I’ll be a jelly filled donut at Carnival time!

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‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ – “I am a jelly filled donut!”- said JFK in his famous speech in June 1961 which became a joke since a Berliner is a doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts.

The misconception

There is a misconception that Kennedy made a risible error by saying “Ich bin ein Berliner” the claim is made that Kennedy referred to himself not as a “citizen of Berlin”, but as a “jelly donut” or “jam doughnut” , known in parts of Germany as a “Berliner“. Kennedy should, supposedly, have said Ich bin Berliner to mean “I am a person from Berlin”, and that adding the indefinite article ein to his statement implied he was a non-human Berliner, thus, “I am a jelly doughnut”. However, the indefinite article ein is omitted when speaking of an individual’s profession or residence but is necessary when speaking in a figurative sense as Kennedy did. Since the president was not literally from Berlin but only declaring his solidarity with its citizens, “Ich bin Berliner” would not have been appropriate! According to the German History Museum, the theoretical ambiguity went unnoticed by Kennedy’s audience. Luckily no intelligent native speaker of German tittered in Berlin when J.F.K. spoke, just as no native speaker of German, or one who does know this language would titter if someone said, Ich bin ein Wiener or Hamburger or Frankfurter.

What Kennedy (or the person who wrote his speech) did not know, but could easily have found out, was that such citizens never refer to themselves as ‘Berliners.’ They reserve that term for a favorite confection often munched at breakfast. So, while they understood and appreciated the sentiments behind the President’s impassioned declaration, the residents tittered among themselves when he exclaimed, literally, “I am a jelly-filled doughnut!”

Krapfen, Berliner, pancakes 

I always recall the phrase of Mr President when Carnival time sets in in Germany because of the fantastic offers of the Berliners at the baker shops. You can’t resist to buy only one but at least fives filled with different cream fillings. Eating them I am sure I will be soon as fat as a jelly filled donut. And who said that Lent is a time of fasting? 

A Fasnacht, (Fastnacht or Fassenacht, Fasnet) Krapfen, Berliner whatever is it called is a fatty donut treat served traditionally on Fastnacht Day (Shrove Tuesday), the day before Lent starts. In old days Fasnachts were made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.

Commonly Berliners or Krapfens are round, rather than having straight sides, and they are filled with jam or cream filling. A predominantly German and Central European doughnut made from sweet yeast dough, fried in fat or oil, with a marmalade or jam filling and usually icing, coated or dusted by powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar on top. They are sometimes made with chocolate, champagne, custard, mocha, or advocaat (egg liqeueur filling), or with no filling at all. The filling is injected with a large syringe after the pastry is fried.

The donut claim has since been repeated by media such as the BBC (by Alistair Cooke in his Letter from America program), The Guardian, CNN, Time magazine, and The New York Times; mentioned in several books about Germany written by English-speaking authors, including Norman Davies and Kenneth C. Davis and used in the manual for the Speech Synthesis Markup Language.

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