Study Guide

Ich bin ein Berliner Speech Main Idea

By John F. Kennedy

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  • Main Idea

    Kennedy basically wanted everybody to look at Berlin. He was pointing to the wall and saying, see that big ugly wall? See all those families separated by that wall? See how much the wall is a problem?

    Well, communism built that wall. So, if you hate the wall, then you hate communism.

    Kennedy was using the Berlin Wall as evidence that communism was really, really bad. So just in case anyone listening was thinking that maybe they didn't hate communism—maybe they were starting to sympathize a little bit with communism—Kennedy was clearly asking them to stop. Kennedy's assertion is that one look at Berlin was enough to show how communism ruins everything.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. How does Kennedy flatter his audience in this speech?
    2. Why is Berlin the perfect location for Kennedy's takedown of communism?
    3. What does Kennedy predict about the future? Is he right?

    Chew on This

    President Kennedy's name-calling and finger-pointing could only worsen relations between nations and extend the situation in Berlin; a spoonful of sugar toward communism would have done more to help Berliners.

    The Berlin Wall proves that communists are unwilling to work with the rest of the world; therefore, the world should stand united against communism.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    President Kennedy was sightseeing in West Berlin when he stopped to give a pep talk to a crowd of Berliners who'd been getting the wrong end of the Cold War lollypop.


    The Text

    After name-dropping a few people that the Berliners knew and liked, Kennedy digs out a rusty old Latin saying and updates it, in German, applying it to Berlin. With the crowd now firmly on his side, Kennedy challenges anyone who doesn't think that communism is bad news to take a good look at Berlin, which is basically half communist/half free…with an unfortunate wall separating the two.

    He continues sucking-up to Berliners by praising their resilience while at the same time badmouthing the illogical reasons for the wall and the whole system of communism.

    Kennedy then begins to wrap things up by suggesting that even though Berlin's gone through a lot of bad stuff recently for a long time, the whole world is watching and someday Germany will be reunited. He ends by explaining how everyone is connected through some magic cosmic force (that he doesn't really take the time to explain except that it makes us all citizens of Berlin).


    The communists may have broken the city of Berlin, but they can never break the spirit of the people who live there.

  • Questions

    1. Did you find Kennedy's technique of using a few sentences in German effective? Why or why not?
    2. Does Kennedy make you hate communism as much as he does? Why or why not?
    3. How would you react to this speech if you were a proud comrade of a communist nation such as the USSR or East Germany?
    4. Is there any political group or philosophy in the world today that would warrant a speech condemning them in the way that Kennedy does to communism? What is it and why?
    5. Kennedy wants us to think in black and white terms about communism (good verses evil). Do you think this is appropriate for the situation in Berlin? What about for the entire Cold War? Explain your answer.
    6. Kennedy never says the name of any communist countries, although it's pretty clear he's criticizing the USSR. Why doesn't he name them specifically?
    7. While he was speaking to Berliners, Kennedy wanted this speech to be heard around the world. If he were delivering it today, what could he do to make sure it went viral?

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