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When is a Donut Not a Donut? When It's JFK

Dear Mr. Maxa,

This comment comes from two native Berliners who enjoy your program on a regular basis. However, we disagree with your comments regarding the statement President Kennedy made in Berlin shortly after the Wall was built: "Ich bin ein Berliner." You used it as an example of improper foreign language use.

In German, as in other languages, the meaning of multi-descriptive words should be interpreted in context. Accordingly, the reference to being a "Berliner" in Kennedy's expression of support for the beleaguered city would not make a native listener think of "Berliner" in terms of a bakery product. (The word is short for "Berliner Pfannkuchen" -- a donut without a hole, but usually with a filling in the center.) In normal conversation, relating to origin, one would say, "I am from Berlin," like you would say, "I am from New York." But to emphasize identification with, or belonging, it's totally correct to say "Ich bin ein Berliner," as President Kennedy did, which was acknowledged by the masses with thunderous, appreciative applause.

Kennedy made his speech on the balcony of the Schöneberg Rathaus (Courthouse of the Schöneberg district), which is a few miles from where the Wall used to be and which served as the meeting place for the free Berlin Government assembly after it was evicted from Berlin's central courthouse. For us, all this brings back many unpleasant memories about passing through Checkpoint Charlie with trunk loads of consumer items and groceries for relatives on the other side of the Wall, things normally unavailable to East Berliners at that time.


Gisela and Walter



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