On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy gave one of his most memorable speeches, here in Berlin, on the steps of the town hall of the Berlin suburb of Schöneberg, some 400,000 people gathered in the square as he spoke the words that are so deeply embedded in German history: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!'”. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated later that same year, the people of West-Berlin came again, shocked to their very core, and gathered at Schöneberg’s town hall to mourn their hero. Today, over 50 years later, on a cold and grey December morning, shortly before Christmas, I became a Berliner myself, by finally getting officially registered at the very same town hall, way too late, the town hall girls made fun of my holding back for all these months, but alas, procrastination is my second name, and now, somehow quite moved by the location, very much moved, actually, I take pride in these same words, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”.
When I was a teenager, twelve or thirteen, my father gave me a book called “Der Gentleman”, a reprint of a gentleman’s guide from the 1920s, full of wonderful illustrations of snobby men of leisure, spending their afternoons choosing the silk for their ties and cigarette cases, accompanied by lavish ladies with an equal amount of free time on their hands, warning its readers of the Berliner Chic, which meant anything loud and overdaringly flamboyant, what Berliners, long before JFK claimed to be one, were supposed to appall people with.
I never got that. Germany’s most stunning city, how could its style be of the wrong kind? Düsseldorf, okay, but Berlin? This city is just gorgeous. Its architecture is flawless, that I can assure you, even when I last visited the town last Friday on business, on a winter’s day, when the sky was grey, tiny snowflakes covering my Balmain jacket and extinguishing my freshly lit cigarette, with building sites everywhere, it offered nothing but splendour, grace and style. If that’s “Berliner Chic”, I gladly subscribe to it.