“Here in Berlin, one cannot help being aware that you are the hub around which turns the wheel of history. For just as we are proving to be the testing ground of races living together in spite of their differences, you are testing the possibility of co-existence for the two ideologies which now compete for world dominance. If ever there were a people who should be constantly sensitive to their destiny, the people of Berlin, East and West, should be they.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
2. Martin Luther King Jr. in Berlin
Martin Luther King Jr. visited Berlin in September 1964 on the invitiation of then-Mayor Willy Brandt. Brandt and King were introduced when Brandt visited the US in 1961. In Berlin to help open the 14th annual cultural festival, Dr. King spoke at a memorial service dedicated to John F. Kennedy, who had visited Berlin only the year before and was a personal friend of Dr. King. He was also invited to deliver the Day of the Church sermon in Waldbühne amphitheater near the Olympic Stadium. Over 20,000 West Berliners attended his sermon.
King then did what many Americans wouldn’t dare: he crossed the border into East Germany. In East Berlin, he delivered two sermons and met with his fellow clergymen. During his sermon at St. Mary’s Church, over 2,000 East Germans crowded in to catch a glimpse of the man, who even then was becoming legend.
4. King in East Germany
Martin Luther King’s visit to West Berlin was nearly overshadowed by his side trip to East Berlin. Before coming to West Germany, he made clear his desire to visit the East. King would not be deterred from visiting the East and eventually crossed over without a passport. He crossed the border and delivered a Sermon at St. Mary’s and St. Sophia’s Churches.
Martin Luther King Jr. passed the Checkpoint to enter East Berlin using an American Express card as his ID. He stayed in East Berlin until the evening, and spoke at churches and with students.
King spoke to a rapt audience at the Marienkirche in East Berlin on September 13, 1964.
7. Martin Luther King’s Legacy
Dr. Martin Luther King ranks among the most celebrated Americans to ever visit Berlin, and his legacy can be seeen all over Germany, not just in the capital city. Numerous memorials dot the city itself, remembering every visit he made in his days-long trip to the city.
Martin Luther King Church in Berlin was named for the civil rights leader after his assasination in 1968.
Plaques can be found around Berlin at every place King visited. This one reads:
“On the Evening of September 13, 1964, during his only visit to Berlin, Dr. Martin Luther King, the American Baptist Minister and Nobel Prize Laureate, met with representatives of the Portestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and the Baptist Church in this building to discuss problems of Christian Life in the divided city.”
12. Recently Declassified Documents
The National Archives recently declassified a wealth of documents regarding the Belrin Wall and US relations to East and West Germany. They timed their declassification to fall in line with the 25th Anniverary of the fall of the Wall, which is on November 9 of this year.
In the newly-public documents, there are telegrams, reports, and photos regarding Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to the city. This is just one page from the catalogue they released. The new document trove was introduced in Early January and wan entitled “A City Divided: Life and Death in the Shadow of the Wall.”
The documents are available online here:
Written By Lauren Rogers
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