Posts Tagged ‘Schoeneberger Rathaus’

Ex-Berliner recalls Kennedy’s death

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

J. Elke Ertle was a Berlin teenager when John F. Kennedy’s death plunged West Berlin into depression and despair. From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin was physically divided. In 1961, the East German government, with Soviet backing, surrounded West Berlin with a 12-foot wall. In June 1963, Kennedy gave a historic speech in which he expressed admiration for those who had remained in the tiny capitalist island despite being surrounded by a communist sea.

Excerpt from Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom

Elke writes, “My eighteenth birthday fell on a Thursday. I didn’t celebrate until the following afternoon, November 22. Three girlfriends came for a Kaffeeklatsch and had barely left when the phone rang. It was my American friend. I assumed he wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Instead he asked, “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“President Kennedy has been shot!”

A long silence. I tried to comprehend.

“President Kennedy? When?”

“Less than half hour ago.”

“Shot at? Or shot dead?”

My friend shared what he knew. “Go and turn on the TV,” he said. We quickly said good-bye, and I flicked on the set. In disbelief, I watched as the tragedy in Dallas unfolded. Although the shooting had occurred shortly after noon Texas-time, it was already evening in Berlin. Within hours, thousands of Berliners gathered in the Rudolph-Wilde-Platz in front of city hall where John F. Kennedy had spoken only five months earlier. In a broadcast, the Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, read,

“Eine Flamme ist erloschen. Erloschen fuer alle Menschen, die auf einen gerechten Frieden hoffen und auf ein besseres Leben. Die Welt ist an diesem Abend sehr viel aermer geworden. (A flame has gone out. Gone out for all people who hope for a just peace and a better life. The world has grown considerably poorer this evening.)” 

The following afternoon, my friends and I joined the 15,000 students who walked in silence from the Airlift Memorial to the Schoeneberger Rathaus. We marched behind a banner that read Wir haben einen Freund verloren — We have lost a friend.

On the day of Kennedy’s state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, 250,000 of us gathered in front of Berlin’s city hall. The Rudolph-Wilde-Platz was renamed John-F.-Kennedy Platz. In West Berlin, where the East-West confrontation could be felt more than anywhere else in the world, the grief for Kennedy was particularly deep. John F. Kennedy had been our hero. Our loss was personal.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.





John F. Kennedy spoke in Berlin

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

On this day in history fifty years ago today, on June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy spoke in Berlin. I stood in the crowd of 450,000 in front of Schoeneberger Rathaus to hear him speak. It was an experience I will never forget. Below is his speech (

“I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum.” Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

the cheering crowd in front of Schoeneberger Rathaus

the cheering crowd in front of Schoeneberger Rathaus

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany–real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner‘.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




President Barack Obama to visit Berlin

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will end a three-day trip to Europe trip with a visit to Berlin next month. Following a summit in Northern Ireland, the president is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss bilateral global questions. Prior to his 2008 election, President Obama held a major campaign rally in Berlin, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200,000. A Democratic presidential candidate at the time, Mr. Obama had hoped to speak in front of Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate. But Chancellor Merkel would not have it. She maintained that this privilege was reserved for presidents. Mr. Obama ended up speaking at the nearby victory column.

According to the White House, President Obama’s visit will come one week before the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s unforgettable “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Fifty years, ago, on June 26, 1963, I too, stood in the crowd of 450,000 who had gathered in front of Schoeneberger Rathaus, Berlin’s city hall, to hear John F. Kennedy speak. It was during the height of the Cold War when Mr. Kennedy pledged solidarity with West Berlin. When he said, “As a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’,” we interpreted his words to mean that America would not sell us out to the Russians.

I recently wrote a book, entitled “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom.” In it I describe what it was like to grow up in West Berlin during the time when the city was still divided into the capitalist west and the communist east.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.