“Ich bin ein Berliner”. This expression has marked a century, and its posterity is not over. Why this expression? Our explanations will first comment on the reasons for uttering such an astonishing phrase. We will come back to the anecdote of the Berliner as a doughnut. You will then find the translation of the full speech “Ich bin ein Berliner”, as well as the speech in its original version in full. As a final touch, a small commentary on the cartoon that appeared in the newspaper Le Monde on this subject.
Explanation of the expression “Ich bin ein Berliner”
John F. Kennedy uttered the phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner” during his speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963.
The capital of Berlin was then separated into West Berlin and East Berlin.
West Berlin had three zones: one French, one English, one American. East Berlin was a communist.
The impact of this speech, symbolized by the formula “Ich bin ein Berliner” was considerable during this period of the Cold War. By affirming that as a free citizen, he was proud to be able to say “I am a Berliner,” the American President Kennedy showed his support for the city, which was enclosed in the communist East Germany (named GDR: German Democratic Republic).
Standing on the balcony of the Schöneberg Town Hall, not far from the Berlin Wall, Kennedy gave this speech to a jubilant crowd (see video below).
Was the formula “Ich bin ein Berliner” a grammatical error?
In exclaiming “and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’”, was John F. Kennedy making a grammatical error when he said he was proud to be a doughnut?
Let us cut through the rumors: “Ich bin ein Berliner” was correct.
Some may have said that the phrase was incorrect, because “Berliner” also meant a doughnut in Germany. Germans also say “Ich bin Berliner” more spontaneously.
But both phrases are correct in German, just as in French one can say: “Je suis Berlinois” and “Je suis un Berlinois”, “Je suis Français” and “Je suis un Français”.
Full speech of Ich bin ein Berliner translated into French
“I am proud to have come to your city, invited by your reigning mayor. Your mayor symbolizes the fighting spirit of West Berlin to the whole world. I am proud to have visited the Federal Republic with Chancellor Adenauer, who has for so many years committed Germany to democracy, freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American General Clay, who was in this city during its worst moments of crisis and will return if ever needed.
Two thousand years ago, the supreme pride was to say: ‘civis Romanum sum’. Today, in the world of freedom, the greatest pride is to say: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’
I thank my interpreter for translating my German!
There is no shortage of people in the world who do not want to understand, or who pretend not to want to understand, what the dispute is between communism and the free world. Let them come to Berlin. Others claim that communism is the weapon of the future. Let them also come to Berlin. Some, finally in Europe and elsewhere, claim that one can work with the communists. Let them also come to Berlin.
Our freedom has many difficulties and our democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to build a wall to prevent our people from escaping. I do not know of any city that has experienced eighteen years of occupation and has remained as vital and strong and lives with the hope and determination that West Berlin has.
The wall provides a vivid demonstration of the bankruptcy of the communist system. This bankruptcy is visible to the whole world. We take no satisfaction in seeing this wall, because in our eyes it is not only an offense to history but also an offense to humanity.
Peace in Europe cannot be assured as long as every fourth German is deprived of the basic right of free men to self-determination. After eighteen years of peace and trust, the present German generation has earned the right to be free, and the right to the reunification of its families and its nation peacefully and permanently. You live on an island of freedom, but your life is bound up with the fate of the continent.
I therefore ask you to look beyond the dangers of today to the hopes of tomorrow, to think not only of your city and your German homeland, but to focus your thoughts on the progress of freedom throughout the world.
Do not see the wall, but look forward to the day when peace, a just peace, will break out. Freedom is indivisible, and as long as one man is in slavery, all others cannot be considered free. But when all men are free, we can look forward with a clear conscience to the day when this city of Berlin is reunited and the great continent of Europe shines in peace.
The people of West Berlin can be sure that they have stood firm for the right cause on the freedom front for some twenty years. All free men, wherever they live, are citizens of this city of West Berlin, and for this reason, as a free man, I say: Ich bin ein Berliner. ”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963), June 26, 1963, balcony of Schöneberg City Hall, West Berlin
Verbatim of the original speech Ich bin ein Berliner (English)
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 do not understand, or say they do not, 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. Lasst 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 is 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 strength 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 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.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963), June 26, 1963, balcony of the Schöneberg Town Hall, West Berlin
Plantu’s November 1989 drawing on Ich bin ein Berliner
This drawing by Plantu appeared in the newspaper Le Monde on November 11, 1989.
Analysis of Plantu’s cartoon: In a bulldozer, a citizen destroys a seemingly endless Berlin Wall, shouting, “Ich bin ein Berliner”. The jubilant crowd follows him, while the distraught communist guards do not know how to react.
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