Nick Clegg declares “Ich bin ein Berliner”

Well, sort of. Here’s the AFP report:

BERLIN — Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has already made history with his meteoric political career and on Thursday he notched up another feat: speaking German to the Germans.

“I find the famous Berlin fresh air very refreshing,” the Liberal Democrat leader told reporters in fluent German after talks with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin, before talking up the importance of bilateral relations.

But perhaps to the relief of Clegg’s notoriously monolingual compatriots — he speaks five tongues — he was not completely at ease with the grammatical minefield that is the German language, quickly switching to English.

His efforts won him praise from Westerwelle, who famously told off a BBC journalist for asking him to answer a question in English last year, telling Clegg his German was “excellent.”

The BBC’s Gavin Hewitt also reports Nick’s first venture on the world stage as DPM:

Nick Clegg made this case for the coalition. It enabled the UK, he said, to take very difficult decisions over the budget “not because we relish it, but because we have to do it”. He spoke of putting the national interest before the party interest.

On financial regulation which could put the UK in conflict with other European governments, Nick Clegg accepted the case for further regulation, but he said he wanted to “avoid a regulatory over-reaction which may penalise parts of the financial services system which was not responsible for recent problems”.

The Times was impressed with Nick’s unusual fluency, and also noted the warm relations not only between the UK and Germany, but between Messrs Clegg and Hague:

Britain and Germany agreed on just about everything: on the need for the EU to enforce the sanctions against Iran now that they had been approved; on an international investigation of the Gaza flotilla deaths and an easing of the blockade; on the need for fiscal consolidation while stimulating growth; on the careful crafting of financial regulation; on EU enlargement into the western Balkans.

“This is the first time that two coalition partners in British government have travelled abroad together,” Mr Hague said in his trademark Yorkshire brogue.

“You’re witnessing a small piece of British history.”

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  • Cleggy done us proud.

  • See, I know the title is a take on Kennedy’s famous line, but it makes Clegg sound stupid. It’s ‘ich bin Berliner’. As I’m sure many are aware, the title line implies you are a doughnut 😉

  • Keith Browning 10th Jun '10 - 9:52pm

    That’s a great start for Nick or should I say the Deputy Prime Minister and definitely put Hague in his place.

    However he’ll never beat footballer Johan Cruyff , in the 1970s, who managed to conduct one press conference in seven languages. Our English footballers struggle with just one.

    Perhaps we all need an Arnold Rimmer translator that can speak over 700 intergalactic languages, including Welsh !

  • even the Arnold Rimmer translator couldn’t cope with Welsh – masculine/feminine adjectives, numbers, colours!

    Not to mention mutations.

    [Incidentally, quite a few Welsh sportsmen manage more than one language ….]

  • It should be “Ich bin einen Berliner” if he wants to be from Berlin.

  • @Tabman: “It should be “Ich bin einen Berliner” if he wants to be from Berlin.”

    No, it should’t.

  • Andrea lol yes you are correct.

  • Patrick Smith 10th Jun '10 - 11:57pm

    I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister`s fluency in German and Dutch etc will mean that modern languages curriculum options are now likely to be taken more seriously in our schools, at the point of individual pupil choice for GCSE subjects.

  • Nick saying… something:

  • Andrea Gill 11th Jun '10 - 1:36am

    @Tabman – being sort-of-bilingual, glad I remembered that one correctly! 😉

  • Paul McKeown 11th Jun '10 - 2:07am


    At the end the interviewer asked NC if he wanted a change in the electoral system to one like in the Netherlands. NC said that he wanted a democratic system, but what he didn’t say is that LD policy is definitely not to have an electoral system as in the Netherlands, as they use a party list system there…

  • Iain Sharpe 11th Jun '10 - 2:54pm

    I don’t speak German, but the Wikipedia entry on Ich bein ein Berliner suggests that Kennedy’s usage was correct. entry for this says:

    An actual Berliner would say, in proper German, “Ich bin Berliner.” But that wouldn’t have been the correct phrase for Kennedy to use. The indefinite article “ein” is required, Eichhoff explains, to express a metaphorical identification between subject and predicate.

  • Paul McKeown 11th Jun '10 - 3:01pm

    “Ich komme aus Berlin” will have to do then, just to avoid this discussion. No one is going to say, “Ich bin ein Hamburger” as that is patently ridiculous.

  • A German might indeed say ‘ich bin ein Hamburger’ to mean that he is from the Hansestadt Hamburg. In many southern varieties of German the article is obligatory in such copula constructions. See: (in German).

  • Paul McKeown 12th Jun '10 - 12:09am

    Dear Jutta,

    Why would anyone from the south of Germany suggest that a comrade from the north might taste better mixed with a little chopped onion and breadcrumbs?

  • The ‘Berliner’ comment is complex, since it depends on local variation in syntax and vocabulary – German varies considerably within the German-speaking regions. For example, I am (an) Austrian, and I never realised that what Kennedy had said has any double meaning at all (ironically, I found out from an English-speaker). As far as I have heard, the person who gave Kennedy the phrase was a southerner, and it is likely that the source would therefore simply not have noticed the double meaning…

    There are two issues:
    1) saying ‘Ich bin Berliner’ (without the indefinite article) is more common in the north (it’s certainly correct, but it’s less common in the spoken language in the south).

    2) Like many food words, ‘Berliner’ isn’t a universal German word for Doughnut.

    Thus, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ and ‘Ich bin Berliner’ are theoretically BOTH correct, but in areas where Berliner also means ‘doughnut’ people would naturally go for ‘Ich bin Berliner’ because it can’t mean ‘I am a doughnut’.

    People who really come from Berlin would perhaps prefer ‘ich bin aus Berlin’ (‘I am from Berlin’), but that phrase doesn’t have the neat metaphorical impact which Kennedy needed… if a foreign visitor says ‘Ich bin aus Berlin’ it just sounds like a lie, while ‘Ich bin (ein) Berliner’ is a statement of solidarity.

    On a different note – does anybody know whether there is a video or audio file of Clegg speaking German? I’d really like to hear how good his German really is! They say that one can’t actually tell that he has an English accent, which would be pretty impressive.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Jun '10 - 12:28am

    Actually Jutte, that is an interesting article

    Wenn ich von mir sagen würde: Ich bin ein Pfannkuchen, würde ich damit ausdrücken, dass ich die Eigenschaften eines Pfannkuchens habe

    That would indicate that for some German speaking people, what Kennedy said, made sense, in the sense that he did indeed intend.

  • So, is there a video of Nick Clegg speaking German anywhere at all?

    I’d still like to hear him, just to see how good it really is….

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