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Oh, The Sad Facts I Stumble On While Writing My Column
No, recent tragic truths about men and women. Those, I find fascinating. I'd always loved the story about JFK standing on a podium in Berlin and proclaiming his solidarity with the German people, "Ich Bin Ein Berliner," which supposedly didn't mean, "I am a Berliner," but "I am a jelly donut." Well, guess what? If you stand in Frankfurt and say, I am a Frankfurter, nobody will think you're calling yourself a hot dog. They all got it. It turns out some nitwit in Florida, probably, started the jelly donut rumor, which spread like...well, like an ass after too many jelly donuts. In other news, my brilliant and lifesaving editor, Karen, informed me that "Publishers Clearing House" is written like so (which she was rather chagrined to know)...yet again saving me from being an ass spread across newspapers across the land.

Posted by aalkon at March 2, 2005 8:56 AM


Actually, Amy, just because the Berliners understood what he meant to say didn't mean he DIDN'T say "I am a jelly donut." He did. Our German teacher in high school explained it to us. The difference is between "Ich bin Berliner" (I am a Berliner) adn "Ich bin EIN Berliner." Yes, (I am a jelly donut.) Yes, teh people understood him, and yes, he still got it wrong.

Posted by: rebecca at March 2, 2005 5:51 PM

Apparently, while berliner is a term for donut, it is not what they are called in Berlin. Again, it's like saying "I am a Franfurter." I could mean "I am a hot dog," but if I am in Frankfurt while saying it, nobody is going to look for the Oscar Meyer label. Chances are, your teacher believe the urban legend and passed it on. People laughed when Kennedy said that, but from what I've read, it was because the translator simply repeated the German, and people found that funny. Click on the link. You'll see.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 2, 2005 6:00 PM

Did JFK make any campaign stops in Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Just curious.

Posted by: eric at March 2, 2005 9:11 PM

Did he stop in Hamburg?

Posted by: Frania W. at March 3, 2005 1:11 AM

As a fan for life of Kennedy's famous words in Berlin (yes, I'm German, and no, I wasn't born yet), the thought never ever occurred to me that the phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner/Hamburger/New Yorker/enter your city here" could ever be confused with "I am a jelly donut/a beefsteak/a magazine".

Rebecca, your high school teacher is partially right. If you were telling someone that your are from Berlin, you would probably say "Ich bin Berliner" or "Ich bin aus Berlin". But as far as I know my own language, it would be just as legitimate to say "Ich bin ein Berliner". It's just less common. But: If you really wanted to state "I'm a jelly donut", you would HAVE to say "Ich bin EIN Berliner". Maybe that's what your teacher meant.

By the way: It's always been a mystery to me why I had to say "Pfannkuchen" when I wanted to buy a Berliner in Berlin, because that means "pancake" anywhere else in Germany.

As a consequence, no foreigner has ever found out how to order a pancake in Berlin..

Posted by: Rainer at March 3, 2005 3:50 AM

I think Rebecca's teacher was probably just somebody who believed the myth.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 3, 2005 7:08 AM

Whatever JFK said in German about being a Berliner, the people of divided Berlin understood what he was telling them. Grammatically correct or not, the phrase went right to their heart.

Frania W.

Posted by: Frania W. at March 3, 2005 6:32 PM

That's absolutely true, Frania. Thanks for noticing.

And by the way: No, I think he didn't. Stop in Hamburg, that is. :-)

Posted by: Rainer at March 4, 2005 2:36 AM

Rainer: I was just trying to be humorous in my mention of Hamburg, as I am sure you understood.

Posted by: Frania W. at March 4, 2005 2:38 PM

Hello Frania,

no, I didn't get it at all... ;-)

Cheers, Rainer

Posted by: Rainer at March 6, 2005 3:10 AM

Hi Amy. We live here in Germany. I first heard this story from our German neighbors. Yes, they knew what he meant but they still get a big chuckle out of telling us the "Jelly Doughnut" angle.

Posted by: Jim at December 26, 2005 11:27 PM

Thanks for posting this. Along with Nikita Kruschev and the shoe, it's one of my favorite bits of foreign relations humor. Betcha didn't think there was such a thing!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 26, 2005 11:51 PM

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