BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Berlin is a much different city today than it
was when presidents Kennedy and Reagan delivered iconic remarks
there, but it remains an appropriate setting from which Barack
Obama can deliver an important message about global relations,
according to a University at Buffalo history professor who wrote a
book about John F. Kennedy's famous speech in Berlin.
"A spectacle is guaranteed on Thursday when Obama gives his
speech, but the more serious question is: How will the United
States define its relationship to a Europe that has dramatically
changed since the days of the Cold War," says Andreas Daum, Ph.D.,
author of "Kennedy
in Berlin," released this year by Cambridge University
"For Obama, I think Berlin is a reference to old Europe, and
giving a speech in Berlin is a way to tell Europeans that he's
interested in developing a unified approach to global challenges,
such as terrorism and global warming, that affect us all."
In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, Kennedy provided the
world with an iconic moment when he visited the then-divided city
of Berlin and gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in
front of jubilant crowd of more than 400,000. In 1987, Ronald
Reagan used the backdrop of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to call on
Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this (Berlin) Wall."
In both cases, Daum notes, the city of Berlin was regarded as
one of the most important arenas and political stages of the
"And now Obama gets his turn on this stage, yet in a very
different Germany, 19 years after the Wall came down," Daum
After Kennedy, presidents Reagan, Carter and Clinton each
included German phrases in speeches delivered in Berlin. But Daum
thinks Obama should forgo this obvious linguistic ploy.
"I think it's risky," he says. "He might mispronounce some words
and it might be perceived as unoriginal by the European
Legend has it that Kennedy misspoke when he uttered in German
his famous "I am a Berliner" line and mistakenly said "I am a jelly
doughnut." Daum, however, calls the legend "nonsense."
"Kennedy's German was perfectly fine and no one in Germany
questioned the sentence at the time," Daum says. "If the legend
helps us remember JFK's visit to Berlin, then perhaps it has its
purpose in popular culture."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
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York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
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