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.
-President Kennedy, June 26, 1963
The Berlin Wall surrounded West Berlin and served as a symbol of the Cold War from the start of its construction the night of August 13, 1961, until its destruction by the end of 1990.
President Kennedy believed in “a peaceful and hopeful globe” and stated in his June 26, 1963, speech, “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.”
Photo: President Kennedy addresses the gathered crowd at the Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin. 6/26/63.
-from the JFK Library
“Ich bin ein Berliner”
President John F. Kennedy’s Remarks at the Berlin Rathaus Reading Cards June 26, 1963
50 years ago on June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered one of his most memorable speeches that electrified an adoring crowd gathered in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Almost 2 years after the construction of the Berlin Wall and 15 years after the Berlin Airlift, Kennedy paid tribute to the spirit of Berliners with his pronouncement of solidarity: “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).
Although Kennedy deviated from his notes and improvised much of his speech, he spelled out his pivotal phrase phonetically on this note card.
We love learning about how iconic speeches like this one came to be. Check out excerpts from the papers of JFK’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy for more insights into the trip to Berlin and the origins of that famous line:
“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.”
50 years ago - JFK in Berlin
On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy stood at Rudolph Wilde Platz (now John F. Kennedy Platz) in West Berlin to deliver one of his most well-known speeches. His visit to the divided city followed appearances across Germany, from Bonn to Cologne, to Frankfurt. In Berlin, 120,000 people gathered to listen to President Kennedy deliver his remarks:
"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…
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’”
From the JFK Library
Presidents in Berlin
Berlin has set the scene for some of the most memorable speeches delivered by U.S. Presidents in the modern era. Today, President Obama speaks at the Brandenburg Gate during his first state visit to the German capitol.
President Obama’s speech occurs 50 years to the month after JFK famously declared his solidarity with the people of Berlin. In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate on the west side of the Berlin Wall and implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
More at the Presidential Timeline
"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.'”
John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963
On the birthday of our 35th President, listen to JFK’s iconic Berlin speech here.
Photo: John F. Kennedy at the Rudolph Wilde Platz in Berlin, 6/26/63.
-from the JFK Library
On this day in 1963, John F. Kennedy announced “Ich bin ein Berliner” to West Berlin and the world. Listen to him here.
"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.
President Kennedy addresses the people of Berlin. June 26, 1963.
Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, from the Kennedy Presidential Library Digital Archive.
Check back through the weekend for more posts related to JFK’s visit to West Berlin.