy delivered a speech that included what has become an iconic line...
He was in West Berlin to issue a message of defiance towards the Soviet Union and show American support for a city that had been divided by a wall erected less than two year earlier... a wall which essentially prevented anyone from Communist-controlled East Germany “escaping”to the West... and to freedom.
120,000 gathered in front of the City Hall to hear the President speak... and he was
afforded a huge ovation when he appeared. On the other side of the border, handfuls of East Germans looked on, unable to even wave because of the ever-present police.
Kennedy recognised that democracy was not perfect and freedom not always easy to
achieve, “but we never had to put up a wall to keep our people in...”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kennedy was regularly interrupted by cheers from the crowd but it is for just four words that his speech is best remembered... they were preceded by: “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...”
The reaction from the West German population was positive – although just two weeks earlier, Kennedy had spoken of “improving relations with the Soviet Union”, prompting a cynical, but reasonable response from Russian leader Nikita Kruschev... “One would think the speeches were made by two different Presidents.”
Kruschev remained in power until 14thOctober 1964, by which time Kennedy was already dead, shot as he was driven through the streets of Dallas just under a year earlier...
The Berlin Wall stood firm until 1989, but back in 1963 Kennedy’s historic words were memorable for more than one reason....
To say “I am from (or a citizen of) Berlin, a resident would say “Ich bin Berliner” (minus the indefinite article)... and it was suggested that by adding the word “ein” or “a” in English, that “Berliner” duly took on its alternative meaning of “jam doughnut”!
In actual fact (and almost sadly...), the addition of “ein” is grammatically correct when using the term “Berliner” in the figurative sense... but sometimes you just can’t beat a decent urban myth!
All my own work... almost.