Friday, August 12, 2005

Balls to the Wall

On the night of Aug 12th 1961 the communist government in East Berlin began stringing barbed wire and posting sentries along all points of entry into West Berlin. Within weeks they escalated to towers, minefields, and the beginning of a concrete wall. Soon the two sides of the city were completely sealed off from one another. The Soviets claimed it was necessary to keep out immoral/decadent western culture and capitalism.
The construction of the wall caused a mini-crisis in US-Soviet relations. The West Germans demanded action, but as US troops approached the wall with bulldozers, the soviets did the same on the other side with tanks and armored units.
President Kennedy decided that "a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war" and so despite West German anger at the inaction the wall stood. In 1963 JFK made the trip to West Berlin to show solidarity by announcing "Ich bin ein Berliner" which when translated means "I am a jelly doughnut".
The wall had gone through four generations of construction, starting with square blocks and concrete, with a second wall built in 1962 to prevent escapes westward. The first two were replaced around 1965 by a third generation of concrete slabs between steel girder and concrete posts. After 1975 the fourth generation used concrete that was easy to build up and was resistant to breakthroughs and environmental polutions.
By the late 80's the Wall had a concrete segment wall 11.81 ft high / 66 mi long, 20 bunkers and 302 watchtowers. Close to 200 people had been killed on the Berlin Wall over the 28 years the wall stood and the wall itself had come to symbolize the Cold War. However, around that same time, President Reagan had forced the Soviets into an escalating arms race, Communist governments were collapsing all across Europe and so the Wall was destined to the same fate. In 1989 the wall was opened, and in 1990 was a wall no more.



At July 15, 2006 9:13 PM, Blogger Vince said...

Many people think President Kennedy called himself a jelly doughnut when he spoke in Berlin, but this is an urban legend, a hoax.

See Wikipedia: and

The earliest mention of the jelly doughnut story in print was in the early 1980s. In the 1983 spy novel "Berlin Game," by Len Deighton, the character Bernard Samson is told that he is berlinerisch. His reply:

"'Ich bin ein Berliner,’ I said. It was a joke. A Berliner is a doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts."

Len Deighton, Berlin Game, reprinted in Game, Set, Match (1986), page 85 .

"Berlin Game" was a work of fiction. In the preface to the reprint, Deighton notes that the novel is told in the highly subjective voice of the character of Bernard Samson, "who is inclined to complain and exaggerate so that we have to interpret the world around him." The author wrote that "Readers who take Bernard’s words literally are missing a lot of the intended content."

In a related novel, Deighton reminded his readers that the views of the characters were not necessarily those of the writer. "Winter" (1987), page preceding page 1, quoting James Jones: "...readers should remember that the opinions expressed by the characters are not necessarily those of the author..."

No doughnut cartoons have yet been found in the Berlin newspapers of the next day.

So my question is this: did Len originate this story?

Vince Treacy, Washington DC


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