JFK wrote his own speeches

1. The appearance in front of the Schöneberg Town Hall
1.1. The speeches of the politicians I 1.2. Impressions

1. The appearance in front of the Schöneberg Town Hall

Schöneberg Town Hall in Berlin
At around 11.45 a.m. Kennedy's motorcade arrived at Schöneberg Town Hall, the official seat of the Governing Mayor. From the approximately four meter high pedestal, which was erected above the entrance area of ​​the town hall especially for the occasion, John F. Kennedy was supposed to give one of the most important speeches in the course of his political career. In the famous speech, which sent clear signals to the Soviet Union and portrayed Berlin as an island of freedom, the words "I am a Berliner" should be used, which went out into the world from Berlin and which Berliners in particular have remembered to this day. Kennedy's visit was of inestimable importance for Berliners and other Germans. In his speech he stated that the division of Germany and Europe was directed against history and that the freedom of the united Germany remained the most important / supreme goal of the Western powers. The next steps could only be about combining attempts to defuse the military with a policy of relaxation and improvement, while acting in the interests of the German right to self-determination. Berlin and Germany were symbolic of capitalism and communism in Europe and an ultimate agreement could only be achieved by mutual agreement.

Early in the morning people had already gathered on Rudolph-Wilde-Platz in front of the town hall to get a good look at the visiting American President and to express their gratitude by being present. With posters, self-painted signs, and scarves, they stood by the thousands crowded around noon and waited for Kennedy. In later estimates there are half a million to a million Berlin citizens who gathered in the square.

Until March 1963 it was not clear whether the American president would also come to Berlin on his trip to Germany. The German Foreign Ministry had left this question unanswered for the media up to this point. When the American government announced in mid-March that Kennedy would be visiting Berlin, the German press cheered. Now the citizens were standing on the roofs, waving from the windows and even the balconies opposite the town hall were overcrowded.

Kennedy's way to the town hall led via the Brandenburg Gate and the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, where he had the opportunity to take a look over the wall and where he had to deal directly with the border. He was visibly touched afterwards and also had a brief encounter with the enthusiastic Berliners on Friedrichstrasse. When the motorcade arrived at the town hall, the people cheered here too. In the town hall, however, the politicians first had the opportunity to freshen up and collect themselves.

In the office of West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, Kennedy practiced his speech, which he had prepared on Din-A-5 cards, and especially his later famous saying "I am a Berliner", before he presented with Adenauer and Brandt at around 1 pm the crowd entered. Chants lasting for minutes and a thunderous jubilation of enthusiasm set in. Brandt later described Kennedy's visit to Berlin as the undisputed highlight of his trip to Germany. The warmth and cordiality shown by the Berliners was overwhelming for both politicians.

Millions of people across Germany witnessed this historic moment. Two platforms had been set up in front of the stands, on which the representatives of the press huddled. The position of the pedestals directly opposite, or slightly offset from the stands, had been determined and requested by his advisors a few weeks before Kennedy's visit in order to capture Kennedy as best as possible with the cameras. It is thanks to the protest of the Berliners against the location of the platforms the previous evening that they were set back a few meters. Like the whole visit to Berlin, this part of the protocol was planned meticulously. Through the radio and television broadcasts, all citizens of Germany were able to witness Kennedy's brilliant and conclusive speech.

First spoke Otto Bach, President of the Berlin House of Representatives, who welcomed Kennedy. He expressed his gratitude for the visit and mentioned the political symbols that Kennedy had already noticed on his tour: the congress hall, the Airlift Memorial and the freedom bell donated by the Americans in the tower of the Schöneberg town hall. In an allusion to the imposed Brandenburg Gate, he pointed out that the media coverage would not stop at the obstacles in the eastern part of the city.

Afterwards, Federal Chancellor Adenauer, whose speech was very brief. In a friendly tone, he thanked Kennedy's visit to Germany and Berlin. On that day, "a referendum took place that cannot be ignored all over the world."

He was probably addressing the idea of ​​a referendum among Berliners on their affiliation to West Germany, which had been discussed repeatedly in politics in previous years. He also remembered the Berlin Airlift and Lucius D. Clay before stepping back from the lectern.

Kennedy's speech was interrupted by cheers and applause. After he thanked Adenauer and Brandt and paid tribute to General Clay, the first part of the speech was followed for the first time by the "proudest sentence anyone can say in the free world: I am a Berliner." In phonetic transcription, Kennedy had noted on a card index: 'Ish bin ein Bearleener'. In a funny gesture, he thanked Heinz Weber, the translator, for translating his German into German. According to historian Andreas Daum, this sentence is "one of the most successful sentences of political rhetoric in American foreign policy, of the 20th century, and indeed of modernity in general."



The origin of the expression 'I am a citizen of Rome' - in the original 'civis Romanus sum', leads back to the time before Christ, when this statement by an individual meant to be a Roman citizen with the corresponding legal claims, and thus to belong meant a certain empire. In ancient times, the saying developed into an expression of pride in the Roman community. Using this quote, Kennedy quoted himself as saying - over a year earlier he had used almost the same phrase in the award of honorary citizenship to the American city of New Orleans: 'I am a citizen of the United States'. In Berlin he also wanted to say something special to thank him for the emotion and warmth he showed. With this saying, he emphasizes belonging to a city - the city of Berlin, which he repeats at the end of his speech and this time even increases it by slightly changing it into an individual and very personal commitment, expressed by the President of the United States - he links the universal Desire for freedom with the post-war identity of Berlin during the Cold War: "All free people, wherever they may live, are citizens of this city of West Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I am proud to be able to say: 'I am a jam-filled donut!'".

In the further course of the speech, Kennedy made it clear that Berlin was a defended island of freedom and he accused the communist world. "The wall is the most hideous and strongest demonstration for the failure of the communist regime." He pointed out that the western allies had never had to build a wall to prevent their own people from going elsewhere. Freedom is indivisible, and if even one is enslaved, not all are free. When the day of freedom came, Berliners could be proud to have held the front for 20 years. After his final statement and the subsequent, never-ending applause, it was Brandt's turn.

His tone was also serious. He thanked and paid tribute to Clay, pointing to the German-American friendship and the same interests, ideals and determination. As the Governing Mayor of Berlin, he greeted the people in the eastern part of the city and assured them that they would not give up. Turning to Kennedy, he expressed a desire for peaceful change. "We see the great expectations of the strategy of peace as developed by the president before and during his trip to Germany. We would like to make our contribution to this and to the building of the new Germany. This will be the path to self-determination."

Brandt then proceeded to the dramatically staged public entry of the President in the Golden Book, which took place in a moment of solemn silence. Brandt concluded his speech with the inscription of the freedom bell, which rang during the signing: 'May this world, with God's help, experience a rebirth of freedom.' While the Liberty Bell rang, the square was silent for a moment.

But the bell had great symbolic power: it was a gift from the USA to Berlin. After it had been presented a few weeks earlier in various US states and was brought to Berlin by Lucius D. Clay as part of the so-called crusade for freedom, it was inaugurated in the Schöneberg town hall in October 1950. The inscription comes from the "Gettysburg Address" of the American President Abraham Lincoln, in which he invoked the unity of northern and southern states and a free future for the USA. The freedom bell was ritualized and popularized as a symbol for the "spiritual airlift" between America and Germany and for the western will for freedom. It had brought additional dynamism to past Berlin politics and made the Schöneberg Town Hall a place of remembrance known in America as well.

Kennedy's visit to Berlin was in the truest sense of the word a borderline experience and had a special meaning. With his speech and his visit, he once again explicitly declared Berlin as a city of America, as a border post in a hostile environment. The border to the new and the better, the New Frontier, which was otherwise propagated by Kennedy in his politics and had to be overcome, was closed at this point. With his visit to Berlin, Kennedy wanted to draw attention to the limitation of all basic freedom values ​​in West Berlin and to represent the wall as a symbol for this. The wall was intended to symbolize what, among other things, he wanted to express negatively during his trip to Germany - the moral inferiority and inhumanity of the communist system functioning as the occupying power. Kennedy used an extremely sharp tone in his Schöneberg speech in the course of the emotions, which he relativized in the later speech at the Free University. However, before the tour continued via Steglitz to Zehlendorf, Kennedy, Adenauer and Brandt had the opportunity to exchange ideas about the impressive and unforgettable scenes at a festive meal together in the Brandenburg hall of the Schöneberg town hall.


After his death, John F. Kennedy's last visit to Berlin was inextricably linked with his speech in front of the Schöneberg town hall. Because of its symbolic power, the Rudolph-Wilde-Platz was renamed after Kennedy's murder in his honor after the president. A memorial plaque at the entrance, as well as the special publication "A great day in the history of our city", published by the Berlin State Office for Press and Information, remind us of this memorable day.