November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.
The construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, as the Cold War was intensifying. By the summer of 1963 the Berlin Wall completely encircled West Berlin, leaving that city physically isolated. On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy gave a speech from the Rathaus Schöneberg near the Berlin Wall to show his support for West Berlin. To declare his solidarity with the citizens of that city he used the German phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).
The crowd responded enthusiastically but an urban legend has since arisen that the people of Berlin were chuckling to themselves that Kennedy had used improper grammar and had actually declared that he was a jelly donut.
“Ich bin ein Berliner,” I said. It was a joke. A Berliner is a doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts.
While the narrator of Deighton’s novel was presented as someone who was less than reliable, in his review of the book in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt repeated this as fact. “Here is where President Kennedy announced, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ and thereby amused the city’s populace because in the local parlance a ‘Berliner’ is a doughnut.” Though Kennedy’s supposed grammatical error has since been debunked it has been repeated by otherwise reputable major mainstream media outlets.
In 1984, Ted Milton, leader of Blurt, wrote the song “Bullets for You” around Kennedy’s “donut” reference, drawing an ironic comparison between the hole in a donut and the hole in JFK’s head when he was assassinated.
As humorous as Blurt’s song may be, no one has made Kennedy’s Berlin Wall speech as funny as Eddie Izzard.