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Robert Lochner, 84; Assisted Kennedy on 'Berliner' Speech

September 23, 2003|From Associated Press

BERLIN — Robert H. Lochner, who as John F. Kennedy's interpreter helped the president practice his famous 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, has died, his family said Monday. He was 84.

A journalist who helped revive free media in West Germany after World War II, Lochner died of a lung embolism early Sunday at his home in western Berlin, according to his daughter, Anita.

Lochner was head of Radio in the American Sector, a radio station supported by the U.S. government, in West Berlin during Kennedy's triumphal visit to West Germany and the non-Communist half of the divided capital during the Cold War.

The high point was Kennedy's electrifying speech on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin, a ringing defense of freedom less than two years after East Germany built the Berlin Wall.

Lochner would later recall that, as he and Kennedy walked up the steps to the city hall in West Berlin for the president's speech, Kennedy asked him to write on a piece of paper in German, "I am a Berliner."

Lochner helped Kennedy practice the key phrase with the help of the phonetic spelling "ish been oin bear-lee-ner."

The president practiced it a few times before stepping out on the balcony for his speech.

Lochner would later say that his experience with Kennedy was the highlight of his career as an interpreter.

Born in New York City, Lochner grew up in Berlin. His father, Louis P. Lochner, was a correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning bureau chief in Germany for Associated Press from 1924 until the United States entered the war in 1941.

After studying in the United States, the younger Lochner returned to Germany as a U.S. soldier after the Nazi surrender.

Because of his knowledge of German, he became chief interpreter for U.S. occupation forces in western Germany and chief editor of the Neue Zeitung newspaper in Frankfurt from 1949 to 1952. Later jobs took him to Vietnam and Washington, before he retired to Berlin.

Lochner's survivors include three daughters and a son.

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