WootBot


quality posts: 15 Private Messages WootBot

Staff

In honor of the long-awaited return of the critically beloved TV drama Mad Men, we’ve asked Jeopardy! fixture Ken Jennings to educate us on some of the most persistent myths from the Mad Men era. Last month he set us straight on the 1950s; this month, we’re moving right into the turbulent 1960s. It’s often said that anyone who remembers the sixties wasn’t actually there, but luckily Ken was born a decade later, when most of the pot smoke had dispersed and all the go-go boots and lava lamps had been moved to the nation’s attics. So he’s pretty much an expert.

Sixties Myth #3: When JFK Said “Ich Bin Ein Berliner,” He Claimed to Be a Donut.

In June 1963, President Kennedy gave one of his most iconic speeches, standing on the steps of a Berlin town hall in front of hundreds of thousands of German spectators. West Berlin had recently been barricaded by Soviet barbed-wire and concrete, and Kennedy’s speech expressed solidarity with the citizens of the besieged city. He ended his speech by claiming that free men everywhere take pride in the boast “Ich bin ein Berliner”—“I am a Berliner,” a line he delivered in thickly Boston-accented German to a roar of approval from the crowd.

But twenty years later, a legend had arisen that Kennedy had ludicrously botched his German. The correct way to say “I am a Berliner,” the story went, would have been to say “Ich bin Berliner.” By adding the article “ein,” Kennedy had supposedly told a confused audience, “I am a jelly doughnut!” The claim was boosted when it appeared in a 1983 Len Deighton spy novel and within five years had been confirmed as fact by Time magazine, the BBC, and The New York Times as well.

It’s true that Germans do call jelly doughnuts “Berlin pancakes” (Berliner Pfannkuchen, seen at left), but in the Berlin area, they’re never called “Berliners,” just “Pfannkuchen.” What’s more, German scholars say that “Ich bin Berliner” is the correct way to conversationally remark, “I’m from Berlin,” but to make a more formal, allegorical claim like Kennedy’s, the “ein” was absolutely the right phrasing. So JFK’s famous speech didn’t mention doughnuts after all. If only we could say the same about Bill Clinton.

Quick Quiz: In many parts of the U.S., jelly donuts covered with powdered sugar are named for what famous German?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr user Olivier Bruchez. Used under a Creative Commons License.

 

imadonut


quality posts: 1 Private Messages imadonut

ahem

dhkendall


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dhkendall

Hitler!

No, wait, Bismark.

Dikaios


quality posts: 2 Private Messages Dikaios
dhkendall wrote:Hitler!

No, wait, Bismark.



I had to google realpolitik to remember his name.

Melville2031


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Melville2031

OK, I have been trying to wrap my head around how this is a "DEBUNK".

Having lived in Germany, and having spoken to many Germans about this very subject...I have to say that you have neglected two facts.

1- Although the grammar used in JFK's speech is correct, the meaning of what he said sounded in every German ear...and the majority of Germans in good 'ol Deutschland would have heard "I am a jelly filled doughnut." Regardless of what your grammatical analysis of the sentence may say.

2- JFK had some very well paid advisors and script writers who dropped the ball on this speech. How they missed something this big baffles Germans to this day. When the speech was televised in Germany, a resounding roar of laughter could be heard throughout the country.

That said, I would not classify this as a "Debunk", rather an attempt to make JFK not look like the ignorant American many Germans think he was...to this day.

I personally like JFK... however a bad choice of words can make even the greatest people look like ignorant buffoons.

Just my $.02

tjamil


quality posts: 26 Private Messages tjamil
Melville2031 wrote:OK, I have been trying to wrap my head around how this is a "DEBUNK".

Having lived in Germany, and having spoken to many Germans about this very subject...I have to say that you have neglected two facts.

1- Although the grammar used in JFK's speech is correct, the meaning of what he said sounded in every German ear...and the majority of Germans in good 'ol Deutschland would have heard "I am a jelly filled doughnut." Regardless of what your grammatical analysis of the sentence may say.

2- JFK had some very well paid advisors and script writers who dropped the ball on this speech. How they missed something this big baffles Germans to this day. When the speech was televised in Germany, a resounding roar of laughter could be heard throughout the country.

That said, I would not classify this as a "Debunk", rather an attempt to make JFK not look like the ignorant American many Germans think he was...to this day.

I personally like JFK... however a bad choice of words can make even the greatest people look like ignorant buffoons.

Just my $.02



who are we to believe? THE Ken Jennings or random person who posts to woot! message board?

craigthom


quality posts: 63 Private Messages craigthom

It's "doughnut", damn it!

I had one of those German-named things in Bismark, North Dakota, but I can't remember the name.

thatheard


quality posts: 6 Private Messages thatheard
tjamil wrote:who are we to believe? THE Ken Jennings or random person who posts to woot! message board?



The random person who posts to woot! message board everytime! It's scientific fact that wooters are smarter than the average bear.

nrozanov


quality posts: 1 Private Messages nrozanov

Das cruller. Named after Horst Cruller of Munich.

kfiles


quality posts: 0 Private Messages kfiles
nrozanov wrote:Das cruller. Named after Horst Cruller of Munich.



Nah, around here, the cruller is a glazed, twisted donut.

I second "Bismarck", as another name I've seen for the berliner.

matthew


quality posts: 20 Private Messages matthew

What's with the teutonic baked goods? I have a kaiser roll in my lunch today. And I just learned "Etzel" is "a German form of the name of Attila the Hun," so I guess all those beirgartens are serving Prattilas with (Hun-y?) mustard.

Skeeter330


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Skeeter330

For years, the grocery chain, Dominick's, called all of their sugared, jelly-filled donuts "Bismarcks"....

I still call them that and people look at me like I'm nuts. The raspberry ones were to die for....mmmmm....donuts.......

zzzzz78759


quality posts: 9 Private Messages zzzzz78759

Bismark! But Bismarks with custard and chocolate frosting are called "honeymooners".

I get strange stares when I say, "I'll have a honeymooner, please" then have to point out that saying "honeymooner" is better than saying, "I'll have the Bismark with custard filling and chocolate frosting". Sheesh.

antnip


quality posts: 0 Private Messages antnip

I agree and feel you debunked the debunk...and people in germany DO call these baked goods what sounds like "Berleeners". Who ever told you they don't should be debunked.

zzzzz78759


quality posts: 9 Private Messages zzzzz78759
tjamil wrote:who are we to believe? THE Ken Jennings or random person who posts to woot! message board?



I have to agree. Random Wooter because, while the grammar may have been correct, it was heard as "I am a jelly doughnut" by German speaking people. It's similar to the difference between saying, "That's crap" and "That's a crap". Both are grammatically correct and both COULD mean the same thing but one definitely conjures up different visions than the other.

So, to Ken, sorry but I think that's crap.

jawlz


quality posts: 12 Private Messages jawlz

Given the context, it is clear what he was saying, just as it would have been clear what he was saying if he was giving a speech in Frankfurt and said "Ich bin ein Frankfurter!"

Removed from context (as the 'Ich bin ein Berliner' sentence is when you separate it from the rest of the speech), it becomes humorous.

jbreedlove


quality posts: 4 Private Messages jbreedlove
Melville2031 wrote:OK, I have been trying to wrap my head around how this is a "DEBUNK".



Sorry, going with Ken Jennings on this one.

For one, there was a grammatical analysis written by a German liguist: http://www.jstor.org/pss/30153239

Two, the person who wrote it was educated in Germany, spoke fluent German and was the official interpreter on his visit.

More information here: http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/jfk_berliner.htm

The most fitting line is: "It's true that in some parts of Germany the word Berliner can just as well denote a certain kind of jelly-filled pastry as a citizen of Berlin, but look at it this way: if I were to tell a group of Americans that my editor is a New Yorker, would any of them really think I'd confused him with the weekly magazine of the same name?"

arturner


quality posts: 1 Private Messages arturner

If Willy Brandt visited the United Nations and said "I am a New Yorker", no rational person would conclude that Brandt was comparing himself to a luxury Chrysler automobile. I mean, you could interpret it that way, but it would silly to do so. Same with Kennedy's remark.

I was only a child, but I was there, and believe me, everybody in Berlin knew exactly which of the two possible meanings Kennedy intended.

Don't believe me? Google for the audio of Kennedy's speech (it's brief). The audience does laugh a bit when Kennedy makes a joke. But instead of laughing, the crowd cheers wildly after the Berliner statement.

There are also some less-known rules about German grammar that make Kennedy's wording the proper grammar for saying that he stood in solidarity with the citizens of Berlin and not that he was claiming to be an actual Berliner (of either kind). But if you listen to some Americans who studied German in high school or lived in Germany for a few years, they claim to know German better than the native speakers.

whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 7 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

I would like to thank the Random Wooters who had my back against the other Random Wooters. Yes, the "jelly donut" thing was b.s., as has been impeccably sourced here.

Now I'm off to enjoy a delicious raspberry Hitler.

Melville2031


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Melville2031
arturner wrote: But if you listen to some Americans who studied German in high school or lived in Germany for a few years, they claim to know German better than the native speakers.



You would be correct in your assessment, except that the information I provide came from Germans, not by random Google searches. Speak to some Germans.

YES...the Germans understood what he was trying to say, however the point I am making is that the Germans also found humor is JFK's fumble.

BTW... No need to start insulting people...it is amazing how people like to hide behind the anonymity of the internet.

00000100


quality posts: 9 Private Messages 00000100
whoiskenjennings wrote:raspberry Hitler.



whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 7 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

Providing links to academic sources isn't "random Google searches." It's actual evidence and argument.

Saying "no really I asked some Germans," on the other hand, is not.

If this was widely noted and chuckled at at the time, you should have no problem finding contemporary (or even pre-1980s) sources to convince us with, right?

FenStar


quality posts: 16 Private Messages FenStar
Melville2031 wrote:BTW... No need to start insulting people...it is amazing how people like to hide behind the anonymity of the internet.

I found his comment less insulting than yours, but equally anonymous.

BTW My name is I. P. Freely, just to prove I'm not hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Still single, can't imagine why.

Melville2031


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Melville2031
whoiskenjennings wrote:Providing links to academic sources isn't "random Google searches." It's actual evidence and argument.

Saying "no really I asked some Germans," on the other hand, is not.

If this was widely noted and chuckled at at the time, you should have no problem finding contemporary (or even pre-1980s) sources to convince us with, right?



This is a very amusing discussion. Having read through a number of German sites, it appears the Germans are having the exact same discussion we are having here.

The interesting thing is that this can be understood in two ways. It is now up to interpretation, as there seems to be no evidence (pre 1980's) provided in this forum to support either side of the discussion.

All I can provide is my life experience, having lived among and with Germans in Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar, Jena, Cottbus, Goerlitz, Freiberg, Hoff, and Zwickau. This is not something that I asked about, rather the Germans I spoke with wanted to share funny stories with me. I knew nothing about this whole deal until that point.

The point still stands that the Germans at the time understood what he meant, however it can also be understood as being a jelly filled doughnut.

Dangit...now I want a Berliner (and no, I am not a cannibal) :-P

arturner


quality posts: 1 Private Messages arturner

Kennedy's supposed gaffe didn't surface until decades later, after the news about his affairs and other parts of his darker side came out. The story about the alleged mistake in his Berlin speech surfaced sometime during the Reagan presidency. Make of that what you will, but I suspect a connection.

If you spoke with some Germans about the jelly doughnut story thirty years after the fact, of course they've heard the meme and said "yes, a Berliner is a jelly doughnut". They would especially say that if they weren't from Berlin hadn't been born yet in 1963. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY in Berlin in 1963 thought he said anything dumb or funny.

I do not need to speak to any actual Germans about this. Half of my relatives are actual Germans, and I was there in Berlin with many of them on that very day. All of Berlin was thrilled that Kennedy said "Ich Bin Ein Berliner". The story that people in the crowd were laughing at his alleged translation error is exactly that: a story. You don't have to take my word for it. Here's newsreel footage of the speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkeNybQ8lLQ

Nobody laughed.

What is germane here is whether or not Kennedy made a mistake in his 1963 speech, not if somebody turned it into a joke twenty years after he was dead. The former is false, the latter is true.

jeffathomp


quality posts: 1 Private Messages jeffathomp

Let's compromise. JFK was a fruit preserve filled pastry from the capital city of Germany.

dokcal


quality posts: 1 Private Messages dokcal

...and one of our most delicious presidents.

--Doktor Calamari