"On the way up to Berlin in the airplane in the morning the President kept right on working both at his arrival statement and still more at the Rathaus speech. It was on this trip that he conceived the idea of talking about civis Romanus sum and Ich bin ein Berliner … Indeed, now that I think about it, I think those two or three German lessons were what gave him both the idea of Ich bin ein Berliner and the courage, in the end, to use the phrase himself."
-McGeorge Bundy, National Security Advisor to President Kennedy, writing about the June 26, 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” address.
In 2006, The Kennedy Presidential Library declassified and made available for research a typewritten “diary” by President Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy. The “diary” consists of individual documents often typed on a daily basis with the working title of “Memoranda for the Record”. Bundy’s “diary” descriptions offer an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the Kennedy White House and glimpses of the President from one of his closest advisors. The speech writing process, the political decisions of the day, the DC social scene, the President’s attention to detail and the President’s humor are all depicted through Bundy’s eyes.
One entry is particularly insightful: a 28-page overview of President Kennedy’s trip to Europe in the summer of 1963, a trip that included the now famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address. Bundy’s account reads like a day journal with information on travel, social events and speech preparations.
From Bundy’s narrative, the speech preparations were complicated with draft upon draft being worked on simultaneously between Bundy, Theodore Sorensen and the President. Despite the work by many hands, it was the President himself who conceived the idea of using German phrases in his address.
President Kennedy’s speech in Berlin is now considered a benchmark in Presidential history and certainly one of the best remembered addresses of President Kennedy. But what this “diary” offers is a perspective of the event from the inside, from the members of the President’s own staff, which seemed, according to Bundy, to be as responsive as the crowd in Berlin. Bundy writes:
There have been so many accounts of the day in Berlin that one more is not necessary for the visible events. Nevertheless it is important to remember that everything that happened in that day occurred within the framework of the most intense atmosphere of joy that I at least have ever seen. And joy is the right word. I was struck throughout the day by the fact that the crowds were more happy than intense … the millions in Berlin, led by a few dozen of their own leaders and a few dozen visitors, held a colossal celebration in honor of the homecoming of the man who is most important to the lives of all Berliners.
Via The Kennedy Presidential Library.
Pictured above, President Kennedy’s handwritten note card with German phrases written phonetically, including “Ish bin ein Bearleener.” June 26, 1963.