President John F. Kennedy expresses solidarity with democratic German citizens in a speech on June 26, 1963. In front of the Berlin Wall that separated the city into democratic and communist sectors, he declared to the crowd, “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am also a citizen of Berlin.”
In his speech, Kennedy assured West Germans that free nations still stood by the people of the democratically controlled sectors of Berlin who had lived within the hostile borders of East Germany since the end of World War II. Immediately after the war, the city of Berlin was divided into West Berlin, comprised of American, British and French-administered democratic enclaves, and East Berlin, an East German communist-controlled area. In an early confrontation of the Cold War, West Berliners had endured a Soviet-imposed blockade of their part of the city between June 1948 and May 1949 that cut off their food and energy supplies. In response, the Allied Military Air Transport Service had flown food, coal and school supplies into the city in an unprecedented logistical feat known as “Operation Vittles” or the “Berlin Airlift.”
At the time of Kennedy’s speech to West Berliners in 1963, the city’s democratic enclave remained a tiny but strategically important foothold for democracy within communist-controlled Eastern Europe.