To commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, President Barack Obama was invited by German chancellor Angela Merkel to kick off a month-long tribute in Berlin.
Fifty years ago to the week, Kennedy gave one of his most memorable speeches at the famous gate to Berlin residents who were in fear of communist East German control. At the end of his speech, Kennedy said to the people “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which translates to “I am a Berliner.” Never has a speech by an American president rung so poignantly in the hearts of Germans. At the time, it sent a message to the people of West Berlin that they deserved to be protected and defended. A general fondness for Kennedy in German culture persists to this day.
President Obama has followed in his footsteps, having been called the “New Kennedy” in the German newspaper Berliner Morganpost in 2008 when he was campaigning.
With words that seemed to rise to the same heights as his predecessor's, Obama brought his message of hope and equality overseas to the once-Communist region.
“I’ve come here, to this city of hope, because the tests of our time demand the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago,” Obama said. “When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well. We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness. And as long as walls exist in our hearts to separate us from those who don’t look like us, or think like us, or worship as we do, then we're going to have to work harder, together, to bring those walls of division down.”
President Obama was welcomed with much applause during the tribute. In a country with a similar history of fighting for rights and liberties under governmental control, the President spoke to the hearts of all people who were eager to see a new historical speech.
“Whether it's based on race, or religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we are stronger when all our people — no matter who they are or what they look like — are granted opportunity, and when our wives and our daughters have the same opportunities as our husbands and our sons,” the president said to warm applause.
Obama also touched on global issues, noting that “we have a moral obligation and a profound interest in helping lift the impoverished corners of the world — by promoting growth so we spare a child born today a lifetime of extreme poverty. By investing in agriculture, so we aren’t just sending food, but also teaching farmers to grow food. By strengthening public health, so we’re not just sending medicine, but training doctors and nurses who will help end the outrage of children dying from preventable diseases. Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise — an achievable promise — of the first AIDS-free generation. That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency.”
Events surrounding the historic tribute this month include lectures, panel discussions, photo exhibits, and commemorations at Berlin’s John F. Kennedy School, which hosts more than 1,700 international and domestic students.