Ich Bin Ein Urban Myth

For many people the word Berliner conjures up images of JFK’s famous gaffe by the Berlin wall in 1963, where, intending to say “I am a resident of Berlin” (Ich bin ein Berliner) he actually said “I am a jelly doughnut”. The quote goes like this:

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!’

I love to think of JKF that way, like a kid in a grade school play, saying in his heavy Boston accent…I am a, ah, jelly-filled, doughnut. The disappointing truth is it didn’t happen at all that way. JFK actually did say “I am a resident of Berlin” despite what some linguisitic quibblers say about the proper use of German articles. It’s all a bunch of Krapfen.

Not a single person present at the ’63 speech misunderstood what Kennedy was saying that day, nor chuckled at his quaint misuse of a German word. I also have it on good authority that people in Berlin don’t call their jelly doughnuts Berliners. They call them Pfannkuchen. There are regions of East Germany where jelly doughnuts are called Berliners (short for Berliner Pfannkuchen). But in 1963 most of those people were too busy trying to keep their Dachsunds from being flattened under the treads of Soviet T-34’s to pay attention.

In the end all we really have is a cute story, but one that keeps popping up in er, pop culture. I remember a Simpsons episode from a few years back in which Mayor Quimby runs for re-election. He stands up in the town square and says “Ich Bin Ein Springfielder!” Homer, out in the crowd, gets a far away look in his eye and says: “Mmmm…jelly doughnuts.” I’m not so much of a stickler for historical accuracy that I didn’t laugh.

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