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.
Photograph of Hungry Internees at the German Prison Camp in Belsen, Germany, 4/28/1945
Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives Identifier: 594425
On April 28, 1945, the Army Signal Corps photographed these internees at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany 13 days after their liberation by the British. Despite desperate efforts to save them, 14,000 of the 45,000 prisoners interned at Bergen-Belsen had died by the end of June from the effects of their imprisonment.
Mickey Rooney, Legendary Actor and Entertainer
(September 23, 1920 - April 6, 2014)
"Private First Class Mickey Rooney imitates some Hollywood actors for an audience of Infantrymen of the 44th Division. Rooney is a member of a three-man unit making a jeep tour to entertain the troops. Kist, Germany, April 13, 1945."
From the series: Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1754 - 1954
The Merkers Salt Mine Cache
ReichsBank wealth, SS loot, and Berlin Museum paintings that were removed from Berlin to a salt mine vault located in Merkers, Germany. The 3rd U.S. Army discovered the gold and other treasure in April 1945.RG 111-SC-205409
In early April, 1945, the German village of Merkers fell to elements of Lt. General George Patton’s Third Army. Stories soon began to emerge about a local salt mine packed with gold, treasure, and priceless art. At 10 a.m. on April 7, 1945, Lt. Col. William A. Russell of the Ninetieth Infantry Division, and other staff followed German mining officials into the mine. The elevator took them to the bottom of the main shaft twenty-one hundred feet beneath the surface, where the image above awaited them.
(Catch up on some of our earlier Monuments Men posts!)
Talk About Full Service…
A NATO E-3A Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft from NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, West Germany, refuels from a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft during a training mission. The plane is one of eighteen such aircraft providing surveillance for member nations as directed by NATO’s Airborne Early Warning Force commander, 02/19/1988
Thirty-six prominent American writers including Eugene O’Neill, Dorothy Parker, and John Steinbeck, sent this telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt in November 1938, less than a week after Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” during which synagogues, homes, and Jewish-owned businesses across Germany were plundered and destroyed by the Nazis. They expressed outrage and asked the president to sever trade relations and declare an embargo on all “Nazi German goods.” Their telegram was just one of hundreds of telegrams and letters sent to U.S. government officials at the time expressing similar feelings of anger and dismay.
Telegram from 36 American Writers to President Roosevelt, 11/16/1938
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.
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.
Private First Class Lawrence Bartlett, Niagara Falls, New York, examines the four fallen lions which once adorned the top of the Siegestor, built by King Ludwig I, in 1844-1852 in tribute to the Bavarian Army. Munich, Germany, June 13, 1945.
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?