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Kennedy, John F. - "I Am a Jelly Donut"
When President Kennedy did a speech in Berlin, his ending line is "Ich bin ein Berliner." To German speakers, what that really means is "I am a jelly donut!"
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Contributed By: Anonymous on 08-16-1999 and Reviewed By: Webmaster
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UB writes:
I am German, and I think, using the word "ein" was correct, both from the grammar of the sentence and the intention of the speaker. The intention of JFK was to tell the people from Berlin, that he was (kind of) citizen of Berlin and everything what would happen to the city would affect him. "Ich bin Berliner" is not the same as "Ich bin ein Berliner" In my opinion the first expression usually means more like "I was born in Berlin", whereas the latter one emphasizes the citizenship. Although "Berliner" is some kind of food, in Berlin itself these jelly filled doughnuts are called "Pfannkuchen" (pancakes). Something unrelated: In Vienna a kind of sausages (similar to Hotdogs) are called "Frankfurter", but in Frankfurt the same stuff is called "Wiener (Würstchen)" (Viennese sausages)
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Toni writes:
I live in germany. I speak German. So I can say it was perfectly right when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner". This "ein" was to emphasize it.
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Albert writes:
I think the people of Berlin knew better. This is the equivalent of someone from Frankfurt announcing "I am a Frankfurter", and having everyone assume he's calling himself a hot dog.
50 of 66 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Malena writes:
As I learned from reading his speech, JFK was talking about freedom for all people and that Berlin should be a symbol of freedom. In this case he would be a person of Berlin. This is why he said: Ich bin ein Berliner. Had he said, ich bin Berliner, he would have meant that he is a citizen of Berlin, which he wasn't. Therefore I think he was right. And by the way... a Berliner is a doughnut, filled with jelly, but is only called this in some parts of Germany. In Berlin, everybody says Pfannkuchen. My grandparents, who were there, understood what he was trying to say, as did the rest of Berlin, I am sure.
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Jelly Doughnut writes:
As an official Jelly Doughnut, I resent this whole linguistic mix-up. I speak on behalf of myself and my best friends The Rebellious Spork, and The Evil Mountain Goat!!!
85 of 138 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
kevin_dwain writes:
Kennedy DID make one small mistake, but it had nothing to do with a jelly donut! "Ich bin Berliner" takes on the literal meaning of the phrase "I am a citizen of Berlin." It would have been incorrect for Kennedy to say this when referring to himself since we all know he didn't reside in West Berlin. The addition of 'ein' into "Ich bin ein Berliner" gives the figurative meaning of the phrase. It's along the lines as saying "I am LIKE a citizen of Berlin" or "I am one with the citizens of Berlin." So what mistake did JFK make? Well, he used the phrase twice during his speech. Once in reference to the citizens of Berlin and once in reference to himself. He should not have used the figurative phrase both times. He should have said "Ich bin Berliner" the first time and "Ich bin ein Berliner" as he finished the speech.
39 of 53 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Tobias writes:
I live in Germany, too. In my opinion you can say both "Ich bin ein Berliner" and "Ich bin Berliner". The last one may be the more common one. But as Toni said, in this case "ein" is some kind of emphasis. Only view people will think, that JFK was calling himself a doughnut. Did you know that we have baker's ware that's called "Amerikaner" (=American)? :-)
23 of 31 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Prof. J. P. Maher writes:
What did JFK say in his famous speech at the Berlin Wall? Did his interpreter muck things up? No. Kennedy's 1963 speech in Berlin contained no error, contrary to an apocryphal story that has appeared successively in the Reader's Digest, a letter to Newsweek, and twice on the Opinion - Editorial page of the New York Times. The tale is propagated by people with little or no German, with novice skills in German syntax and stylistics, or possibly people who know the language but have incompetently analyzed the matter and are prone to repeat an urban legend. Monoglot editors have authorized the publication of incompetent opinions on matters of language, including translation. These editors misunderstand both the grammar of the JFK text and the pun alluding to it. Copycats have spread the virus far and wide. Punsters, by adroit manipulation of contexts of situation, can precipitate in the mind a homonymous reading of a text authored with a different intention. People who know German and who remember the 1963 speech know what JFK meant; they also know that his grammar was correct and-later-the witty were able to savor a clever pun on that famous text: ICH BIN EIN BERLINER. Foreign beginners in the language have insufficient subtlety and command of the language, while ordinary native speakers lack the grammarian's expert skills to explain and demonstrate what is going on in such cases. The problem, to begin with, involves only the predicate. In subject position we get the article: consider the old song Ein Tiroler wollte jagen ['a Tyroler wanted to go a-hunting']. The claim that ethnic and other epithets preclude use of the indefinite article is absurd. The problem with predicates is more subtle. Learners of foreign languages tend to translate literally; the English-speaking novice learning German works from the English pattern, such as I'm an American, he's a German and comes up in German with ich bin ein Amerikaner, er ist ein Deutscher. Which is NOT grammatically incorrect. But in German stylistics one also uses ich bin Amerikaner, er ist Deutscher, without an article. Wo kommen Sie her ['where do you come from?]. Here one can answer aus Berlin; ich bin Berliner. The first subtlety is that the native speaker will hardly exercise this option unless his hometown is widely known: folks from small towns can't expect the world to know what a Zevener is, unless it's folk from the next village in Niedersachsen. Besides ich bin Berliner, to continue, one can equally well say ich bin ein Berliner. The English-speaker, so long as word-for-word translation is his wont, is struck by the predicate construction sein (bin) without the article ein, and overgeneralizes that the style with article is wrong. Not so. But unless foreigners can also use the article-less ich bin Berliner, they will never sound authentic. Both styles, to repeat, are used. Both are correct, and are not neatly opposed to each other but overlap in their usage. ...-The evening of 14 November 1988 I heard a learned man say, when asked if he was a member of the Chicaqo German Translators Forum "Nein. Ich bin nur ein Gast hier; ich bin nur Gast." He unhesitatingly used BOTH constructions, with and without article. I had not discussed the matter with him before. The phrase ich bin Berliner "translates" the English I'm a Berliner. But the German construction connotes that the speaker was born in Berlin, speaks like a Berliner, manifests the stereotypical traits of a Berliner, resides there, that is, any or all of the above, though said person may have migrated, lost the accent, even left the city and/or country before acquiring speech and growing up. Theses nuances are lost in the English "translation". As a foreigner JFK was well advised to use the locution ich bin ein Berliner, since literally he wasn't one of them, but he meant to identify with the people of the beleaguered city and certainly didn't speak the language. A native son can use either construction. The native can also say ich bin ein Berliner (da kann ich nichts für [sic] ), in dialect ik bin een Berliner. The nuances here are several. First, one is answering to a question about his origins, all the more reason why JFK's speech writer is to be exonerated. Eichhoff has identified the speech writer, a master of German. The "jelly doughnut" myth looks suspiciously like the a computerized "translation". This leads to another nuance: ich bin ein Berliner can imply pride, and brashness. It won't be found in lessons constructed for speakers of English who are learning German.-Note the cartoon Berliner in the textbook of Moeller & Liedloff 1988: 63]: ik bin een Berlina is the Plattdeutsch equivalent of standard German ich bin ein Berliner. Now consider ich bin ein Wiener, Frankfurter, Krakauer, Debreciner etc. One understands here 'resident, native of Vienna, Frankfurt, Krakau (Kraków), Debrecen' etc. Now, in the context of the sausage shop of course the er-suffix is understood to denote 'one [sausage] from' the city cited, as it also refers to citizens when that's what we're talking about.-In a cheese shop Limburger designates the highly fragrant Belgian cheese.- Ein Pariser denotes not only 'un parisien', but also 'a condom.' Furthermore, ein Berliner is not even north German, but Rhenish (Eichhoff 1993). This is a Catholic region, not Lutheran. The pastry in question is by no means jelly-filled. It belongs to Catholic culture, a part of the Rheinland Karneval / Fasching, and has analogues shared with Catholic Austria, Poland etc. On Mardi Gras, the eve of Ash Wednesday, the treat is prepared. According to a recipe calling for no jelly, just flour, oil, and powdered sugar. These supplies are to be used up before Ash Wednesday, beginning the Great Lenten fast. In north Germany another elliptical term is known: ein Berliner [sc. Bündel], literally. 'a Berlin bundle.' The reference is to the cartoonist's stereotypical vagabond with his belongings tied in a bundle carried over the shoulder on a stick. The construction meaning 'Jelly-doughnut à la [sc. mode de] Berlin', is elliptical for ein Berliner [sc. Ballen]. I used to smile when picking up my bread and rolls at a Hamburg bakery on seeing a monumental wall-poster portraying a succulent jelly-doughnut and captioned, with a good-humored allusion to JFK's speech: ICH BIN EIN BERLINER. An excellent linguist, native and schooled speaker of German writes: "Nothing wrong with this one. It was evidently modeled on Ciuis romanus sum." Allusion means making a 'play' on something. The jelly-doughnut reading involves a pun, not an error. In 1963 JFK was clearly and correctly understood in the sense he wished to communicate. His text was not intended to be a pun, but lent itself to one after the fact. History repeated itself in the 1970s, when McDonald's, carrying coals to Newcastle, used advertisements that played on the syntax we have dealt with here, as well as with the stereotype of the Hanseatic citizenry as cold and aloof. A portrait of their product, was captioned 'Germany's most beloved hamburger ~ Hamburger': DEUTSCHLANDS BELIEBTESTER HAMBURGER. In those days I too, though born in the USA, could say ICH BIN EIN HAMBURGER. I was a Hamburger, not a hamburger.
43 of 74 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
athome writes:
I am from Austria, and German's my mother tongue. Believe me, it's perfectly right to say "Ich bin ein Berliner", as it is to say "Ich bin Berliner." Maybe the first one's more common, but that depends on which region of Germany or Austria you come from.
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Annette writes:
The speech to which he is referring is President John F Kennedy's "The Proudest Boast," on June 25, 1963 in Berlin, Germany. From what I've read, the President WAS grammatically correct when he said, "I am a Berliner," but there was a jelly doughnut named the Berliner. For more information about this, see
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Moonboy writes:
I am really sad to see so many comments about jelly donuts and food-stuff!!! Maybe all of you are hungry. Of course, the speech is grammatical correct! I mean, he was a President of the USA, a powerful and big nation. He didn't say "Ich bin Berliner", because it sounds not very good and it says: "I am a citizen of Berlin", and this wouldn't fit with the contents, because he did never live nor was born in Berlin! Everybody understood him and this is the main issue! He also spoke "passive". He said literally: ... Today in the world of freedom the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner". In my opinion, he never said that he is a Berliner or a Berlin citizen. He just said that the Berlin citizen could be proud to be what they are - Berliner.
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JohnPeterDewey writes:
It is not about whether or not it is "correct" German or not, but how the CROWD reacted to it. I saw this speech on old film in German Class in the 1980s and it is NOT 9:44 seconds like the longest versions online... Please look for an original, unedited version of this speech in an old library. In the original speech, which does not end immediately after his 2nd "Ich bin ein Berliner," Kennedy has to respond to the chuckles of the crowd. He looks around & sheepishly says to his translators, "I said something wrong there." The only versions available online have this cut out. Watch the NOTICEABLE cut in the 9:44 version. Notice the abrupt view change between 9:34 and 9:35... 4 microphones in front of him at 9:34 and NONE at 9:35. There is a MASSIVE shift there where they had to take the laughter and his reaction to the laughter out. The edited clip is deliberate because I remember the crowd laughing (some clips show that) and his specific comment, "I said something wrong there" very tongue in cheek... Kennedy messed up. Everyone knew it, even him. It wasn't made up. This was not filmed in the 1920's and is not a Charlie Chaplin video. Try to find the original video! Please go to an old library and find an old, original, unedited film which goes about 20-30 seconds after his 2nd "ich bin ein Berliner" statement... Check it out yourself... This is history which is being edited... Go check it out if you care... Also, notice it turns to the audience after his first sentiment. There's more of a laugh when he says "I appreciate my interpreters translating my German." It went over like a Lead Balloon.
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marloes writes:
I think he said Ich bin EIN Berliner, because he wanted to know the whole world he showed compassion for the German people and to let everybody know that he felt the same as everybody isn't that beautiful?
10 of 22 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
KT writes:
I am a citizen of Berlin. That's what it translates to.
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megaera writes:
I had a discussion about this with a friend of mine who is German, and she said that all the major German cities are associated with a type of food. Berlin's is the jelly donut. So "Ich bin ein Berliner" means both "I am a Berliner" and "I am a jelly donut." Obviously the people to whom JFK was speaking knew that in this context, he meant the former.
6 of 15 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
ashandil writes:
Just to clear up what kennedy was trying to in fact get at. In his speech he says: Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum" (which I think is latin/roman for 'Im a Roman', since 2000 years ago they controlled much of the known world). He then remarks: Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!". It was an attept to boost the morale of western berliners and it apparently worked. The crowd was so enthused by Kennedy's visit, they even broke into applause as he thanked his german translator.
6 of 15 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Dan writes:
OK, trying to add some substance to this argument. Believers in this urban legend - that JFK referred to himself as a sugar dusted piece of confectionary - claim that the crowd at the event were confused by this comment and subdued in their applause as a result. This is far from the case. The crowd understood exactly what he was saying and exploded into applause as soon as the word Berliner left his lips. This, perhaps the most famous political sound byte of the period, can be found in many places on the net. By the way, do you really believe that the entire presidential staff would let him out there in front of that crowd without a grammatically correct speech??
10 of 24 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Lynx134269 writes:
Just to lighten the mood because a lot of you are taking this a little too seriously, I suggest that you find a copy of "Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill" he's a comedian & does talk about this as well as other humorous things about language.
8 of 20 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
DarthFerroucous writes:
Kennedy really didn't predict to be some kind of candy; in fact he did announce during his famous speech, that he, related to the struggle and problems the citizens of Berlin (and especially the Western part) had to suffer further on after the end of World War II - the siege the Russians did in '48 that led to the famous "Luftbrücke" (I don't know a proper English term for this, sorry), the building of the Berlin Wall and splitting up the country apart, and how "well" they handled with that, would be proud if he could call himself a Berlin' Citizen! That's the whole story! P. S: I nearly smashed in my T. V. when I heard Fox Mulder in X-Files doing the same old joke; so this to our dear american friends: THIS IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL! :-|
4 of 13 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
j stahl writes:
Being of German descent and familiar with the language, Kennedy's phrase was correct. I am a Jelly Doughnut in German is ich bin ein Gelee-Krapfen. I love the way things get twisted around as time goes by. I suppose I could take many english phrases and twist them around to mean other things entirely. These kind of so called slip-ups come mostly from the uneducated in proper use of any language.
3 of 11 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Eric writes:
From Wien to Berlin, I have never heard of "Berliner" being a jelly donut. Whenever I wanted one I asked for a 'gelee Krapfen'. Should you wish to announce yourself so, "Ich Bin en gelee Krapfen" would ID you to all present that you were indeed a jelly donut.
3 of 11 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
rockford writes:
"Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a citizen of Berlin" goto: and translate German to English
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lasserine writes:
The actual url for the reference is
4 of 14 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Julez writes:
All of you can continue to argue long about this, but as a Dutchman (Holland is next to Germany) I speak German. - You can use "Ich bin ein Berliner" or "Ich bin Berliner". The first one stating that you just live in Berlin, the second one stating that you were born and raised there, and feel a true citizen of Berlin. - JFK was pronouncing it pretty well being an American. ;) - He said it, because he wanted to let people know that now the Berlin Wall had been removed, Berlin was free again: citizens of Berlin are citizens of the (free) world, and JFK as American was a citizen of the (free) world - the connection.
6 of 18 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
LaraRulz writes:
Go to, type in any thing, click translator, and type that'll see that it means I AM A CITIZEN OF BERLIN, which is a country/state/city of Germany....I'm not 18 yet, and I know that!
6 of 18 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
VorteX writes:
Hihi, "Ich bin ein Hamburger" :)
7 of 21 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
athome writes:
A "Berliner" is a jelly donut, maybe it's a sausage too, but I dont't think that (and if it is, it's very uncommon though). A "Frankfurter" is a sausage, as is a "Wiener" (Wien is the German name for Vienna, so that sausage is actually called "Viennese").
2 of 12 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
DarkBunnyofInle writes:
whether "Berliner" means a cake, a sausage, a donut, or even a Berlin citizen, in the context of JFK's speech none of the definitions would make sense
4 of 16 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Andybear writes:
If you take the time to get hold of ANY translation source, you'll find that what Kennedy actually said was, "I am a citizen of Berlin."
2 of 12 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Hommy writes:
As a matter of fact he had written this sentence on a short note. To be sure he speaks it out correctly he wrote it down in "Genglish" (German English) " Ish bean ine bear leanar"
4 of 16 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
The Tizzinatrix writes:
Actually, I had a German professor, a native of Germany who told that story and emphasized that it was grammatically incorrect to use ein, or eine, or eins before a nationality. "Ich bin ein Franfurter." "Ich bin ein Hamburger." "Ich bin ein Berliner." "Ich bin ein Amerikaner." You are more than likely to get strange looks from native German speakers (provided this is proper German and not everyday, casual conversational German where rules are relaxed a bit).
4 of 18 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
StormRyche writes:
Methinks it's supposed to be Ich bin EINEN- caps for emphisis -Berliner
3 of 16 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
MWProds writes:
For the definitive word on this whole JFK contretemps, see British comic Eddie Lizzard's HBO TV special!
2 of 14 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Sara Jo writes:
All of your comments are moot. Kennedy didn't say "Ich bin EIN Berliner", he said "Ich bin I'M Berliner". He accidently stuck an English word in his quote. I learned this from the History Channel's Presidential Quiz.
6 of 23 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
orion writes:
Jelly donut? I could have sworn that a Berliner was a kind of sausage native to the city, just as a Frankfurter is a type of sausage that originated in Frankfurt. Perhaps a Berliner refers all - donut, cake, sausage, whatever - but doesn't Berliner more commonly refer to a kind of sausage?
2 of 16 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
bateman writes:
This is wrong- see for the real story.
1 of 16 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Lpeachgirl writes:
This is a real slip-up. There was nothing wrong with his German, but a Berliner is a type of jelly doughnut made in Berlin. He probably thought that it meant a person from Berlin or something.
5 of 31 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Veronica writes:
Ich bin Berliner means "I am a Berliner". Ich bin ein Berliner means that he is a kind of cake, I think.
3 of 27 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Matt writes:
You're both wrong! 1)Ich bin BERLINER is the correct way of saying it, NOT ich bin ein berliner. This means "I am a berliner". 2)Berliner is the name of cake, NOT jelly donut.
8 of 42 found this helpful. Did you? Yes

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