- "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."
- "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!".
The phrase can be interpreted in two ways:
- I am a jelly doughnut (also called "Berliner Ballen", "Berliner Krapfen" or "Berliner Pfannkuchen" in the rest of Germany, but simply "Pfannkuchen" in Berlin itself).
- I am a resident of Berlin. ("Ich bin Berliner.")
The common everyday expression for saying that you are from Berlin (i.e. you were born there) is "Ich bin Berliner". JFK's phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" is a slightly more solemn, emphasized way of putting that. Amusingly, though, this second formulation also adds the ambiguity to the phrase which the simple, everyday version does not bear.
The best parallel in English would be "I am a Frankfurter" which of course also means "I am a sausage". Although the sentence is grammatically correct you would normally disambiguate by saying "I am from Frankfurt".
The context made it very clear, though, so nobody misunderstood JFK when he delivered his speech. He pronounced the sentence with a very strong American accent. Contrary to public belief, it was not followed by a roar of laughter---recordings instead show applause.
Interestingly, Kennedy did get a laugh a moment after he first used the phrase, but deliberately. His speech was being translated for the crowd, phrase-by-phrase as he made it; "Ich bin ein Berliner" was "translated" by itself, resulting in the interpreter parroting what Kennedy had just said a moment before. As the applause died down, Kennedy paused for a moment, then said: "I appreciate my interpreter translating my German", a quip which did receive a solid laugh from the crowd.
The text of the entire speech can be found at: