Ich bin ein Berliner

This study guide will help you analyze the speech “Ich bin ein Berliner” by John F. Kennedy. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on main topics, speaker, audience, language and circumstances. We will also give you an idea of Kennedy’s intention with the speech.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" is a well-known phrase from a speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, delivered on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. At the time, the city had recently been divided by the Berlin Wall, separating East and West Berlin. East Berlin fell under communist control, while West Berlin was a democratic area backed by the United States and other Western nations.

Kennedy's speech highlighted his support for the people of West Berlin, who faced challenges due to the newly built wall, and sent a message to the Soviet Union, which controlled East Germany. In English, "Ich bin ein Berliner" translates to "I am a Berliner," signifying that Kennedy stood alongside West Berlin residents during this difficult period.

The speech took place in front of West Berlin's city hall, drawing a large crowd. The phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" became emblematic of America's commitment to protecting freedom and democracy in the face of communism.

You can watch the speech here.

Excerpt from the study guide:

At the same time, the speech clearly targets the Soviet state. First, Kennedy talks about the Berlin Wall as “the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system” and continues by stating that the Communists need to leave Germany for peace and freedom to be obtained: “… Real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice.”

Note that Kennedy’s speech is a way of restating the US’s policy during the Cold War, mainly when it comes to the construction of the Berlin Wall. Also, note that Kennedy’s advisors recommended a calm and un-provocative speech, advice which Kennedy ignored. As a consequence, his speech was condemned by Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Prime Minister. A few weeks before, Kennedy had talked about cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union, but his speech in West Berlin came across as aggressive and provocative.

Consequently, Kennedy’s speech can be seen as an expression of US power, aimed towards various groups: US nationals who need to understand and support the government’s policy in Berlin; Berliners who want to feel protected and comforted by the US government’s support; and a Soviet audience, whom Kennedy wants to intimidate through this expression of support, to prevent them from expanding further. 

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Ich bin ein Berliner

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