"I am a jelly doughnut!"

June 26, 1963 statement by JFK apparently intended to reassure citizens of West Berlin of the unwavering power and commitment of their ally, the United States. In context, the President had said:

"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.'"

According to armchair linguists, the President should have left out the "ein" and said simply "Ich bin Berliner". That is, assuming he really had intended to declare himself symbolically a citizen of Berlin.

Unfortunately, it's not true. Due to some confusing German rules about the use of indefinite articles, Kennedy's statement would have been acceptable with or without "ein". Certainly, the Berliners attending his speech seem to have understood his meaning, and roared their approval.

There's an overview of the purported gaffe, along with audio and video clips, at http://www.serve.com/shea/jfkberl.htm

Ich bin ein Berliner {Idaho}

I am a doughnut, feel my ring-like shape
That my blood runs 'round in circles within.

My large lethargy lures others in
Like gravitons grasping at straw men

I planted the fields full of potatoes
But I couldn't see the fruits of my labor

Birth canals widen to allow
Jumps in reason to emotion

My daughter jumps on hopscotch all day long
Trying to reach the BLUE SKY

Painted above me with cotton balls
A daylight moon completes the picture

Ansel Adams took a picture here
And I can't get the subjects out of my mind

But they grew up and eventually bore
Up through the ground, bearing life.

Awake while sleeping, the demanding voice of ____
"Dan, wake the fuck up; you won't sleep 'til I'm satisfied."

I spent two weeks in Berlin (in the then East Germany) as a guest of a family of a young Berliner I befriended a year earlier.

This was in 1968. I was 18. My friend mentioned JFK at least once a day, so great was the impression he had made.

The reason why my 17-year-old Berlin friend (and all the other Berlin teen-agers I met) was so impressed, however, stems from accents, believe it or not.

In the Berlin dialect of German ich (I) is icke, when used by itself, and ick when used within a sentence.

What Kennedy really said was not "Ich bin ein Berliner" but "Ick bin ein Berliner." The people of Berlin (well, at least the teen-agers) loved him for not just saying it, but saying it using the Berlin dialect. Because Kennedy used ick, he was instantly accepted as a genuine Berliner.

Now, more than 30 years later, I realize that Kennedy was actually lucky: He most likely was not aware of the local dialect and meant to say ich, but as a typical American was unable to pronounce the guttural ch sound, and said ick without even knowing he was actually making a mistake. The fact that American sources always quote him as using proper German ich, rather than the Berlin ick is the main reason I now believe it was just a lucky mistake.

I am not writing this to suggest that the Berliners would have loved Kennedy any less had he said ich, just that the impression he made was intensified by his unwitting use of Berlinese.

For your information:
A berliner, in the confectionary sense, is neither ring-shaped not filled with jelly (or indeed jam). The item actually consists of two circular or square pieces of doughnut dough joined by a layer of custard and sprinkled with icing sugar on top. I hope my pointing this out does not spoil anybody's enjoyment of this node. Thank you.

"Ich bin ein Berliner," stated in Berlin, is not open to misunderstanding. In Berlin, 'Berliner' does not mean doughnut: in and around Berlin, a doughnut is called a 'Pfannkuchen.'

Elsewhere in the German-speaking world, 'Pfannkuchen' means pancake. The term 'Berliner' was originally short for 'berliner Pfannkuchen' so the origin of its use as a term for a food item is similar to that of frankfurter, hamburger, and wiener.

In Berlin a pancake is called an 'Eierkuchen,' which elsewhere means omelette. In Berlin omelette is called 'Omelette.' (That's the French influence for you).

It's all quite simple, as long as you remember where you are.

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