JFK's Berlin Wall Speech

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 14031

A famous place, an important speech, a German phrase, and a jelly doughnut — what do all these things have in common? Read, listen to, watch, and evaluate JFK's landmark speech.


English / Language Arts, United States

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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In this famous speech, the U.S. President made this statement in German.

"Ich bin ein Berliner."

This statement filled the crowd with joy.

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In 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin and gave a very memorable speech near the Berlin Wall.

Berliners loved it when the U.S. president proclaimed himself as one of them. "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a Berliner."

But, if you guessed that the German phrase meant, "I am a jelly doughnut," you were close to the truth as well!

There are parts of Germany where a jelly doughnut is called a Berliner. So, years after the speech, a story started going around that JFK had actually said that he was a jelly doughnut and that the crowd had laughed at his embarrassing mistake!

But, really, there was no mistake. The President said it correctly, and the crowd understood what he meant (because in Berlin, they use a different word for a jelly doughnut!).

German fried donut, called Krapfen, Berliner or Pfannkuchen, filled with rose hip jam and dusted with cinnamon sugar, traditionally eaten at carnival and New Year's Eve

Learn more about this important speech.

Background for Kennedy's Visit and Speech

Watch a portion of the following video to learn why the Berlin Wall was built and how all Berliners suffered while the wall separated them from their fellow Germans.

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When President Kennedy took a trip to Europe in 1963, he wanted to show support for Europeans who were struggling against Communism.

He scheduled a stop near the Berlin Wall and prepared to make a speech that would communicate the thought that America stood with the German people in their quest for freedom.

According to the JFK Library, the President was moved by the response of the huge crowd that came to hear him.

JFK was not prepared for the overwhelmingly emotional reception he received in West Germany and West Berlin. Throughout his presidency, Kennedy had stayed true to his word to protect West Berlin, and during his visit there, he was hailed as a hero. On June 26, with throngs of cheering people lining the streets, the President toured the city in an open car during which he had his first view of the Berlin Wall. The adoration of the crowds and the desolation of the Wall - and those who lived on the other side - affected him visibly. The visit marked a high point of his presidency and his leadership on the world stage.

Now you are ready to experience this monumental speech. You will listen to the audio, watch a video, read the text, and view a slide presentation.

For each presentation, consider these questions.

  • What is the purpose of the speech?
  • What is the motivation of the speaker?
  • Does the purpose and motivation seem different when you experience it in a different format?

Jot down some notes for now. You will evaluate each one more fully in the Got It? section.

Audio Presentation

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Video Presentation

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Text Presentation

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Slide Presentation

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  • Did you answer all three questions for each presentation?

Then you are ready to analyze and evaluate them in the Got It? section!

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