Andreas Gedin's Ich Bin Ein Berliner
Freespace, Sydney, May 11 - June 8, 2002
"Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a Berliner" (and can also
mean "I am a doughnut"). In 1963, JFK went to West Berlin. His
visit came just a year after the ignominious Wall had sliced the
country and its people in two. Kennedy gave his speech right
beside the Wall so that it would be heard by the people of East
Berlin. The video begins with a voice over of JFK's speech. At
the time, his famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner" were a
message of political solidarity with West Germany. But in
today's Germany, what is the meaning of "Ich bin ein Berliner"?
In Gedin's video this famous line is pulled from the news reels
of history and transformed into a mantra of power and exclusion.
Ich Bin Ein Berliner centres on a student and a teacher. Over
many unrelenting minutes a beleaguered student, with
innocently imperfect pronunciation, attempts to say the famous
line. She, the teacher, is dressed in black; he, the student, is
dressed in red; and the backdrop to their unsuccessful efforts is
yellow. The patriotic colours loom large, the camera is coolly
detached and the actors' faces deadpan. Facing front, the pair
never once look at each other. Their body language is stiff,
formal and unforgiving.
In this minimalist video there is the awkward trinity of the
native/the teacher, the foreigner/the student and the omniscient
German flag. His competent articulation remains to the end
unacceptable to his teacher. Why is this? "Identification through
language is something very important. To belong to a group you
need to speak the same language. The poor Greek man in my
video will never belong to Germany."
Ich Bin Ein Berliner is as much about the power and politics of
language as it is about the futility and absurdity of language. It
brings to mind Ionesco's play, The Lesson, where an innocent
student allows himself to be savagely victimised by his teacher.
"Another, connected interest of mine in this video is the
sadomasochistic situation in teaching/learning."
"Kennedy has a heavy accent when he says this in German,"
says Gedin. "It is obvious that he never could be taken for a
German. On the other hand it doesn't matter because he's from
'The Free World'".
This is, of course, in beautifully stark contrast to the student. The student may well be Greek, but he may as well be Turkish or
Moroccan or Albanian, or even Jewish. For all the student's
desire to be a Berliner he never can be because the status of the
foreigner is irrevocable. Language alone is no guarantee of
The video ends with the same bloated colours of the German
flag. Whereas they had initially only seemed humorous, they
now appear cynical and forbidding.
Ich Bin Ein Berliner has previously been exhibited at:
Kristiansstads Konsthall, solo show, Sweden (2002) Galve
Knostcentrum, solo show, Sweden (2001) In Utopian
Landscape, group show, Zinc Gallery, Stockholm (2001) In As If
You Mean What You Say, group show, Tokyo (2001)