June 26, 1963 – President John F. Kennedy, Speaking in West Berlin, Declares “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

After World War II, Berlin was divided into four blocs. The east was controlled by the Soviets, and the western part of the city was controlled by the American, British, and French. In June 1948, the Soviets blocked land access to West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, the Soviet-aligned East German government started building the Berlin wall between the east and west, first with barbwire and then with more effective cement blocks.

In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy decided to travel to Europe in an attempt to shore up the Atlantic alliance by showing the commitment of the United States to Europe. Kennedy was especially eager to underline the support of the United States for West Germany, 22 months after the erection of the Berlin Wall. He delivered a speech in front of West Berlin’s City Hall on this day in history. His words were aimed as much at the Soviets as they were to Berliners.

Kennedy started his speech declaring:

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ . . . 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!’”

Kennedy also condemned Communism, saying:

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to 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’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.”

In conclusion, Kennedy again uttered his soon to be famous line, “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!’” The cheering from crowds lasted long after Kennedy completed his speech. He later said, “We’ll never have another day like this one, as long as we live.”

You can read the entire speech, or listen to it, here.

President John F. Kennedy is cheered by crowds in front of Berlin’s City Hall in this June 26, 1963. Photograph: AP

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