A New Arrival in West Berlin

Arnulf Mrose, 72, had fled East Berlin shortly before Kennedy’s speech. That meant he was able to listen to Kennedy’s speech on June 26, 1963.

Jun 04, 2013

Arnulf Mrose studierte und promovierte an der Freien Universität.
Arnulf Mrose studied math at Freie Universität and earned his doctorate there. Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher
“We mathematicians are sometimes viewed as a bit boring, but I definitely didn’t want to miss this visit: Just think, John F. Kennedy at Freie Universität! There were no seats for us normal students, of course, but one of my classmates – who I am happy to say later became my wife – and I stood in line for a long time and managed to snag a pair of tickets.

We did end up getting relatively close to the stage. My wife was clearly visible in a white blouse and colorful skirt in some photos in the papers. She covered me a bit.

I didn’t hear the ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech from the Schöneberg city hall, and I also only understood bits and pieces of the speech in Dahlem. I was a new arrival in West Berlin, and I couldn’t speak much English. That’s because I am actually from East Berlin. I grew up in Grünau. But in the East, I would not have been permitted to study at a university because I was the son of a commercial representative – a capitalist, as the authorities saw it.

To this day, I am grateful to those associated with Freie Universität who helped me get to West Berlin. They managed to get me a fake Swiss passport with my picture, a ticket for the West Berlin transit network, a little bit of Western money, and a sedative pill – if I hadn’t had that, I would probably have spilled the beans at the checkpoint. It made it possible for me to study in West Berlin.

When Kennedy promised to protect us, I was hugely relieved, believe me. But I hoped in vain that those living walled away in East Germany would also share in that relief. They ended up having to wait until 1989.”

About the witness

Arnulf Mrose, 74, studied mathematics at Freie Universität, where he also earned his doctorate, in the 1950s and 1960s. He worked for a time as a research assistant, but ultimately decided on a teaching career. The nicest thing about his studies: He met the woman who became his wife on campus in Dahlem. She took pictures during Kennedy’s visit; the slides have been preserved.

Read more about the witness in the magazine wir, the magazine for Freie Universität alumni (PDF).