Thursday, July 28, 2005

Language Courses and 'ein Berliner'

German is a tricky language (like all the ones I know) and there is a major difference between 'Ich bin Berliner' ('I am someone from Berlin') and 'Ich bin ein Berliner' ('I am the donut called the Berliner donut').
Asymmetrical Information has long been one of my favourite blogs and tonight a link was posted to the fanous Kennedy speech in which he made that slip. The poster asked whether you can hear his audience, German speakers, laughing at the mistake. I don't hear that. By then, Germans had been living with Americans in the community nearly twenty years, and so must surely have known how to deal with somewhat incompetent American German (I know my in-laws in Austria have learned to live with similar grief and find their way to understanding what I mean, rather than what I say)
I agree with the poster and I do not hear any derision. But, heavens, listen to the speech! - what is there to deride? Especially if you live in Berlin under such a threat, surrounded by East Germany, and almost having been throttled out of existence in the late 1940s. This particular speech should remind us that Kennedy in the 1960 campaign was the hard-liner, the one who went on forever about the 'missile gap', and this speech sounds almost like the Reagan of the 1980s.
To my shame, I recall finding this speech silly in my all-knowing teens, and Reagan's call to tear down the wall pompous bluster in my 30s (where I thought I had matured).

On another point, I mentioned an excellent NPR debate a few posts ago; part of the discussion there was an analogy of the current struggle with extremist Islam with the Cold War. The great advantage the West had in the Cold War was that there were many states carrying out the Communist experiment; this provided the clearest proof of the emptiness of that project. The extreme Islamists have only Iran as an approximate state now - perhaps we will need to see them dominate some states for a generation or two before the emptiness of the promise becomes manifest. Perhaps we should have left them Afghanistan., but what a cruel idea for Afghans.
Back to Kennedy - so interesting - so uncompromising. He confronts all the apologies for the Communist state. And of course he was standing in front of the clearest proof of how nonsensical apologies for that world were - the Berlin Wall. How could we have been so blind? I wish I knew. I certainly was blind.


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