Remembering Dr. King’s Remarkable Visit to Berlin – West and East
Enlarge image Dr. King overlooks the heavily guarded border in Bernauerstraße with Werner Stelzer, director of the Berlin Information Center (© picture-alliance / akg-images) The year 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it is also the 50th anniversary of a remarkable moment in American solidarity with the people of the divided city. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday we remember the significance of Dr. King’s visit to Berlin in September 1964 at the invitation of West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, who had met the civil rights leader on a visit to the US in 1961.
The memory of President Kennedy’s visit to the city the year before was still fresh in the mind of Berliners, and Dr. King eulogized the slain president at a memorial service, but he also brought his own message of solidarity and hope, delivering a sermon before 20,000 people at the outdoor arena Waldbühne on September 13, 1964. Later that day, Dr. King managed to cross a GDR checkpoint into East Berlin without a passport and speak to thousands of people at two churches.
- “May I say that it is indeed an honor to be in 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. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.” Dr. King in the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in East Berlin on September 13, 1964
Dr. King’s timeless message of courage, hope and nonviolence resonated deeply with Germans living with the inhumane division of the inner-German border, and indeed it was through non-violent but courageous protests 25 years after Dr. King’s visit that the people living in the German Democratic Republic effected the opening of that border and the toppling of the totalitarian regime.