When John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in June 1963, the Berlin Wall had been standing for only two years. The cold war was settling in for a long freeze. West Berliners were dismayed by the West's seeming lack of concern about their city's partition. It was a time when well-chosen words could change history.
"The legendary morale and spirit of the people of West Berlin have lit a fire throughout the world," Kennedy said to roars of approval from a rapturous crowd. But it was this line that would be remembered: "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
Disputed ever since has been the degree to which Kennedy mangled his German, transforming his intended declaration of solidarity "I am a Berliner! into the less inspiring, "I am a jelly donut." Whether giggles today about his supposed gaffe are warranted or not, Berliners on that day knew exactly what he meant, and they loved him for it.
It's in the spirit of that quote that Berlin's the Kennedys, the first museum of its kind outside the U.S., was recently opened. It displays original and vintage Kennedy-clan photos, including familiar images and some previously unseen; film footage of his visit and seemingly random artifacts from Ace bandages the President is supposed to have worn to his plastic comb. The museum is operated by Camera Work, a local photo company whose owners are ardent collectors of Kennedy memorabilia. Curator Andreas Etges, who also teaches history at Berlin's Free University, says the museum seeks to underscore how the Kennedys were not mere passive subjects of the camera. They became a legend, he says, "not just because they were rich and photogenic, but because they understood the media."
Etges' theory is certainly backed up by this fine collection. But for older Berliners, the best part of the new museum may be its location: the heart of what was East Berlin, next to the famous Brandenburg Gate. An area that was once ringed by razor wire and overlooked by watchtowers, it's now a place that you can visit whenever you choose. tel: (49-30) 20 65 35 70; thekennedys.de