President John F. Kennedy holds a special place in many Berliners’ hearts, especially because of that one time when he didn’t call himself a doughnut. He also holds a special place for Free University Berlin, where he held a second speech on the afternoon of that summer day in 1963.*
It was Free University, then, where U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy came to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration today. Before students, faculty and a half dozen Berliners who were there in ’63, Murphy remembered Kennedy’s visit to Berlin, where he was greeted ethusiastically. “We’ll never have another day like this,” he reported Kennedy told advisors afterwards.
Murphy explained that what would become one of Kennedy’s most famous lines was one he added to his speech at Schöneberg Townhall at the last minute. Delivering that part of his speech in German, the ambassador joked,
“Ich hoffe, dass man sich in Berlin auch an mich erinnern wird, weil ich versucht habe, Deutsch zu sprechen, und nicht wegen Etwas, das ich in diplomatischer Kommunikation mit dem U.S.-Aussenministerium gesagt habe.”
“I hope I will also be remembered in Berlin because I tried to speak German, and not because of something I said in diplomatic communication to the U.S. State Department.”
This self-ironic referral to the State Department cables published by Wikileaks, which caused a stir in Germany for unfavorable portrayals of some of the country’s leaders, earned him laughter and applause from the audience.
Murphy also spoke about how Kennedy’s ideals and political impact continue to reverberate today, saying the President is remembered “not just for the things he finished, but for the things he set in motion.” Among those, Murphy referred to the nuclear test ban as well as a climate of negotiations, a realization that problems can only be solved when nations work together.
Murphy ended his speech in the present, drawing a connection to current U.S. President Barack Obama. In his Tuscon speech following the shooting that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, Murphy said Obama spoke to many of the same themes Kennedy once talked about – the longing for unity, a moral imperative, and the need for a civil discourse in order to address the challenges ahead.
* The university includes the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies that I had the pleasure to attend. One of the institutes professors, Andreas Etges, has researched and written about Kennedy extensively and curated the Kennedy museum in Berlin.