Love struck: Photographs of JFK's visit to Berlin 50 years ago reveal a nation instantly smitten

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Photographer Ulrich Mack accompanied Kennedy on the entire trip. The results, published this month as Kennedy in Berlin, have mostly never been seen before and are an astonishing record of a watershed moment, says John Walsh.

Fifty years ago, in June 1963, the most powerful man in the world visited the Federal Republic of Germany. President John F Kennedy and his entourage landed at Cologne-Bonn airport on Sunday morning, 22 June. A mayoral reception, a speech to the huge Cologne crowd, mass in the cathedral, and the presidential motorcade swept off to Bonn, to meet the Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.

On Monday, Kennedy had talks with the German Federal President, Heinrich Lübke, with Willy Brandt (then mayor of West Berlin) and the German Peace Corps. On Tuesday he was helicoptered to Hanau, to address troops of the American 3rd Army Division, then driven to Frankfurt where he addressed a crowd on the Römerberg, before flying to Wiesbaden for talks with Vice Chancellor Ludwig Erhard and a motorcade to the Kurhaus for a reception hosted by the prime minister of Hesse.

So far, so unexciting – a predictable itinerary of meetings with dignitaries, diplomatic chats, lunches, dinners and hotel nights. Kennedy, by all accounts, wasn't a big fan of Germany in 1963: he looked askance at their post-war economic resurgence, their calls for reunification, their growing importance as a buffer against Eastern Europe. During his trip, Der Spiegel carried an article headed 'John F Kennedy doesn't like the Germans'. But by the end of his trip, something extraordinary had happened: Kennedy and the German people had fallen in love with each other.

In Cologne, in Bonn, in Frankfurt, in Wiesbaden, huge crowds had turned out to see the charismatic American president. At 46, Kennedy seemed a world away from the gaunt, saurian Chancellor Adenauer, from the venerable De Gaulle in France, Macmillan in England, Khrushchev in Russia. The Germans greeted him as a hope for the future, a decisive, libertarian, intellectual and, most crucially, young head of state who understood how much they hated living as a divided nation, half in Communist hands, a division symbolised by the Berlin Wall, built two years earlier.

They came out in their thousands to greet him. Among them was a 31-year-old photographer called Ulrich Mack, commissioned by Quick, a large-format illustrated magazine with a circulation of 1.2 million. Mack's brief was to accompany Kennedy on the entire trip, from touchdown at Cologne to departure from Berlin. He brought with him four Leica cameras with focal lengths of 28, 35, 50 and 75mm and miles of Tri-X film, and recorded the whole visit.

The results, published this month as Kennedy in Berlin, have mostly never been seen before. Quick published only six photographs; Kennedy didn't even make the cover. But they are an astonishing record of a watershed moment. Mack moves in close to the motorcade, to Kennedy's magnetic presence, to individual faces in the crowd – then moves miles back to capture the big picture, the multitude, the wide-open spaces, the granite blankness of the Berlin Wall, the seething multitude that fills all four sides of the shot. He pictures a line of German boy scouts sitting by the roadside with their American flags; the presidential car all but mobbed by US military; a row of hard-hatted construction workers waving from the top of a motorway sign.

And he was there on the magical final morning, when Kennedy flew into Berlin's Tegel airport. June 26 was fine and sunny. Emboldened by reports of massive crowds greeting Kennedy elsewhere, two million people swarmed into the streets of Berlin. Kennedy was driven to the Brandenburg Gate, and to a viewing platform from which to inspect the Berlin Wall. His motorcade inched through the hordes, who threw cascades of flowers, rice and torn paper at the presidential Lincoln.

At 12.50pm, at Schöneberg Hall before 450,000 enraptured Berliners, he made the most famous speech of his career: "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that Communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin…" He called the Berlin Wall "the most obvious signal of the failure of the Communist system, dividing a people who wish to be joined together". And he concluded, "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'."

The crowd's applause was prolonged and deafening. Kennedy told them, effectively, that America was on their side against the Communists. These photographs record their delight. The Süddeutsche Zeitung ran the headline, 'The Guest Who Makes The Germans Ecstatic'. Kennedy, on his return, told his wife "I love Berlin" and later mused, "There are things in this world you can only believe if you've experienced them yourself, and with regard to which it is difficult to comprehend afterwards what has happened to you".

Unfortunately, we know exactly what happened to him. It occurred five months later, in Dallas. He died in the same Lincoln Continental that had taken him through the ocean of joyous faces in the streets of Berlin.

'Kennedy in Berlin' edited by Hans-Michael Koetzle (Hirmer) is published 24 June, £29.95

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss