News / USA

Kennedy's Call to Freedom Still Resonates in Berlin 50 Years Later

Kennedy's Call to Freedom Still Resonates in Berlin 50 Years Lateri
X
November 20, 2013 5:21 PM
Friday, November 22nd, marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. At the time, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its height, and there was no greater flashpoint than the divided city of Berlin. President Kennedy spoke there just months before his assassination. VOA’s Jeff Swicord went back to see how the president's famous call to freedom still echoes across a now unified Berlin. The piece is narrated by VOA correspondent Jim Malone.
Jeff Swicord
— Friday, November 22, marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. At the time, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its height, and there was no greater flashpoint than the divided city of Berlin.  Kennedy spoke there just months before his assassination.  His famous call to freedom still echoes across a now unified Berlin. 

Kennedy came to Berlin in June 1963. In his speech he said: "There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future.  Let them come to Berlin!”

The divided city had become the frontline in the Cold War, noted analyst Andreas Etges from the University of Munich.

“Berlin had highly symbolic value for both sides.  For the Americans especially, I think you could describe Berlin as a kind of frontier city  where American values and American freedom should be defended against the communist powers,” said Etges.

In August 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the building of the Berlin Wall to prevent East Germans from fleeing.  Fear and chaos gripped the city, says West Berliner Alexander Longolius.

“The Western allies would protect us, especially the Americans.  But that was kind of a naïve conviction," he said.

The Germans had criticized Kennedy for accepting the wall.  The U.S. wanted to reassure West Berliners that Soviet aggression would stop at the wall.

“People had been lining up all over the city," recalled analyst Etges. "Kids didn’t have to go to school.  Many major companies let their workers go."

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, standing on a rostrum, addresses a large crowd in the main square in front of Schoeneberg City Hall in West Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963.U.S. President John F. Kennedy, standing on a rostrum, addresses a large crowd in the main square in front of Schoeneberg City Hall in West Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963.
x
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, standing on a rostrum, addresses a large crowd in the main square in front of Schoeneberg City Hall in West Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, standing on a rostrum, addresses a large crowd in the main square in front of Schoeneberg City Hall in West Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963.
Seeing the crowds cheering in the streets and the wall at the Brandenburg Gate, Kennedy felt the speech he planned to give was inadequate.

“So he basically, on the spot, decided he’s not going to give that speech," said Etges. "He had someone help him write down on a notecard a few things in German and then delivered the speech we all know.”

Alexander Longolius recalls: “It was just absolutely crazy.  The place itself is not that large, so in order to get those masses of people there, they had to stand in all the side streets. All the balconies where filled.  Everybody wanted to be there.“

“I am proud to come to this city," said Kennedy.

“There is I think two components.  One is Kennedy is actually talking about that some people do suggest détente policy and working with the Soviet Union,” said Etges. “The other message was to renew once again America’s commitment to Berlin.  And he did this with the most famous words of that speech."

For West Berlin resident Alexander Longolius, “There were some doubts whether he would be able to stand up to Khrushchev, or Khrushchev would take him as a young inexperienced president.  All that was gone."

In East Berlin, reaction was more critical, according to East Berlin resident Werner Kraetschew.

“The reaction was that we do not belong to this world and will never belong to this world, because the Americans will help West Berliners, but not us,” he said.

The wall would stand for another 26 years, but at that moment Kennedy stood firm against the Soviets.

He later told an aide, “We will never have a day like this one as long as we live.”

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid