Did JFK Really Tell Berlin He Was a Jelly Doughnut?
One of the iconic moments of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency comes from a speech he gave at the Rathaus Schöneberg in West Berlin, Germany on June 26, 1963. When the President declared “Ich bin ein Berliner!” to a cheering crowd, he preserved the German phrase in history. But the speech has been plagued by claims that, instead of expressing international unity by stating “I am a Berliner!” in German as he intended, JFK enthusiastically shouted a less inspiring phrase: “I am a jelly doughnut!”
Newspapers, magazines, and even textbooks have repeated the story for decades: a native Berliner would’ve said “Ich bin Berliner” and JFK’s use of the article ein changed the meaning, causing chuckles as the crowd imagined the jelly doughnut called a Berliner in parts of Germany. Fifty years later, a new generation may wonder: How could the President, who hand-wrote the pronunciation on his speech card to be sure he’d get it right, make such a cringe-worthy mistake?
But many historians and linguists have stepped in to poke a hole in the doughnut story and clear JFK’s name of this deep-fried controversy. Historian Andreas Daum notes, “saying ein Berliner is correct if used metaphorically,” which, of course, is what Kennedy was doing – not saying he was literally from Berlin, but that he was symbolically with Berlin. Historian Jürgen Eichhoff argues that the wording JFK used was actually the only way to express this particular meaning, and the German speakers (including West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt) who heard JFK practice the speech agreed.
Historians also point out that archival evidence (like recordings and witness interviews) debunks the idea that the German-speaking crowd found anything weird about JFK’s wording: “No one in the square,” Presidential advisor McGeorge Bundy later said, “confused JFK with a doughnut.”
On the anniversary of JFK’s Berlin speech, we can all rest easier knowing many experts agree President Kennedy did not declare himself a jelly doughnut at this pivotal moment in Cold War history!
A very, very big thanks to JFK Library archivist Stacey Chandler for this guest Tumblr post!
Images: President John F. Kennedy Speaks in Rudolph Wilde Platz; JFK’s handwritten pronunciation note from the President’s speech files; President Kennedy in motorcade with Willie Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin and Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany. 6/26/63.
Operation “Little Vittles”
In July 1948 Berlin Airlift pilot Gail Halvorsen began handing out and later dropping candy via handkerchief parachutes to the children who had gathered to watch at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. With the approval of superiors and the support of confectionery companies, “Operation Little Vittles” was born and “Candy Bombers” and “Raisin Bombers” began dropping care packages to the children of Berlin.
Sadly, “Ich bin ein Berliner” translates to “I am a jelly filled doughnut.”
Actually no, it doesn’t. In a literal sense, yes, a Berliner is also a jelly doughnut. However, as Kennedy was speaking figuratively in expressing his solidarity with Berliners, his usage was correct.
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
"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.
The Berlin Airlift begins 65 years ago, June 24, 1948
WORLD IN FILM. Issue no. 176, 100 DAYS OF BLOCKADE, 1948
On June 24, 1948, Soviet forces began a blockade of West Berlin, severing all land connections between the city and western Europe. In response, U.S. and British Commonwealth Forces launched the Berlin Airlift (aka “Operation Vittles” for the Americans) to supply their garrisons and the population of Berlin.
At its height, the airlift delivered 5000 tons of supplies daily, including food, milk and coal, with aircraft arriving at Berlin every 30 seconds (at multiple airports). The blockade was eventually lifted on May 12, 1949.
A German Fate At The Fence Of Barbed Wire
Some of our followers may recognize these photos from when we first posted them on the 50th anniversary of Berlin Wall in August of 2011: Making the Impossible Decision. With their family unexpectedly divided by the fledgling Berlin Wall, the mother makes a split-second decision to pass her son over the wire to her husband during a momentary lapse by the border guards.
Do you know who this family is?
August 3, 1936 - Jesse Owens wins the 100m sprint at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Admittedly, this is a totally gratuitous reblog, but it seemed necessary considering we’re now in the midst of the Summer Olympics. Also, this was our first post to ever get featured on the Tumblr Radar, so it holds a special place for us on the Today’s Document team.
On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech that electrified a crowd gathered in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. As he paid tribute to the spirit of Berliners and to their quest for freedom, the crowd roared with approval upon hearing the the President’s dramatic pronouncement, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).
President Kennedy used this handwritten note card while delivering his speech. On it, he phonetically spelled German phrases from his speech, including “Ish bin ein Bearleener.” Read More
"GAP IN THE WALL—Communist border guards inspect a gap in the Berlin wall where two East German construction workers broke through and escaped to freedom in early April. The refugees rammed the wall with a heavy truck and then fled on foot into the French Sector of West Berlin when their truck stalled in the rubble. The East German guards fired several shots at them but missed. In the background are Communist military vehicles posted after the incident to prevent further escapes." April 1962
“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
This Sunday will mark the 48th anniversary of President Kennedy’s address to the people of Berlin. On June 26, 1963, President Kennedy stood before a huge crowd gathered in the plaza of the West Berlin City Hall and said, “Ich bin ein Berliner… I am a Berliner.” With those words he confirmed his country’s commitment to the freedom of Berlin. The crowd responded with a roar that reached far beyond the massive wall that divided East and West Berlin.
The Soviet and East German governments had erected the wall only two years before to shut off the flow of East Germans fleeing to the freedom of the west. When he spoke in Berlin, Kennedy called it “the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the communist system… we take no satisfaction in it, for 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 wish to be joined together.”
The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. But in 1989 the peoples of Eastern Europe took matters into their own hands and in a bloodless revolution brought Soviet domination to an end. As part of those uprisings, citizens of Berlin tore down the Wall, piece by piece.
This motion picture excerpt from President Kennedy’s “One Day in Berlin” is from the Kennedy Library’s Digital Archive.
Over the next few days we’ll be posting more from our archives of JFK’s trip to West Berlin.
GENERAL SECRETARY GORBACHEV, IF YOU SEEK PEACE — IF YOU SEEK PROSPERITY FOR THE SOVIET UNION AND EASTERN EUROPE — IF YOU SEEK LIBERALIZATION: COME HERE, TO THIS GATE.
MR. GORBACHEV, OPEN THIS GATE.
MR. GORBACHEV, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL.
June 5 - George Marshall proposes a plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe
West Berlin, Germany. Marshall Plan aid to Germany totaled $1,390,600 and enabled that country to rise from the ashes of defeat, as symbolized by this worker in West Berlin. Even a year before the end of the Marshall Plan in 1951, Germany had surpassed her prewar industrial production level.
When World War II ended in 1945, Europe lay in ruins: its cities were shattered; its economies were devastated; its people faced famine. To meet this emergency, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed in a speech on June 5, 1947, that European nations create a plan for their economic reconstruction and that the United States provide economic assistance. On April 3, 1948, President Truman signed the act that became known as the Marshall Plan.