Study Guide

Ich bin ein Berliner Speech Quotes

By John F. Kennedy

  • Contrasting Regions

    There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. (6-7)

    Berlin: field trip destination for students everywhere who just can't grasp differing types of government. Come to Berlin (circa 1963) and compare communist and capitalist regions side-by-side.

    There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. (8-9)

    If you thought communism was the wave of the future back in 1963, you're probably really disappointed today. You probably also didn't go to Berlin. If you'd compared East and West Berlin in 1963 you would have realized that betting on communism would not be smart.

    And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. (10-11)

    Berlin: proving that communists and capitalists just can't get along for the last eighteen years. Fences might make good neighbors, but walls pretty much end all interaction between people. Anyone who doesn't get that needs to check out the two sides of Berlin.

    And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sic nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin. (12-14)

    If you were thinking you'd make some money off this crisis, knock it off. Comparing East Berlin to anywhere in non-communist Europe would make you reconsider linking communism with economic progress.

    Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. (15)

    Compare the way that rational countries use walls and the way that the Soviet/East Berliners are using walls. Actually, in the U.S. we have the opposite problem. There are people who want a wall to stop others from getting in.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together. (18)

    Kennedy wants everyone to associate the Berlin Wall with tyrannical communist governments out of control. If the symbol of freedom is a bird, maybe the symbol of tyranny should be a brick wall? And the symbol of Berlin is a bear. (If only bears were better at climbing walls.)

    What is true of this city is true of Germany—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. (19)

    If only someone had mentioned this before the Allied Powers decided to divide Germany into four sectors after World War II. The math equation here is that three parts of Germany enjoy freedom, while one is a tyranny. Guess which one.

    In eighteen years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. (20-21)

    West Berlin was free, but it was surrounded by East Germany…which was not free. They may have earned complete freedom, but all they got was an island out of it.

    Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. (23)

    This is not one of those Venn diagram situations. There is no overlap between freedom and enslavement. Kennedy is saying there's no grey area, just good vs. evil in this Cold War era of communism against everyone else.

    All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (26)

    Aww, shucks. Even though this doesn't make literal sense—all of us "free (wo)men" can't all live in Berlin, or they'd run out of bratwurst real fast…it's still a nice sentiment of solidarity.

  • Perseverance

    I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last eighteen years. (16)

    Sharing = caring. Therefore Americans care about Berlin. That's how this works, right? At least that's what Kennedy's trying to say—that Americans are impressed with all that persevering the Germans have been up to lately.

    I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for eighteen years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. (17)

    That is very specific, but one can assume that Kennedy also didn't know of any cities besieged for nineteen, twenty, or any other number of years as awesome as Berlin. Berlin gets the medal for persevering longer than any other city anyone can remember right now.

    So let me ask you, as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind. (22)

    Kennedy says eyes, but does he mean heart, or mind? What body part do people use to hope and consider the future? Whichever it is, it should be charged with optimism because if they've persevered this long, then there's nothing they can't do.

    When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. (24)

    Berlin, and Germany were reunited in 1990, but is the world still looking forward to the day when all are free? It feels like there's always a city like Berlin somewhere that's being asked to suck it up and persevere until someone gets around to fixing it. Where is today's Berlin?

    When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades. (25)

    Next time your teacher asks for an oxymoron, "sober satisfaction" is sure to impress. But what does that feel like exactly? Maybe it's a taste you get in your mouth after you've endured hardships for a while and become a better person: that sweet tang of building-character bitterness.

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