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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

June 26, 2013

John F. Kennedy's prophetic words

Filed under Life in Europe

50 years ago today President John F. Kennedy spoke the words most widely recognized today as being German: "Ich bin ein Berliner."

A boisterous appreciative crowd of some 300,000 jammed Berlin's Schöneberg Rathaus square to hear Kennedy speak. "Ich bin ein Berliner" His quote, along with the statement "Lass sie nach Berlin kommen!" ["Let them come to Berlin!"] were met by loud and sustained applause and cheers.

Looking back on events over the 50 years since Kennedy's speech, his closing remarks today seem prophetic. He predicted the eventual reunification of Berlin and Germany along with an end to Europe's division into an eastern and western half.

"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."

Events since 1963 and future events may well highlight Kennedy's historic speech declaring American solidarity with the citizens of Berlin and Germany "Ich bin ein Berliner" bitterly divided between the communist east and the free west as having been the high-water mark of postwar German-American relations. It seems that Germany's news magazine "Der Spiegel" agrees. The title page of a recent issue shows Barack Obama with JFK in the background with the headline "The lost friend".

For years some people, obviously not versed in the German language, have circulated the idiotic notion that JFK's words – "Ich bin ein Berliner" – actually meant that he was calling himself a jelly doughnut. A friend of mine, born and raised in Berlin, heard Kennedy's speech live as a teenager. Once I asked him if he thought JFK was calling himself a jelly doughnut when he heard the speech. His reaction was immediate and forceful: "Whoever came up with that crazy idea? There was no doubt what Kennedy meant – he was telling us that he was one of us, that he understood our situation!"

Have you ever listened to Kennedy’s speech? If not, listen to it here in full length.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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