President John F. Kennedy in Cologne, Germany, June 1963.
Not published in LIFE. President John F. Kennedy in Cologne, Germany, June 1963.John Loengard—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
President John F. Kennedy in Cologne, Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy (right) walks past German armed forces during his June 1963 visit to Germany.
People watch and listen to John F. Kennedy on TV during his June 1963 visit to Germany.
People watch and listen to John F. Kennedy during his June 1963 visit to Germany.
German police restrain crowds during President Kennedy's June 1963 tour.
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (right) and Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt (center) look on as President John Kennedy shakes hands with enthusiastic women during JFK's June 1963 visit to Germany.
Fainting woman carried by Red Cross workers during commotion caused by President Kennedy's June 1963 visit to Germany.
From a viewing stand, President John F. Kennedy gazes over the Berlin Wall into East Germany, June 1963.
Friedrichstrasse, in Frankfurt, during President Kennedy's June 1963 visit.
Germans demand a reunited Germany during President Kennedy's June 1963 visit to Berlin.
From a viewing stand, President John F. Kennedy gazes over the Berlin Wall into East Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy rides in a limo during his June 1963 visit to Germany.
President John F. Kennedy in a motorcade during his trip to Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy rides in a limo with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer during JFK's June 1963 visit to Germany.
Crowds during President John F. Kennedy's June 1963 visit to Germany.
A Kennedy admirer, Frankfurt, Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy walks with dignitaries during his June 1963 visit to Germany.
German factory workers watch President Kennedy's motorcade make its way through Frankfurt, Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy waves at crowd during speech in Bonn, Germany, June 1963.
Crowd scene during President John F. Kennedy's June 1963 visit to Germany.
People watch from windows during President John F. Kennedy's June 1963 visit to Germany.
President John F. Kennedy (right), with Major General John R. Pugh (left), reviews the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Division ("Spearhead"), West Germany, June 1963.
President John F. Kennedy (right) meets with American Army officers during his June 1963 trip to West Germany.
President John F. Kennedy, in open limo, reviews the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Division ("Spearhead"), West Germany, June 1963.
West German police officers take snapshots of governmental building during President John F. Kennedy's June 1963 visit.
Not published in LIFE. President John F. Kennedy in Cologne, Germany, June 1963.
John Loengard—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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JFK in Germany, 1963: Rare and Classic Photos

Nov 02, 2014

First off, let's get the whole jelly-doughnut fiction out of the way. For decades, people have been chuckling over the oft-repeated "fact" that when he delivered his now-famous speech at Berlin's Schöneberg city hall in June 1963, John F. Kennedy flubbed the oration's critical line. Instead of declaring his solidarity with the German people with a rousing, "I am a Berliner!" (Ich bin Berliner) so the story goes Kennedy instead proclaimed, "I am a jelly doughnut!" (Ich bin ein Berliner).

It's a pretty good story, and it's even more comical when it's repeated, as it has been countless times in the subsequent decades, in JFK's distinctive Boston accent and with his unique cadence. Alas, for comedians and for cocktail-party trivia experts everywhere, Kennedy's assertion was not only perfectly comprehensible, but positively stirring, to the thousands of Germans who saw his speech live and to the millions of others who heard it on the radio or saw it on TV.

"I am a Berliner!" It might not be as hilarious as the apocryphal jelly-doughnut line but five decades on, JFK's simple declaration still feels inspiring.

Here, more than 50 years after Kennedy's June 1963 speech in Berlin, LIFE.com recalls not only that one historic moment, but the look and the feel the unprecedented energy of his trip to Germany. Kennedy drew boisterous and, for the most part, adoring crowds wherever he traveled, and less than two decades after the end of World War II, in a West Germany that was now an American ally, was received as something of a rock star by young and old alike.

[MORE: See the gallery, "Rare Photos From JFK's 1960 Campaign"]

Staged less than five months before his assassination would stun the world, in a nation ripped apart by competing ideologies and by the brute, concrete symbol of the Cold War the Berlin Wall JFK's triumphant German tour was one of the earliest and most poignant watersheds of the 1960s. As America moved deeper into the decade, and as violence seemed to erupt from every seam in the culture the terrorist church bombing in Birmingham mere months later; the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy; the war in Vietnam; the Mansons; Altamont and on and on the promise of a new, re-imagined and perhaps even morally ascendant United States flickered, and faded.

Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

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