President Kennedy’s address to the people of Berlin. Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany June 26, 1963 (Photo from the John F. Kennedy Library)
On this day June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made an historic visit to Berlin – the heart of the Cold War – where he challenged the Soviet supression of Berliners and but also offered hope. The already divided city had been further suppressed when a Wall was erected in 1961 stopping the freedom to pass back and forth – east to west. A summit between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in June, 1961 rather than building trust between the two leaders was unsuccessful, combative and threatening. With American rights threatened and at risk, Kennedy ramped up our military, our air power and weaponry – even returning to nuclear weapons testing.
With his visit to Berlin in 1963, Kennedy sought to assure West Germans that free nations still stood by the people of the democratically controlled sectors of Berlin who had lived within the hostile borders of East Germany since the end of World War II. President Kennedy’s speech is considered one of his most memorable. In this speech President Kennedy declared to the crowd of over 120,000 – “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am also a citizen of Berlin.”
From the Kennedy Library:
In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy visited Berlin and was greeted by ecstatic crowds who showered his entourage with flowers, rice, and torn paper. In the Rudolph Wilde Platz, Kennedy gave one of his most memorable speeches to a rapt audience: “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.”
Hear the speech here: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/oEX2uqSQGEGIdTYgd_JL_Q.aspx
In another historical note – it was on another June 26 in 1948 that the United States and its Allies started flying food, coal and school supplies into the blockaded city of Berlin in an unprecedented logistical feat known as the “Berlin Airlift.”