President Kennedy in Berlin ~ June 26, 1963

President Kennedy’s address to the people of Berlin. Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany June 26, 1963 (Photo from the John F. Kennedy Library)

On this day  June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made an historic visit to Berlin –  the heart of the Cold War –  where he challenged the Soviet supression of Berliners and but also offered hope. The already divided city had been further  suppressed when a Wall was erected in 1961 stopping the freedom to pass back and forth – east to west. A summit between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in June, 1961 rather than building trust between the two leaders was unsuccessful, combative and threatening.  With American rights threatened and at risk,  Kennedy ramped up our military, our air power and weaponry – even returning to nuclear weapons testing.

With his visit to Berlin in 1963, Kennedy  sought to assure West Germans that free nations still stood by the people of the democratically controlled sectors of Berlin who had lived within the hostile borders of East Germany since the end of World War II. President Kennedy’s speech is considered one of his most memorable. In this speech President Kennedy declared to the crowd of over 120,000 –  “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am also a citizen of Berlin.”

From the Kennedy Library:

In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy visited Berlin and was greeted by ecstatic crowds who showered his entourage with flowers, rice, and torn paper. In the Rudolph Wilde Platz, Kennedy gave one of his most memorable speeches to a rapt audience: “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. Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.”

Hear the speech here:

In another historical note – it was on another June 26 in 1948 that the United States and its Allies started flying food, coal and school supplies into the blockaded city of Berlin in an unprecedented logistical feat known as the “Berlin Airlift.”


4 Responses to President Kennedy in Berlin ~ June 26, 1963

  1. DickH says:

    A little bit of German language trivia – German bakeries which rival those in France in my experience, sell wonderful jelly donuts that are called Berliners. According to acquaintances more familiar with the German language than me, the proper way to say that you’re from Berlin is “Ich bin Berliner” but that would sound a bit off to the American ear so President Kennedy, or his speech writers more likely, inserted the “ein” which, again according to my German experts, caused the phrase uttered by the President (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) to mean “I am a jelly donut.”

  2. George DeLuca says:

    Dick, I respectfully disagree with your “experts”. The jelly donut reference is a misconception perpetuated by main stream media over the years (especially the NY Times). The deliverance of the phrase was breathtaking; and its intended context rippled throughout the world.

    My own recollection is that people were amazed by the speech … in this country it was a galvanizing moment that made us proud to be Americans. It was one of my father’s favorite Kennedy speeches, and certainly a highly charged if not emotional moment in modern world history that was felt throughout the world.

  3. DickH says:

    I won’t quibble about the translation of articles. I do know that during the three years I was stationed in Germany, I walked into plenty of bakeries and the signs above the trays of jelly donuts always said “Berliners” so if that part of the story is a “misconception” it is one perpetuated by German bakers and not the New York Times.

    And yes, I would totally agree with the import of the speech. The rapidly growing ranks of Americans too young to have personally experienced the Cold War might never appreciate what it was like and how much the world changed with the collapse of Communism.