Thursday, 20 June 2013

Off-Topic: Berlin, Three Presidents, Three Speeches

Yesterday, June 19th 2013, America's President Barak Obama held a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This made him the third American president to speak in Berlin in the last 50 years. It's interesting to see the change in attitudes over the years. When President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963 people lined the streets and threw flowers to him. When President Reagan visited Berlin in 1987 there were riots by people protesting against him. President Obama's visit to Berlin was treated with indifference and didn't even attract as many spectators as a David Hasselhoff concert.

President Kennedy presented America as Germany's protector, and everybody wanted him. President Reagan also presented America as Germany's protector, but Germans thought he was making matters worse by stationing cruise missiles on German soil. This is ironic, because history has shown that Reagan did far more to assist German reunification than Kennedy ever did. President Obama has nothing to offer Germany, so his awkward, over-long speech seemed to be directed more at the American media than his German hosts.

Transcripts of the three speeches can be found online, but I've gathered them together for comparison.

President Kennedy's speech in Berlin, June 1963

President Reagan's speech in Berlin, June 1987

President Obama's speech in Berlin, June 2013

It's interesting that although Reagan carefully avoided Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" blunder, Obama blatantly repeated it. Maybe Obama believes the apologists who have claimed that it wasn't a mistake after all. These claims stem from patriotic Americans who have poor knowledge of the German language. President Kennedy really did say "I am a jelly doughnut", and Wikipedia is wrong to claim otherwise. Wikipedia has even posted a warning on its talk page not to write anything about this subject. "While the urban legend is well-known in the English-speaking world, in Germany it is not". This is incorrect. When I lived in Germany Kennedy's words were often cited as a point of ridicule.

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