Ich bin ein Berliner

From Academic Kids

"Ich bin ein Berliner" is a famous phrase by John F. Kennedy. On June 26, 1963 in West Berlin, he made a speech containing the sentences:

"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.'
"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!'"

According to the context of the speech, Kennedy meant that he stood together with West Berliners in their conflict with East Germany and its Communist government.

Jelly doughnuts are called Berliner outside Berlin (but usually referred to as Pfannkuchen in Berlin itself). This has led some people to believe that the phrase Kennedy uttered was amusingly ambiguous ("I am a jelly doughnut"), which is, for the most part, incorrect. While the phrase could possibly be understood that way, both the context of the quotation and the fact that jelly doughnuts are not actually called "Berliner" in Berlin made this unlikely. Normally a Berliner would say "Ich komme aus Berlin" ("I come from Berlin"), but because Kennedy wanted to emphasize the common identity among people of the "world of freedom", that usage would have been misleading. "Ich bin Berliner" (cf. "Ich bin Amerikaner", "Ich bin Deutscher" etc.) would be preferred in common usage. This sentence is about as likely to be misinterpreted as the following analogous example: suppose the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder went to New York following the September 11th attacks and said "I am a New Yorker". While it is possible that a native English speaker would mistake his meaning for "I am the magazine New Yorker" or "I am a Chrysler New Yorker," given the context most would understand the chancellor to have meant, "I am a citizen of New York."

The jelly doughnut urban legend apparently arose in Florida in the 1980s and culminated in a letter to the editor to The New York Times in 1987 which claimed that the error was embarrassing and resulted in laughter. The context made the meaning very clear, though, so nobody misunderstood Kennedy when he delivered his speech. He did however pronounce the sentence with a very strong American accent, reading from his note "ish bin ine bear-LEAN-ar". Contrary to the urban legend, it was not followed by a roar of laughter. Audio and film recordings show the remark was followed by applause and cheers, as was witnessed by television audiences in Europe and the United States at the time.

Interestingly, Kennedy did get a laugh a moment after he first used the phrase, but deliberately. His speech was being translated into German for the crowd phrase-by-phrase. "Ich bin ein Berliner" was "translated" to itself, resulting in the interpreter parroting what Kennedy had just said a moment before. As the applause died down, Kennedy paused for a moment, then said: "I appreciate my interpreter translating my German", a quip which did receive a solid laugh from the crowd.

The phrase in fiction and popular culture

In Terry Pratchett's book Monstrous Regiment (pp. 329, Hardcover), Samuel Vimes makes a speech in which he says "Ze chzy Brogocia proztfik!", intending this to mean "I am a citizen of Borogravia!". What he actually says is "I am a cherry pancake!".

The phrase is alluded to in an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Little Girl in the Big Ten". Lisa Simpson is reluctant to enroll in a gymnastics school in order to help her pass her physical education class at Springfield Elementary. However, after having been inspired by President Kennedy while knocked unconscious she awakes to claim "Ich bin ein Gymnast!". Also, in another episode of the series, Abraham Simpson has a flashback in which he hears John F. Kennedy say the phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner", prompting Abraham to yell "He's a Nazi!" shortly before tackling Kennedy. Throughout the series, Mayor "Diamond Joe" Quimby, a blatant caricature of Kennedy, uses variations of the phrase multiple times when addressing large crowds ("Ich bin ein Springfield Swap Meet patron!").

The British music group Pop Will Eat Itself varied the phrase to "Ich bin ein Auslander" ("I am a foreigner") as the title and chorus of a 1994 song expressing solidarity with immigrants and condemning anti-immigrant hate speech as inevitably stoking violence, insisting that "freedom of expression doesn't make it alright."

Eddie Izzard, an English comedian, talks about John Kennedy's "I am a donut" speech in his stand-up act "Dressed to Kill".

External links

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