JFK life


The shoot nobody was supposed to see...

Text source: Spiegel-online

Fifty years ago, US President John F. Kennedy announced: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Photojournalist Jochen Blume took the picture of the speech that went across the globe. However, his best picture from the Kennedy visit has never been published. It did not fit the rejoicing atmosphere.

There was no directive. “Bild”-chief editor Peter Boenisch did not have to say anything. I just knew what I had to do on 26th June 1963. It had been on the newspapers for days already: rejoicing, rejoicing, rejoicing. John F. Kennedy is in town and will speak from the balcony of the Schöneberg town hall. The occasion was the 15th anniversary of the Berlin airlift and the strong reaction of the Western Allies to the Soviet Berlin blockade.

Moreover it was the first visit of a US President after the construction of the Wall. Kennedy, he of all people, who had reacted too reluctant in the eyes of many to the separation of Berlin, was now welcomed from the rejoicing Western Berlin people with confetti, streamers and bannerets. In the end, the coming of Kennedy and the escort through the divided city together with the mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt, and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was another confirmation of solidarity and an exhibition for democracy and free market economy.

I was working as a photographer for Springer Publishing and had to shoot the pictures of this major event. In honor of this high state visit there had been reports over weeks, special publications and even gazettes long shut down like the “Berlin Illustrate” started to print again.

On a truck through the city

Kennedy landed at Tegel airport at 9:45 a.m. I was late already because I had to pick up my camera equipment at the editorial office. With two cameras around my neck and one hanging from each shoulder, I jumped out of the car at the airport and made it to the airfield just in time. Kennedy was already under photographers siege. I had to fight my way through the crowd until I finally stood two meters away from the US President. Two, three pictures. That was all. Shortly afterwards we were asked to come to the press truck. It was a rebuilt truck with seats on the load floor. About thirty photographers had taken seat there. 23 police cars were following. Behind us was the open limousine with the state men

Kennedy on the left side, then Brandt and Adenauer. That was the way they were standing in the convertible. Jovial waving, smiling and happy choirs from the population that stood along the street in several rows. Two women jumped on the street to shake the President’s hand. Children were sitting on their fathers’ shoulders. Teenagers climbed onto street lamps. Holiday atmosphere in Western Berlin. Several companies had closed for the evening so that their employees could join the event. It was later said that 1.5 million people were present.

Kennedy himself, being overwhelmed by the welcome and his role as representative of the free world, seemed to be shy, sometimes even insecure. Most of the time he could hide his stress, but not during the entire route. He furrowed his brows regularly, his eyes often lowered and his smile tense.

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

“War for Berlin”, those were familiar quotations since the day when tanks stood in front of each other at Checkpoint Charlie. Not only for the population, but also for us photojournalists on the truck. The formulation reminded of the question from 1939 if there was to be a “war for Danzig”. The latter had finally sealed the breakout of the Second World War.

Willi Brandt had asked the US President several times to come to Berlin. He was struggling to make conversaton to the president, but Kennedy’s attention was not always present. Adenauer on the other hand did not seem to be too interested in the American guest. The tense relation between the young Kennedy and the old Adenauer – both could not acquire a taste for the other’s style of policy – could not be ignored. However, Adenauer had asked for Kennedy’s presence, too, but only in Bonn. The visit to Berlin contained new conflict potentials as it emphasized the good relation between Kennedy and Brandt and strengthened his position as the SPD chancellor candidate.

12:50 o’clock. Arrival at the Schöneberg town hall. Shortly before Kennedy’s speech, we photojournalists were not allowed to climb up to the town hall’s balcony, although agreed on before. We all knew that Kennedy’s speech in front of half a million people would bring the picture that would later be important in the editorial office. The whole day I had suffered from the heat with my four cameras and a 600-mm super telephoto. But now, this heavy weight gave me an unbelievable advantage unexpectedly: nobody else had such a long focal length. Out of the cheering masses and from a distance of about 20 meters I shot my most popular picture with the best resolution possible: Kennedy at his speech to the German people, summing it up with the words “Ich bin ein Berliner”. When he said “Ich” I shot the picture. An impressing speech from a Kennedy not to be recognized again compared to the man he was just minutes before: confident, gentlemanly, charismatic.

The other picture

It was a picture that later nobody should see: US President John F. Kennedy, the most powerful man of the world, surrounded by Adenauer, Brandt and the French city commander Edouard Toulouse, standing there bent over with crossed arms and a crinkly face in front of the other politicians. All eyes rested on the young US President. It seems as if the whole pressure of a nation’s expectation is laying on his shoulders and his already chronically hurting back. Kennedy is standing in the middle of the officials, crooked and slightly cowering.

Source: picture by courtesy of Mister Jochen Blume

Shortly before his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, the President does not appear like a great statesman but more helpless and insecure. An unimaginable contrast to the celebrating Western Berlin people that should welcome the US president with ovations as liberator in the coming hours. Kennedy, crooked by the expectation pressures, is the best political picture I have ever shot. Chief editor Boenisch saw it the same way. But it was never printed – it just did not fit the cheering atmosphere.

Text source: Spiegel-online

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