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.
On the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, we’ll be featuring your favorite images & documents from his life:
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?
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
August 17, 1962 - Peter Fechter is killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
One year after the construction of the Berlin Wall, Peter Fechter was killed by East German border guards.
The original caption:
The Death of A Refugee
Shot in the back while trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, Peter Fechter, 18, lay suffering for more than an hour while the Communist border guards who had fatally wounded him looked on impassively. Marks in the sand were made from Fechter’s bloody hand as the boy writhed in pain and called for help.
August 1961 - Creating the “Dead Zone” at the Berlin Wall
Making the Impossible Decision
On August 12, 1961, immediately before the construction of the Berlin Wall this couple makes the decision to pass their son over barbed wire to West Berlin.
The original caption:
A German fate at the fence of barbed wire!
It may be that a couple from Berlin will never see each other again because it became separated by the drawing of the line across Berlin. On August 12, one day before Ulbricht had ordered to surround West Berlin with barbed wire, a man was flying into West Berlin. His wife should follow him a few days later as the little son was still in a holiday-camp. In the meantime the nearly impenetrable “iron curtain” was drawn around West Berlin. The couple met at the fence of barbed wire. The “Vopo” guard was indulgent and allowed the meeting. The couple discussed their situation and they decided that the little son shall grow up in freedom. At a moment when the “Vopo” did not watch them the mother handed the child over the barbed wire.
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.