“Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) is a quotation from a speech given on this day in 1963, by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin. He was saying, “I am a citizen of 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 West. 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 phrase in the speech was also spoken in German, “Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen” (“Let them come to Berlin”), addressed at those who claimed “we can work with the Communists”, a remark 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, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
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.