JFK'S "ICH BIN EIN BERLINER" SPEECH GIVEN 50 YEARS AGO TODAY
Berlin, Germany (JFK+50) President John F. Kennedy was in West Berlin 50 years ago today, June 26, 1963 where he spoke to a million people crowded in Rudolph Wilde Platz*.
*Rudolph Wilde Platz, located in front of Berlin's City Hall, was renamed John F. Kennedy Platz on November 30, 1963. A large plaque is mounted on one of the columns of the building in honor of JFK. (see pic below)
President Kennedy's address, given at the Schoneberger Rathaus, began at 12:50 p.m. local time. JFK first paid tribute to Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
JFK, as the leader of the free world in the Cold War against the spread of communism, wanted the people of West Berlin* to know that his country not only recognized the strategic importance of their city but also was with them in the struggle.
*Germany was divided after WWII into 4 zones of occupation with Berlin, located within the Soviet zone, also divided into 4 zones. Thus, the western zones of the city were completely surrounded by communist territory.
President John F. Kennedy said:
"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."
JFK Speaks To West Berliners
June 26, 1963
Photo by Robert Knudsen
JFK Library Photo
Earlier in his speech, President Kennedy said...
"There are many people in the world who really don't understand...what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin."
"There are...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."
And in the shadow of the Berlin Wall dividing the city, he said:
"Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.
While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system..it is...an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wished to be joined together."
The President, prior to his "Ich bin ein Berliner" line, concluded his remarks with these words...
"When all are free, then 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."
West Berliners waved American flags and chanted in unison "Ken-e-dee, Ken-e-dee!"**
**JFK's speech was broken up into short statements so that his translator could repeat his words in German. After his 1st use of German words and following the translator's words, President Kennedy said: "I appreciate my interpreter translating my German."
Marker at JFK Platz
Photo by Axel Mauruszat (2008)