ICH BIN EIN BERLINER
"Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") is a quotation from a
June the 26th 1963, speech by U.S. President John F.
Kennedy in West Berlin.
He was underlining the support of the United States for West
Germany 22 months after Soviet-supported East Germany
erected the Berlin Wall to prevent mass emigration to the
The message was aimed as much at the Soviets as it was
at Berliners and was a clear statement of U.S. policy in the
wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Another notable
(and defiant) phrase in the speech was also spoken in
German,"Lass' sienach Berlin kommen" ("Let them come to
Berlin"), addressed at those who claimed "we can work with
the Communists", are mark at which Nikita Khrushchev
scoffed only days later. The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, both a notable
moment of the Cold War and a high point of the New Frontier. It was a great morale boost
for West Berliners, who lived in an enclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible
East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus
Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000, Kennedy said, Two thousand years ago, the
proudest boast was civis romanus sum "I am a Roman citizen". 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, take pride in the words "Ich bin ein
Kennedy used the phrase twice in his speech, including at the end, pronouncing the sentence with his Boston accent and reading from his note "ish bin ein Bearleener", which he had written out using English spelling habits to indicate an approximation of the German pronunciation. The speech first culminated with the first of two mentions of the Ich bin ein Berliner phrase:
"Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner!"
Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ["I am a Roman citizen"]. 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!"
Ronald Reagan would evoke both the sentiment and the legacy of Kennedy's speech 24 years later in his "Tear down this wall!" speech.
There are commemorative sites to Kennedy in Berlin, such as the German-American John F. Kennedy School and the John F. Kennedy-Institute for North American Studies of the FU Berlin.
The public square in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg was renamed John-F.-Kennedy-Platz.
A large plaque dedicated to Kennedy is mounted on a column at the entrance of the building and the room above the entrance and overlooking the square is dedicated to Kennedy and his visit.
Germany's capital, Berlin, was deep within the area controlled by the Soviet Union after World War II.
The Ich bin ein Berliner speech is in part derived from a speech Kennedy gave at a Civic Reception on May 4, 1962,
JFK ICH BIN EIN BERLINER MERCHANDISE
"TITTER YE NOT"
What do Michael Jackson
and the Berlin wall have in common?
They were both massive
until the 1980's, when bits started to fall off.
U2 marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall by hosting a free concert
at Berlin's Brandenburg gate.
They then built a two meter wall around the venue to keep most of the Berliners out.
I doubt the Germans got the joke.
"Dave", I said to my mate, "There are memorable dates from history, that are etched on all our memories, like the first Moon landings, The Fall
of the Berlin Wall, JFK being shot and particularly September 11th 2004".
"Trev, It was 2001 mate".
"No Dave, September 11th 2004 was the first time I shagged your mum".
How do you double the
value of a East German
Fill up the tank with gas!
The phrase and the legend are quoted very often in fiction and popular culture in the United States. Besides a direct quote, there exist many variations starting "Ich bin ein (+ noun, e.g., Frankfurter, Hamburger)" that is supposed to be understood by the primarily English-speaking audience based on the widespread knowledge of this German phrase and its myth. The phrase is perhaps ambiguous, but in context it is clear.
The Berlin Wall (German:
Berliner Mauer) was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), starting on the 13th of August 1961, the wall completely cut off (by land) West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until it was opened in November 1989. Its demolition officially began on the 13th of June 1990 and was completed in 1992. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later know as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defences. The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked East Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.
The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" (German:
Anti faschistischer Schutzwall)
by GDR authorities, implying that the NATO countries and West Germany in particular were "fascists." The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame" —a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt —while condemning the Wall's restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer
Inner German border (IGB), which demarcated the border between East and West
Germany, it came to symbolize the "Iron Curtain" that separated Western Europe and the
Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc
emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border
from East Berlin into West Berlin; from which they could then travel to West Germany
and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the wall prevented
almost all such emigration. During this period, around 5,000 people attempted to escape
over the wall, with an estimated death toll ranging from 136 to more than 200 in and
In 1989, a series of radical political changes occurred in the Eastern Bloc, associated
with the liberalization of the Eastern Bloc's authoritarian systems and the erosion of
political power in the pro Soviet governments in nearby Poland and Hungary. After
several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on the 9th
of November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin.
Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans
on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, euphoric people
and souvenir hunters chipped away parts of the wall; the governments later used
industrial equipment to remove most of what was left. Contrary to popular belief the wall's actual demolition did not begin until the summer of 1990 and was not completed until 1992. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on the 3rd of October 1990.
With the closing of the inner German border officially in 1952, the border in Berlin remained considerably more accessible then because it was administered by all four occupying powers. Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West. On the 11th of December 1957, East Germany introduced a new passport law that reduced the overall number of refugees leaving Eastern Germany. It had the unintended result of drastically increasing the percentage of those leaving through West Berlin from 60% to well over 90% by the end of 1958. Those caught trying to leave East Berlin were subjected to heavy penalties, but with no physical barrier and subway train access still available to West Berlin, such measures were ineffective.
The Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape. The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totalled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.
A important reason that the West Berlin border was not closed earlier was that doing so would cut off much of the railway traffic in East Germany. Construction of a new railway bypassing West Berlin, the Berlin outer ring, commenced in 1951. Following the completion of the railway in 1961, closing the barrier became a more practical position.
The emigrants tended to be young and well-educated, leading to the " brain drain " feared by officials in East Germany. Yuri Andropov, then the CPSU Director on Relations with Communist and Workers Parties of Socialist Countries, wrote an urgent letter on the 28th of August 1958, to the Central Committee about the significant 50% increase in the number of East German intelligentsia among the refugees. Andropov reported that, while the East German leadership stated that they were leaving for economic reasons, testimony from refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material.
An East German SED propaganda booklet published in 1955 dramatically described the serious nature of 'flight from the republic:
Both from the moral standpoint as well as in terms of the interests of the whole German nation, leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity. Those who let themselves be recruited objectively serve West German Reaction and militarism, whether they know it or not. Is it not despicable when for the sake of a few alluring job offers or other false promises about a "guaranteed future" one leaves a country in which the seed for a new and more beautiful life is sprouting, and is already showing the first fruits, for the place that favour's a new war and destruction?
Is it not an act of political depravity when citizens, whether young people, workers, or members of the intelligentsia, leave and betray what our people have created through common labour in our republic to offer themselves to the American or British secret services or work for the West German factory owners, Junkers, or militarists? Does not leaving the land of progress for the morass of an historically outdated social order demonstrate political backwardness and blindness?
Workers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the imperialists and militarists.
View from the West Berlin
side of graffiti art on
the wall in 1986.
The wall didn’t fall in a day.
On Dec the 31st,
a little girl chiselled away at the
Berlin Wall from the east side.
By 1960, the combination of World War II and the massive emigration
westward left East Germany with only 61% of its population of working
age, compared to 70.5% before the war. The loss was disproportionately
heavy among professionals:
engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers,
lawyers and skilled workers. The direct cost of manpower losses to East
Germany (and corresponding gain to the West) has been estimated at $7
billion to $9 billion, with East German party leader Walter Ulbricht later
claiming that West Germany owed him $17 billion in compensation,
including reparations as well as manpower losses. In addition, the drain of
East Germany's young population potentially cost it over 22.5 billion marks in
lost educational investment. The brain drain of professionals, had become
so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East
Germany, that the re-securing of the German communist frontier was
On the 15th of June 1961, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and
GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press
conference, "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" (No one
has the intention of erecting a wall!). It was the first time the colloquial term
Mauer (wall) had been used in this context.
The transcript of a telephone call between Nikita Khrushchev and Ulbricht on
the 1st of August in the same year, suggests that the initiative for the
construction of the wall came from Khrushchev. However, other sources
suggest that Khrushchev had initially been wary about building a wall, fearing
negative Western reaction. What is beyond dispute, though, is that Ulbricht
had pushed for a border closure for quite some time, arguing that East
Germany's very existence was at stake.
Khrushchev had been emboldened by US President John F. Kennedy’s tacit
indication that the US would not actively oppose this action in the Soviet sector
of Berlin. On Saturday, the 12th of August 1961, the leaders of the GDR
attended a garden party at a government guest house in Döllnsee, in a
wooded area to the north of East Berlin. There Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and erect the wall.
Though its crossing would remain closed
for several weeks, the Brandenburg Gate,
blocked off for years due to the wall’s
presence, became another gathering point
for celebrating Germans.
At midnight, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border and, by Sunday morning, the 13th of August, the border with West Berlin was closed. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the border to make them impassable to most vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156 kilometres (97 mi) around the three western sectors, and the 43 kilometres (27 mi) that divided West and East Berlin.
The barrier was built slightly inside East Berlin or East German territory to
ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point. Later, it was
built up into the Wall proper, the first concrete elements and large blocks
being put in place on the 17th of August. During the construction of the
Wall, National People's Army ( NVA ) and Combat Groups of the Working
Class (KdA) soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who
attempted to defect. Additionally chain fences, walls, minefields and other
obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany's western
border with West Germany proper. A huge no man's land was cleared to
provide a clear line of fire at fleeing refugees.
With the closing of the East-West sector boundary in Berlin, the vast
majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West
Germany. Berlin soon went from being the easiest place to make an
unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to being the
most difficult. Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in
the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated
enclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall,
led by their Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Willy Brandt, who strongly
criticized the United States for failing to respond. Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk proclaimed, "The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is — to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to Communist failure."
US and UK sources had expected the Soviet sector to be sealed off from West Berlin, but were surprised by how long the East Germans took for such a move. They considered the wall as an end to concerns about a GDR/Soviet retaking or capture of the whole of Berlin; the wall would presumably have been an unnecessary project if such plans were afloat. Thus they concluded that the possibility of a Soviet military conflict over Berlin decreased.
The East German government claimed that the Wall was an "anti-fascist
protective rampart" (German:
"antifaschistischer Schutzwall") intended to
dissuade aggression from the West. Another official justification was the
activities of western agents in Eastern Europe. The Eastern German
government also claimed that West Berliners were buying out state-
subsidized goods in East Berlin. East Germans and others greeted such
statements with scepticism, as most of the time, the border was only
closed for citizens of East Germany traveling to the West, but not for
residents of West Berlin travelling to the East. The construction of the
Wall had caused considerable hardship to families divided by it. Most
people believed that the Wall was mainly a means of preventing the
citizens of East Germany from entering or fleeing to West Berlin.
The National Security Agency was the only American intelligence
agency that was aware that East Germany was to take action to deal with
the brain drain problem, i.e. the outflow of East-Germans via Berlin. On
the 9th of August 1961, the NSA intercepted an advance warning
information of the Socialist Unity Party's plan to close the intra-Berlin
border between East and West Berlin completely for foot traffic. The
interagency intelligence Watch Committee assessed that this
intercept "might be the first step in a plan to close the border."
This warning did not reach U.S. President John F. Kennedy until noon on
the 13th of August 1961, while he was vacationing in his yacht off the
Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. While Kennedy
was angry that he had no advance warning, he was relieved that the East
Germans and the Soviets had only divided Berlin without taking any action against West Berlin's access to the West.
However he denounced the Berlin Wall, whose erection worsened the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
PAVAROTTI? GIVING THE FINGER
TO A EAST GERMAN GUARD
The fall of the wall
was the start of the true push for reunification
of the country, as demonstrated by this group of
Berlin citizens holding a German flag and a poster reading
Deutschland Einig Vaterland
(“Germany United Fatherland”).
In response to the erection of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy appointed retired General Lucius D. Clay, who had been the Military Governor of the US Zone of Occupation in Germany during the period of the Berlin Blockade and had ordered the first measures in what became the Berlin Airlift, as his special advisor, sending him to Berlin with ambassadorial rank. Clay was immensely popular with the residents of West Berlin, and his appointment was an unambiguous sign that Kennedy would not compromise on the status of West Berlin. Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived at Tempelhof Airport on the afternoon of Saturday, the 19th of August 1961.
They arrived in a city defended by three Allied brigades—one each from the UK, the US, and France (the Forces Françaises
à Berlin). On the 16th of August, Kennedy had given the order for them to be reinforced. Early on the 19th of August, the 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry (commanded by Colonel Glover S. Johns Jr.) was alerted. On Sunday morning, U.S. troops marched from West Germany through East Germany, bound for West Berlin. Lead elements—arranged in a column of 491 vehicles and trailers carrying 1,500 men, divided into five march units—left the Helmstedt-Marienborn checkpoint at 06:34. At Marienborn the Socheckpoint next to Helmstedt the West German/East German border, US personnel were counted by guards. The column was 160 kilometres (99 mi) long, and covered 177 kilometres (110 mi) Marienborn to Berlin in full battle gear.
The front of the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Berlin just before noon, to be met by Clay and Johnson, before parading through the streets of Berlin in front of a large crowd. At 04:00 on 21 August, Lyndon Johnson left West Berlin in the hands of Gen. Frederick Hartel and his brigade of 4,224 officers and men.
Every three months for the next three and a half years new American battalions rotated into West Berlin; each travelled by the autobahn to demonstrate Allied rights.
The creation of the wall had important implications for both German states. By stemming the exodus of people from East Germany, the East German government was able to reassert its control over the country:
in spite of discontent with the wall, economic problems caused by dual currency and the black market were largely eliminated. The economy in the GDR began to grow. But the wall proved a public relations disaster for the bloc as a whole. Western powers portrays a symbol of communist tyranny.
The Berlin Wall was more than 140 kilometres (87 mi) long. In June 1962, a second,
parallel fence was built some 100 metres (110 yd) farther into East German territory.
The houses contained between the fences were razed and the inhabitants relocated,
thus establishing what later became known as the Death Strip. The Death Strip was
covered with raked sand or gravel, rendering footprints easy to notice, easing the
detection of trespassers and also enabling officers to see which guards had neglected
their task; offered no cover; and, most importantly, it offered clear fields of fire for the
Through the years, the Berlin Wall evolved through four versions:
Wire fence (1961)
Improved wire fence (1962–1965)
Concrete wall (1965–1975)
Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975–1989)
The "fourth-generation wall", known officially as " Stützwandelement UL 12.11 "
(retaining wall element UL 12.11), was the final and most sophisticated version of the
Wall. Begun in 1975 and completed about 1980, it was constructed from 45,000
separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 metres (12 ft) high and 1.2 metres
(3.9 ft) wide, and cost DDM 16,155,000 or about US $3,638,000. The concrete
provisions added to this version of the Wall were done so as to prevent escapees from
driving their cars through the barricades. At strategic points, the wall was constructed to
a somewhat weaker standard, so that East German and Soviet armored vehicles could
easily break through in the event of war. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth
pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. The wall was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, "beds of nails" under balconies hanging over the "death strip", over 116 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall. The layout came to resemble the inner German border in most technical aspects, except that the Berlin Wall had no landmines nor spring-guns.
This section of the Wall's "death strip"
featured Czech hedgehogs, a guard tower
and a cleared area,1977.
Checkpoint Charlie (or "Checkpoint C") was the name given by the
Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East
Berlin and West Berlin, during the Cold War.
GDR leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuverered to get the Soviet
Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961, to stop Eastern
Bloc emigration westward through the Soviet border system, preventing
escape across the city sector border from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the
separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly
faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.
After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany,
the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now
located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighbourhood of Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall located at the
junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße (which
for older historical reasons coincidentally means 'Wall Street'). It is in the
Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as
the single crossing point (by foot or by car) for foreigners and
members of the Allied forces. (Members of the Allied forces were not
allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated or use by foreigners, the Friedrichstraße railway station). The name Charlie came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West:
Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner
of Berlin. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point (КПП Фридрихштрассе). The East Germans referred officially to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle ("Border Crossing Point") Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.
As the most visible Berlin Wall checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie is frequently featured in spy movies and books. A famous cafe and viewing place for Allied officials, Armed Forces and visitors alike, Cafe Adler ("Eagle Café"), is situated right on the checkpoint. It was an excellent viewing point to look into East Berlin while having something to eat and drink.
The checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was
expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However, the Allied authority never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the well-known wooden shed, which was replaced during the 1980s by a larger metal structure, now displayed at the Allied Museum in western Berlin . Their reason was that they did not consider the inner Berlin sector boundary an international border and did not treat it as such.
Soon after the construction of the Berlin Wall, a standoff occurred between U.S. and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on the 22nd of October as a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a U.S. diplomat named Allan Lightner passing through to East Berlin to see the opera. By October the 27th, 10 Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 yards apart on either side of the checkpoint. The standoff ended peacefully on October the 28th following a U.S.-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks. Discussions between U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.
The Berlin Wall was erected with great efficiency by the East German government in 1961, but there were many means of escape that had not been anticipated. For example, Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate, and a citizen of the GDR (East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected. Another escapee approached the barrier in a convertible, took the windscreen down at the last moment, and slipped under the barrier. This was repeated two weeks later, so the East Germans duly lowered the barrier and added uprights.
On the 17th of August 1962, a teenaged East German, Peter Fechter, was shot in the pelvis by East German guards while trying to escape from East Berlin. His body lay tangled in a barbed wire fence, and he bled to death, in full view of the world’s media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few meters inside the Soviet sector. East German border guards were reluctant to approach him for fear of provoking Western soldiers, one of whom had shot an East German border guard just days earlier. More than an hour later, Fechter’s body was removed by the East German guards. A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint, protesting the action of the East and the inaction of the West.
A few days later, the crowd stoned Soviet buses driving towards the Soviet War Memorial, located in the Tiergarten in the British sector; the Soviets tried to escort the buses with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). Thereafter, the Soviets were only allowed to cross via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were prohibited from bringing APCs. Western units were deployed in the middle of the night in early September with live armaments and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban.