Did John F. Kennedy really call himself a jelly doughnut? Ich bin ein Berliner JFK speech

Did John F. Kennedy really call himself a jelly doughnut? Ich bin ein Berliner JFK speech

It’s well-known that President John F. Kennedy had an affinity for sweet things. What is not true is that he referred to himself as a jelly donut in a famous speech.

When JFK journeyed to Berlin in the summer of 1963, his administration had already survived the debacle of the Bay of Pigs and withstood the anxiety of the Cuban Missile Crisis, all while maneuvering through the frigid waters of the Cold War. His trip to West Germany was seen as an endorsement of both democracy and detente, and the speech he was scheduled to deliver to the German people was expected to be one of the most influential of his presidency. When he concluded his commentary with the words “I am a Berliner” in the native language of his listeners, it was regarded as a key moment in his thousand days in office.

The text of Kennedy’s speech was a plea for the freedom of all people, and he used Berlin as a symbol of that freedom. To emphasize the point, he used the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner”, in an attempt to convey his unity with the people of Berlin. What he didn’t realize is that the word Berliner could also be used as the word for jelly donut. By using the phrase the way he did, Kennedy could be accused of indicating that he was a jam filled pastry rather than a participant in the city’s struggle for freedom.

The words were scripted for Kennedy by a respected interpreter, Robert H. Lochner, who was carefully tutored on the proper phrasing. Lochner was informed that while a citizen of Berlin would say, ”Ich bin Berliner,” that would not be the correct terminology for Kennedy, a non-citizen, to use.

This is why the preposition “ein” was added to the text, even though it could be loosely construed and purposely misunderstood by non-native speakers as a denotation of a delicious local pastry.

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