Did JFK Really Call Himself a Donut?

That’s right, JFK was apparently involved in the pastry-related blunder by accidentally referring to himself as a jelly donut. Some new info has recently come to light so was the famous line of “Ich Bin ein Berliner…” fact or fiction? 

Indeed, JFK did stand before the Wall in West Berlin on June 26th, 1963 and delivered the famous line, but it has been reported that he never actually said anything about donuts. Although Kennedy was notoriously poor when it came to foreign languages, he was aware of what he was saying during the famous speech. Unfortunately, the speech itself is remembered for an imagined slip of the tongue. JFK had been given a speech for the momentous occasion but felt it was a little “wishy-washy” so decided to add his own final touches to the prepared speech. 

Overall, about a quarter of the speech was scrapped and replaced with Kennedy’s own lines and it was then that he supposedly made the infamous blip. It is notable that nobody laughed when he delivered the line and the general consensus at the time was that the situation was too serious to feel amused. It is true that “Berliner” is a word for jelly donut but it was not a term that was used in the area surrounding Berlin at the time. There is an argument that the misconception first arose in 1983 in a spy novel about JFK. 

However, the issue got its first big exposure around 1988 with a letter that was sent into Newsweek. In April of that same year, editorial writer William J. Miller then ran with the story and published it in The Times newspaper with the title “I Am a Jelly-Filled Donut.” The story then gathered pace and has become somewhat of an urban legend ever since. Basically, the perceived technical error arose with the sentence “Ich bin ein Berliner” with the President having added the indefinite “ein” to the sentence. 

The President intended the “ein” to imply that the speaker was “a Berliner” but this isn’t technically a citizen of Berlin at all but instead a jelly-filled donut popular in Central Europe at the time. However, Kennedy was speaking figuratively, meaning that the “ein” was perfectly acceptable to the point that he was trying to make and was simply misunderstood. The general consensus is that no West-Berliner would have misunderstood his speech at the time and the urban legend has simply gathered pace of the years without any solid foundation of truth. 

Separate the fact from the fiction when you go on the Gray Line DC in a day tour, or whilst on the Two Day Washington DC Grand Tour as you learn about some of the most interesting aspects of history! For more information on any of our tours around Washington, please do contact us for more information!