June 25, 2013

President John F. Kennedy delivers his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. (Courtesy Landesbildstelle Berlin)

50 Years Ago in News History: 'Ich bin ein Berliner'

On June 26, 1963, two years after the construction of the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, Berlin's City Hall, and delivered one of the most memorable speeches of the Cold War and of his presidency.

As the roar of roughly 450,000 people in West Berlin settled down, Kennedy addressed the ineffectiveness of communist rule in East Berlin, pledging to defend West Berlin against those who built the oppressive wall.

"Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was 'Civis Romanus sum'. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner,'" Kennedy told the crowd. "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 traveled to West Berlin to support West Germany's cry against Soviet oppression. He referred to the wall as a direct demonstration of the failure of communism.

"Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put up walls to keep our people in," he said.

The Newseum's Berlin Wall Gallery contains the largest display of unaltered portions of the original wall outside of Germany. It features eight 12-foot-high concrete sections of wall, each weighing about three tons. A three-story East German guard tower that loomed near Checkpoint Charlie — Berlin's best-known East-West crossing — stands nearby.

"JFK," the Newseum's popular three-part exhibit, chronicles the presidency, family life and death of America's 35th president. The exhibits will be on display through January 2014.

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