Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood in this place in Berlin and thrilled a weary city with his words of solidarity.
The people of Berlin have never forgotten and five decades later are celebrating that historic event.
The East came under Communist control while the West remained a democracy. And woe to anyone who tried to scale the formidable wall to escape to freedom.
When JFK visited the landmark Brandenburg Gate, the Soviets hung large red banners across the gate to prevent him looking into East Berlin. Built in 1788, the Gate was once Germany’s dangerous “no-man’s land” located next to the Berlin Wall where anyone caught could be killed.
The Cold War was raging but thousands waited for hours at Berlin’s Rathaus Schoneberg for a glimpse of the young President.
Kennedy’s words provided solidarity and hope to embattled residents of the recently divided city. His comments offered comfort to Berliners who suddenly found themselves with Communist East Germany right at their doorsteps.
"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,” Kennedy told a rapt audience.
“Let them come to Berlin."
He continued, “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.”
JFK announced to a cheering crowd,“Ich bin ein Berliner.”
Those four simple words - “I am a Berliner” - are said to be the most famous ever spoken by a U.S. President in Germany.
To commemorate the momentous five-decade anniversary of JFK’s visit, Berlin is offering exhibitions and events. The photo exhibit “Kennedy in Berlin” is part of a city-wide exhibition of photographs that starts at the Berlin Wall Memorial until November.
The program will also include special exhibits and events at the Allied Museum, the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation and the U.S. Embassy.
Seems hard to believe it was 50 years ago that happened. Looking at a vintage picture of the historic event, Kennedy seems so young. He would be assassinated that November.
Shortly after Kennedy's death in Dallas, the Berlin square where he had made his famous speech was renamed the John F. Kennedy Platz.
For more information: Contact Visit Berlin at www.visitBerlin.de.
Getting there: Traveling to Germany is now much easier with direct flights from Chicago. Air Berlin flies to Berlin, American Airlines to Düsseldorf. I flew over on Air Berlin, www.airberlin.com, and back on American Airlines, www.aa.com.