Berlin Museum Honors The Kennedys

An inside view of an exhibition room at the Berlin Museum
An inside view of an exhibition room at the Berlin Museum

By Marian Betancourt, Contributor
February / March 2009

Most Americans, even those who were not yet born, know about John F. Kennedy’s famous words spoken before hundreds of thousands of cheering people in Berlin in 1963. When he said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” Kennedy offered his and America’s solidarity with the people of West Berlin and his words became an iconic phrase of the Cold War.

Today, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate, where the American president got his first look at the infamous Berlin Wall, there is a small, elegant museum that aims to make young and old familiar with the lives of this still influential Irish-American family and their belief in democracy, human rights, and peace. Simply called The Kennedys, the museum is home to a collection of photographs of public and private moments, memorabilia, and official and private documents of and related to the Kennedy family from the time they left Ireland. A small collection of objects includes the Hermes crocodile leather briefcase that President Kennedy carried with him until the day he died.

The museum is operated by Camera Work AG, a corporation that owns one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of photographs and photo books. They first presented the Kennedy photographs and some objects in 2004 in their Berlin photo gallery followed by an exhibition in Rome the following year. The success of these exhibitions—with the public and the press—inspired the creation of a permanent exhibition in Berlin. Once an appropriate building was found in the Pariser Platz, a professor of American History from the John F. Kennedy Institute of the Free University of Berlin, Dr. Andreas Etges, and his team curated the exhibition. Most of the 25,000 annual visitors are Germans, followed by the Irish, British and Dutch with Americans accounting for about 20 percent.

Part of the exhibition is the continuous showing of two short films with excerpts of President Kennedy’s tour through West Berlin, which so boosted the morale of the people of the walled city.  For an American visitor, watching the response of Berliners to our president is a powerful emotional experience. The films were provided to the museum by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. There are also DVDs available at the museum with two and a half hours of footage, some that include Kennedy’s entire speech. That historic visit along with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 stand out as the two great peaceful events in Berlin’s 20th century history.

“Both days have formed a distinct picture of Berlin and its citizens in the minds of people around the world,” said museum director Kathy Alberts.  A special exhibition during 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall “will attempt to connect these two events, to show their similarities and their differences,” said Alberts. “The museum hopes to continue our cooperation with the U.S. Embassy on its Literature Series, hosting readings by American authors in the museum.” Alberts, who is half American and half German, majored in North American Studies at the Free University in Berlin and she also spent a year as an exchange student in the United States.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m.to 6 p.m. Admission is seven euros,or half price with a special Berliner city card. Guided tours are available in German and in English. Visit: www.thekennedys.de.

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