“…there is no East, no West..:” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visits Cold War Berlin

written by Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Management and Program Analyst, in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

 “…there is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world:”

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon at the Marienkirche, East Berlin, September 13, 1964

In 1964, the city of Berlin was divided between East and West Berliners, much like the United States was segregated by black and white Americans. If anyone knew and understood the political and social ramifications of such divisions and discrimination, that person would be African-American Baptist minister, nonviolent civil rights activist, and leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, at the invitation of Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin, Dr. King, traveled to Cold War Berlin in September 1964 to speak at the 14th annual cultural festival (See telegram 1964-09-14a). In one and a half days, Dr. King spoke and toured the city of Berlin “which [stood] as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” on the principles of unity and faith: “we are all one in Christ Jesus and that faith overcomes all man-made barriers.”

Dr. King signs the Golden Book. Reference: 306-BN-466-2

Dr. King signs the Golden Book. Reference: 306-BN-466-2

Following Dr. King’s signing of the Golden Book at Berlin City Hall he opened the cultural festival at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall in a memorial service to late President John F. Kennedy, who visited the city the year before he was assassinated. In his eulogy, Dr. King emphasized “Kennedy’s devotion to human rights throughout the world and specifically to civil rights issue at home.” Later that afternoon Dr. King delivered a sermon before a crowd of 20,000 West Berliners in Waldbühne amphitheater on the occasion of “Tag der Kirche” (Day of the Church). After his sermon, Dr. King learned that an East Berliner had been shot when he attempted to escape to West Berlin. Immediately, he insisted to be taken to the Berlin Wall where the shootout had taken place between the U.S. soldiers and East German border guards.

Dr. King visits the Berlin Wall. Reference: 306-BN-466-1

Dr. King visits the Berlin Wall. Reference: 306-BN-466-1

In his pursuit to promote the spirit of brotherhood, he also wanted to visit East Berlin, as he believed that “we are all one in Christ Jesus, for in Christ there is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world.” Later that evening, without a passport, he surprisingly managed to cross at Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing point between West and East Berlin, into East Berlin with his American Express card as form of identification. While there, Dr. King spoke at a church service at Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), where he preached essentially the same sermon he gave earlier that day in West Berlin to 2,000 standing-room-only East Berliners.

“My dear Christian friends of East Berlin,” Dr. King began as he spoke eloquently of “his spiritual message of brotherhood” as the city of Berlin symbolized a “divided humanity.” Identifying faith as a means to reconcile and not divide the people, regardless of the “man-made barrier” of the Berlin Wall, he stated, “…this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.” He also called attention to African American’s fight for civil rights in the United States, “As you know, there is a great social revolution taking place in the United States of America, and it is the struggle to free some twenty million Negroes from the long night of segregation and discrimination.” The congregation was so moved by his sermon’s emphasis on the similarities of the faith, struggles, and sufferings of African Americans in the U.S. to their own, that some wept openly. Since the church was filled to capacity, the overflow crowd was sent to nearby Sophienkirche (Sophia Church) and Dr. King ended up making a second, last minute appearance there. Before returning to West Berlin, Dr. King also took the time to speak with students from Humboldt University and church officials at the Hospice Albrecht.

Dr. King’s visit to Cold War Berlin and his message of brotherhood, peace, faith, and civil rights for all of humanity, brought hope to both West and East Berliners of a possible peaceful social revolution. Dr King argued that a “common humanity, common history, common calling, and common hope for the salvation of the world” binds together people in the divided city of Berlin and also in the segregated America, “regardless of the barriers of race, creed, ideology, or nationality.”

Dr. King is standing at the Soviet Sector border of the Wall, while the director of the Berlin Information Center is indicating points of interest. Reference 306-BN-466-4880

Dr. King is standing at the Soviet Sector border of the Wall, while the director of the Berlin Information Center is indicating points of interest. Reference 306-BN-466-4880

Chronology of Dr. King’s Visit to Berlin

September 12, 1964

  • 3 pm: Arrival at Tempelhof Airport and Welcome by West Berlin Government and Church Officials Press Conference at the West Berlin Senate Guest House, Grunewald

September 13, 1964

  • 10 am: Reception at West Berlin City Hall with Mayor Willy Brandt and Signing of the City’s Golden Book
  • 11 am: Opening of the 14th Annual Cultural Festival with a Memorial Service for John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall
  • 1 pm: Reception at the Foyer of the Berlin Academy of Arts hosted by West Berlin Senator for Arts and Science, Dr. Werner Stein
  • 3 pm: Open Air Church Rally and Sermon at the “Waldbühne” (20,000 people) and visit to the Berlin Wall (Bernauer, Schwedter and Stallschreiber Street)
  • 5.30 pm: Award Ceremony for an Honorary Degree of the Theological School of the West Berlin Protestant Church in the home of Bishop Dr. Otto Dibelius
  • 7 pm: Border Crossing at Checkpoint Charlie 8 (Friedrich Street)
  • 8 pm: Church Service in East Berlin’s Marienkirche (St. Mary’s)
  • 10 pm: Additional Church Service at the Sophienkirche (Sophia Church) in East Berlin and meeting with Leading Representatives of the Protestant Church Berlin Brandenburg at the Hospice Albrecht Street
  • 11 pm: Return to West Berlin and Late Dinner at Guest House Grunewald

September 14, 1964

  • End of Visit and Onward Journey to Munich

 

Telegram found in: Classified Central Subject Files, 1963-1975 (NAID: 7450662)

Photographs found in: Photographs Relating to World War II, the Cold War, and U.S. – West German Diplomatic, Economic, and Military Contacts, ca. 1951 – 1994 (NAID: 639717)

 

This entry was posted in Civil Rights and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “…there is no East, no West..:” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visits Cold War Berlin

  1. Alan Walker says:

    Great post, Trichita! Dr. King’s words and deeds inspired so many, in so many other countries.

    Like

  2. alfred buttercock says:

    kewl

    Like

Comments are closed.