"Ich bin ein Berliner"

John F. Kennedy's visit to the Federal Republic of Germany

By German Federal Archives

The crowds were cheering enthusiastically when John F. Kennedy stepped onto the platform that had been erected in front of Schöneberg Town Hall. Several hundred thousand people had gathered to see the President of the United States. But behind the friendly visit lurked a more serious agenda.

Kennedy’s first visit to the Federal Republic of Germany was an attempt to improve the quality of the relationship to the Federal Government and particularly to Federal Chancellor Adenauer. The reason for the tension between both nations was the new foreign policy pursued by the US President who laid emphasis on the Third World states.

In his view those states were particularly vulnerable to communist agitation due to their poverty. Kennedy intended to boost the economies of these states and tie them more closely to the Western world by introducing development programmes. Furthermore, it was his intention - following his experiences in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the erection of the Berlin Wall - to reduce tension between the USA and the Soviet Union. His plans included the establishment of an international access authority for border control in Berlin where staff from East and West Germany were to be involved on equal footing. These plans were submitted to the Adenauer government in spring 1962 asking for comments.

Adenauer was not fond of Kennedy’s idea. On the one hand the involvement of East German staff on equal footing would have implied the recognition of the GDR. On the other hand, Adenauer feared that the United States  would neglect their role of protecting Germany if the focus of their foreign policy was on the Third World. Being rather disappointed with the US government, Adenauer rejected Kennedy’s plans and subsequently started liaising with France which at the time was governed by the US-sceptical President Charles de Gaulle.

This gallery was set up on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy visit from 23 to 26 June 1963 in the Federal Republic of Germany. The relevant sources can be found, amongst others, in the inventories B 136 at the Federal Chancellery and B 145 at the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government.

Information für Bundeskanzler Adenauer über einen geplanten Kennedy Besuch, 1963-01-17, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Information regarding Kennedy's planned visit to the Federal Republic (Quelle: BArch B 136/2083, fol. 38)

Bundeskanzler Adenauer empfängt Kennedy am Flughafen Köln-Wah, 1963-06-23, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Arrival at Köln-Wahn Airport (Quelle: BPA B 145 Bild-00091408 / Egon Steiner)

In January 1963 the US Ambassador Walther C. Dowling informed the Adenauer government of Kennedy’s planned visit to the Federal Republic. The relationship between Kennedy and Adenauer was strained and their political views were vastly different. Kennedy’s visit was intended to strengthen the rapprochement between the Federal Republic and the United States.

Programm des Kennedy Besuches in der Bundesrepublik, 1963-06-18, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Agenda (Quelle: BArch B 136/2083, fol. 237)

During his trip he stopped in Cologne, Bonn, Frankfurt and Berlin. It was only at the request of the US President that West Berlin was added to the itinerary.

In line with Adenauer’s initial plans, Kennedy’s visit in Berlin should have been avoided. In view of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, Federal Chancellor Adenauer feared that the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt, could take advantage of the US President’s popularity.

Anraten der CDU-Bundestagsfraktion, 1963-05-15, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Advice given by the CDU parliamentary group (Quelle: BArch B 136/2083, fol. 107)

"“We have no interest whatsoever
in a visit of the US President which will mainly benefit the opposition.“"

Bundespräsident Lübke (2 v.r.) empfängt Kennedy auf der Terrasse der Villa Hammerschmidt, 1963-06-24, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Reception at Villa Hammerschmidt (Quelle: BPA B 145 Bild-00091480 / Ludwig Wegmann)

Themen für die Besprechung zwischen Adenauer und Kennedy, 1963-06-19, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Issues to be discussed (Quelle: BArch B 136/2083, fol. 251)

Federal President Heinrich Lübke welcomes John F. Kennedy to Villa Hammerschmidt, the official residence of the Federal President. They both join the ceremony marking the foundation of the German Development Service at Villa Hammerschmidt. The US President liked the idea of such a peace corps in Germany also in light of his own foreign policy. However, Kennedy was not able to encourage the Federal Government to show more commitment for the Third World.

Kennedy bei seiner Ansprache vor dem Berliner Rathaus, 1963-06-26, From the collection of: German Federal Archives
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Speech in front of the Berlin town hall (Quelle: BPA B 145 Bild-00004006 / Egon Steiner)

On 26 June 1963 John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. An estimated 450,000 people had gathered to listen to his speech in front of Schöneberg Town Hall. Kennedy left no doubt about his solidarity with the Federal Republic of Germany.

Extract from John F. Kennedy’s speech:

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum.” Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is:

"Ich bin ein Berliner!"

Credits: Story

Text und Objektauswahl:—Florian Unterfrauner

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