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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.

Yesterday marked 40 years since Pres. John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at the Rudolph Wilde Platz in West Berlin, in which he declared before 500,00 people that “all free men” are Berliners. Kennedy’s speech was an emotional high point of U.S. support during the Cold War with its ringing defense of freedom after communist East Germany built the Berlin Wall less than two years earlier. Jubilant crowds lined the streets and people tore up telephone books to shower him with confetti during a 33-mile tour through the city in an open convertible. Political times have changed since then, but the boldness, vision and humanity of that legendary old Cold Warrior can still stir one’s heart.

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. 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.

At the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, the most famous excerpt of Kennedy’s speech is displayed on a television monitor, and there is a copy of the piece of paper JFK held in his hand when delivering his speech, complete with the lines “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Let them come to Berlin” scrawled in his own hand-writing. Herman Schafer, a custodian at the museum, says the document still elicits a deep response today. Sadly, 40 years after Kennedy made his famous declaration of solidarity with West Berliners on June 26, nobody expects U.S. President George W. Bush to ride through the German capital in an open-topped limousine cheered on by flower-throwing crowds. Yes, the times certainly have changed.

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