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Ich bin ein Berliner
| We control what|
you think with
|Said and done|
|Jargon, buzzwords, slogans|
The phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" (English: "I am a Berliner") was used by President Kennedy during a speech on August 13th, 1961 in Berlin after the Berlin Wall was erected. The intent was to declare that every free person was united together in purpose in Berlin.
The speech is regarded as one of the most important and powerful speeches given in the 20th century. Listening to it, even today, one cannot help but marvel at the power and the danger inherent in living during the Cold War.
Kennedy was given a proper and grammatically correct statement to say, but many English-speaking people, aware that German generally doesn't use the indefinite article before a profession, or place of origin, presumed that the statement must be wrong. And upon discovering that there is a donut called "ein Berliner", they announced that Kennedy accidentally said "I am a jelly donut" instead of "I am a Berliner."
This is, in fact, an urban legend.[note 1] The term "Berliner Pfannkuchen" was not widely used until after Kennedy's speech. At the same time as the "Berliner" donut was becoming better known, the Berliner Dampfbäckereien (Berlin steam bakeries) came into business and registered the trademark for "Berliner." Thus, only bakers who were trained in this specialty, and from Berlin, were permitted to use the term "Berliner." At any rate, it would be the English equivalent of someone saying "I am Milwaukee's best" after winning a boxing match in Milwaukee. People would understand that you are not calling yourself a beer.
All of that information aside, the sentence is also very clearly grammatically correct to anyone who speaks German fluently. The use of "ein" in the sentence was for a dramatic, strengthening effect. However, as this story is already very widespread, there is a lot of false history maintaining the faulty belief.
It should also be noted that the crowd roared, not with laughter, but with excitement and cheering. If anyone there thought it was funny, it was not caught on tape. There was laughter slightly later, when Kennedy thanked his translator for translating his German into German.
- "Ich bin ein Springfielder" - Mayor "Diamond" Joe Quimby of The Simpsons
- "Ich bin ein Kölsch" - Bill Clinton referenced Kennedy's speech in 1999 when visiting Cologne in Germany. Unlike Kennedy he did reveal himself to be the local kind of beer by that.
A never ending epidemic of German
Since then, many presidents on visit to Germany have felt the need to say something in German, such as Clinton.
Sound file of Kennedy's actual speech
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OsM37P2Lk8 (about seven minutes in) and again about nine minutes in