January 17, 2004

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

The Thirteen-Year-Old is learning about the Cold War, the CIA, and the Berlin Wall:

Remarks in the Rudolph Wilde Platz | West Berlin | President John F. Kennedy | June 26, 1963

     I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

     Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."

     I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

     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.

     Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, 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 wish to be joined together.

     What is true of this city is true of Germany--real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

     Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. 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.

     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."

Posted by DeLong at January 17, 2004 06:22 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Brad quotes Kennedy: ... the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice.

Does not apply to Iraqis and Palestinians, of course.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 06:33 PM

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I heard this speech as a child in the US and I'm still awed by it. It had a HUGE impact. I'm sorry, I'm not an intellectual or academic but an ordinary worker/person.

Posted by: aw on January 17, 2004 08:31 PM

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Of course you've explained to the Thirteen
Year Old that "ich bin ein Berliner" actually
means "I am a cream pastry"? Or is this an
urban myth? (I've been told that none of his
German audience were in any doubt about what
JFK meant, but that he should have said "Ich
bin Berliner".)

It's one of those great moments in translation that _should_ be true, along with Carter's translator turning "affection for the Polish
people" into "lust for the Polish people"...
That translator _did_ get fired, as I recall.

Dave MB

Posted by: Dave MB on January 17, 2004 08:53 PM

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In context, "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am one of the citizens of Berlin." In a different context, it *would* mean "I am a jelly doughnut." I think the same is true of "Ich bin ein Hamburger" and "Ich bin ein Frankfurter"...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 17, 2004 09:01 PM

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Yes, but the context was Germany and Germans laughed out loud.

Posted by: seth edenbaum on January 17, 2004 09:14 PM

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Using the indefinite article turns the line into "I am a jelly doughnut". But it was clear that Kennedy didn't mean that, and must have mispoke.This is not to say that the Germans didn't know what Kennedy meant and didn't appreciate it. THey did and did. To say "I am a citizen...or resident, at least...of Berlin, omit the indefinite article.

And yes...it was a very powerful speech.

Posted by: Barry on January 17, 2004 09:16 PM

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Using the indefinite article turns the line into "I am a jelly doughnut". But it was clear that Kennedy didn't mean that, and must have mispoke.This is not to say that the Germans didn't know what Kennedy meant and didn't appreciate it. THey did and did. To say "I am a citizen...or resident, at least...of Berlin, omit the indefinite article.

And yes...it was a very powerful speech.

Posted by: Barry on January 17, 2004 09:16 PM

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"...Carter's translator turning "affection for the Polish people" into "lust for the Polish people"... That translator _did_ get fired, as I recall..."

That translator gets fired and George Bush the Senior says in a speech -- I think it was about a space program? -- "we've had some sex", instead of saying "we've had some setbacks" and he doesn't even get impeached? There is no justice in the world.

On the serious side, it is a sad state of affairs that "you are with us or with the terrorists" is all we can hear in terms of carrying on the flag after that JFK speech. (*)

And that means the flag is not really being carried as it was at the time of JFK. Not even remotely like it.

The problem for 2004 is, though, I can't see helluva muscle in that regard on Democratic side either.
_________
(*)You see, you lead people by showing them the way towards the values you yourself uphold. If you can't do that, for some reason, then you just threaten and try to pass that for leadership, and it never works.

Posted by: bulent on January 17, 2004 10:57 PM

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aw: "I'm not an intellectual or academic but an ordinary worker/person."

What makes you think that intellectuals or academics are any less ordinary than you?

Posted by: cm on January 17, 2004 11:07 PM

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Intellectuals, by my definition, ARE a bit less ordinary.

Intellectual is the guy who has his own mind. His mind is just not geared to compromising, while compromising is a high ranking requisite for the members of establishment as well as ordinary folks.

And academic, however, is not necessarily intellectual, though he is intelligencia. Intelligencia is of course part of the establishment.

Posted by: bulent on January 18, 2004 12:13 AM

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Many years later, Bill Clinton was in Cologne for a world economy summit, and he thought, why not imitate JFK, so he gave a speach and cried out, among general hilarious uproar, "ich bin ein Kölsch" - which certainly does not mean "I am a citizen of Cologne" (i.e. "Kölner"); it definitely means "I am a Cologne beer".

I am also not sure if this is an urban myth, but people in Cologne keep telling that story.

What I'd really like to hear is President Bush visiting Vienna and saying, "Ich bin ein Wiener".
(You'll know what a Wiener is; but in Viennese dialect, a "Würschtel" - meaning a sausage - also can mean a moron.)

Posted by: gerhard on January 18, 2004 05:27 AM

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Brad, slight correction to your parsing of the German. The sentence spoken by Kennedy, though clearly understood, really only has one meaning in German, namely, "I am a jelly doughnut." The reason has nothing to do with context, but with grammar. The indefinite article 'ein' is never used when describing one's nationality, profession, sexual orientation, etc. Using the indefinite article 'ein,' from a grammatical perspective, sets apart Kennedy's statement from a statement about personal identity and makes it the more mundane object-oriented statement. The meaning of the word 'Berliner' is both 'a doughnut' and 'a person from Berlin,' and the latter was mistakenly supplanted by the former. But 'Ich bin ein Berliner' never means 'I am a citizen of Berlin' and only means 'I am a jelly doughnut.'

Posted by: Marc on January 18, 2004 06:10 AM

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Sorry, JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" was absolutely correct German, assuming he wanted to say that he was from Berlin in spirit, if not in actuality (which is certainly what he meant). Later in the 60's, the speech was used in German elementary school readers, which would have been unthinkable if the phrase were ungrammatical.

As far as I know, the 'jelly doughnut" legend was first reported in that notable linguistic journal _Readers'_Digest_ many years after JFK said it. In any case, from the times I've seen the speech on TV, I've never heard the audience laughing at it.

Posted by: JO'N on January 18, 2004 09:23 AM

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Yeah, something told me that if I clicked on the comments link it would lead me to a discussion about jelly doughnuts.

Anyway, the internet research that I have done on this indicates that JO'N above is correct. To leave out the "ein" would actually be incorrect in the sense he meant it.

Posted by: snsterling on January 18, 2004 09:37 AM

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Just listend to a 45rpm record of that speech. "Ich bin ein Berliner" translates to "I am one of Berlin citizens". I doesn´t even seem wrong in a grammatical sense to me (German native speaker).
There is no laughter in the audiance, just cheering and an enormous grateful atmosphere

Posted by: Bernhard on January 18, 2004 10:37 AM

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Jeez, it's not like he said "Ich bin eine sacher torte!"

Posted by: Randy Paul on January 18, 2004 11:09 AM

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While this is a stirring speech (not written by JFK, I presume)...

Your thirteen-year-old should know that there were overtures by the Soviet Union to permit the unification of Germany as a sovereign and neutral (ie, non-NATO) state. These overtures were rebuffed by the US.

Also, JFK helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear disaster by challenging the presence of missiles in Cuba -- no more outrageous than the Jupiters the US had in Turkey.

Posted by: ad on January 18, 2004 02:14 PM

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Jupiters got dismanteled through that ordeal, if I'm not mistaken.

JFK, obviously, was not above hypocricy (spell?). No politician or statesman is. But then there is a matter of degree and a matter of style, good performance with respect to which requires a thorough understanding of and committment to pursuit of national interests, if not higher interests of mankind, and certainly not as low as narrow special interest.

Posted by: bulent on January 18, 2004 04:32 PM

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"Your thirteen-year-old should know that there were overtures by the Soviet Union to permit the unification of Germany as a sovereign and neutral (ie, non-NATO) state. These overtures were rebuffed by the US. "

You've got to be kidding. And at Yalta Stalin
promised free elections in all Eastern bloc
nations after WWII... useful idiots indeed.


Posted by: radek on January 18, 2004 11:31 PM

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Hi all,

I think the clincher is in the first part of the speech:

``Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!''

In other words, he knew what he was saying, and it was, in part, intended as a joke. Either he misspoke the second time, or just wanted to carry the joke through. Either way, this is why people understood him with no problems the second time. My German grammar is pretty bad, but if what people are saying about the indefinate article is right, then the second time, was he supposed to say, "Ich bin der Berliner"?

Posted by: Amit Dubey on January 19, 2004 12:26 AM

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Hufs! No! I never watched that speech but from a post here I gather that the audience laughed when JFK said "Ich bin ein Berliner". And so I think JFK thought the audience found it funny that his words in German also were being *translated*. And he having a mind that worked like quicksilver, said "I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!"

Posted by: Bulent on January 19, 2004 12:44 AM

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Bernhard (above) is right about German grammar - being a native German speaker myself, I agree with him; at least in colloquial German, anybody would say "ein Berliner" meaning "a citizen of Berlin", even though it also could mean "a jelly doughnut". And especially in the context of JFK's visit zo Berlin, everybody got the message right, there was - then! - certainly no ambiguity, and IF there was laughter, it very probably referred to the translator translating a German sentence into a German sentence.

If - very probably - LATER someone realized the ambiguity and started spreading the "anectode", it just goes to show that (Goethe, I think) "vom Erhabenen zum Lächerlichen ist es nur ein Schritt" (there is but a small step between the Sublime and the Ridiculous).

Posted by: gerhard on January 19, 2004 01:10 AM

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Time to bury some urban legends (that have already been buried, but keep surfacing like a whack-a-mole game):

* the Clinton-kolsch thing was a good joke by a German tabloid. Clinton's advisors responded well by suggesting that Clinton was trying to ask for a beer.

* there was NOT laughter after Kennedy's phrase. There was significant cheering and applause. Just watch the damned video and stop spreading the bullshit. This speech was BIG in Germany, and Kennedy is revered to this day.

And, for what it's worth, Berliners don't call jelly doughnuts Berliners. "Ich bin Berliner" would have been better, but there was no ambiguity, and there was nothing even slightly resembling ridicule.

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on January 19, 2004 06:43 AM

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To put an end to all confusion about jelly doughnuts: Berliners (the people) actually call Berliners (the pastry) "Pfannkuchen".

Posted by: Konrad on January 19, 2004 06:54 AM

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I used to spend quite a bit of time on alt.folklore.urban, and this class of ULs has always fascinated me. They are false (a UL needn't be false to be a UL), and they are folkloric in that they pithily validate the storyteller's predispositions. Generally, this class of ULs is about intellectual smugness: supposedly knowing something that other, more foolish or ignorant people don't. I find the irony in this delightful.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on January 19, 2004 09:54 AM

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Come to think of it, I don't recall seeing any thing about this Berliner anectode in Edwin Newman's "Strictly Speaking". If I recall correctly, then the anectode must be sort of a false alarm, or else Newman would have covered it -- methinks...

Posted by: Bulent on January 19, 2004 11:02 AM

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Thanks for putting up the text of two great speeches from 40 years ago (the other one, of course, being the I Have A Dream speech, which is worth remembering today). And didn't Ronald Reagan make a speech at The Wall urging Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear it down". Sad to think that the Berlin speeches have been more fulfilled than Rev. King's vision for black Americans.

Posted by: Rob Wallace on January 19, 2004 01:40 PM

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And tear it down Mr. Gorbachev did indeed!

Posted by: bulent on January 19, 2004 03:48 PM

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