Today Marks the 50th Anniversary of Famous JFK Speech in Berlin

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On June 26, 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin to demonstrate U.S. support for West Germany after the Berlin Wall had been built. The people of West Berlin were encouraged to welcome the president and nearly half of all inhabitants of West Berlin at the time, between 1 and 2 million people, went to see him. One historian claims, “I can’t remember any event of such magnitude for one person to be welcomed by so many people”.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of this event. For many who live in Berlin today, memory of the speech by the former U.S. President has yet to fade and remains alive in the hearts of the city’s people.

Last week, President Obama visited Berlin. Comparison of his visit to Kennedy’s truly shows how times have changed. When Kennedy visited West Berlin, everyone was encouraged to give the president a warm welcome. When Obama visited Berlin, he spoke in front of only 4,000 handpicked guests. Kennedy rode around West Berlin in an open limousine while shaking the hands of the welcoming Germans, whereas Obama stood at the Brandenburger Tor behind bullet-proof glass.

The most famous line of John F. Kennedy’s speech is when he claimed “Ich bin ein Berliner” twice, meaning “I am a citizen of Berlin”. There is a very common misconception that the former president misused a German article in this statement and that rather he stated “I am a jelly- doughnut” (a Berliner is a type of jelly-doughnut in Germany). In fact, JFK used the German phrase correctly. His use of this phrase served to declare his solidarity with the citizens of the city.

Jackie Kennedy, wife of the former president, once wrote, “Sometimes I think that the words of my husband that will be remembered most were the words he did not even say in his own language.”

Author: Sean Foley Legal Trainee Bridgehouse Law Charlotte

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