Ich bin ein Berliner

Bruce H. Spencer bspencer at UMICH.EDU
Thu Jun 1 14:30:40 UTC 2000

I haven't read the article mentioned earlier, but this story isn't
entirely a myth. Kennedy's statement was not 'grammatically correct'.
German does not use indefinite articles before professions, nationalities,
or cities of origin: Ich bin Professor; Ich bin Amerikaner; Ich bin
Hamburger; etc. Using indefinite articles in these types of constructions
is a common mistake of English speakers learning German.

The pastry in question is very similar to a doughnut with a cream filling,
not jelly.  'Jelly doughnut' isn't a perfect translation, but it's not
totally off the mark.  The problem is that 'Berliner' are not called
'Berliner' in Berlin.  The residents of Berlin call these things
'Pfannkuchen' the rest of Germany calls them 'Berliner'.  Since Kennedy
was speaking in Berlin, I suspect that many people probably didn't think
of the humorous interpretation until after the fact.  For what it's
worth, the phrase 'Ich bin ein Berliner' is very popular in Berlin; I've
seen it used in advertisements to market things as being true to the
spirit of the city. You can also buy postcards with a cartoon drawing of a
'Berliner' (I mean the pastry) with 'Ich bin ein Berliner' in the speech

Bruce H. Spencer
Germanic Languages and Literatures      Office: (734) 764-5365
3110 Modern Languages Building          Fax:    (734) 763-6557
University of Michigan                  E-mail: bspencer at umich.edu
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1275

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