Sir Freddie






Q: Continuation of the interview with Mr Robert Lochner, it's regarding the story of the visit of President Kennedy to Berlin. could I just ask you again how you met Kennedy and how you both kind of were together in Berlin and what happened?

A: It was General Clay who recommended me as interpreter to President Kennedy for his Germany visit. So about two weeks before I was called to Washington and my point of contact was President Kennedy's political adviser McGeorge Bundy, who asked me to prepare a few simple sentences in german with copy, and then took me to the Oval Office, nobody else was there, I handed one copy to the President, slowly read out the first sentence to him and asked him to repeat it. He did and it wasn't very good. As he looked up he must have seen my look of consternation and said, 'not very good was it?' So what do you say to a President under those circumstances? All I could think of was to blurt out, 'well, at least it was better than your brother Bobby,' who'd just been to Berlin and had mangled on several occasions sentences that he tried to pronounce in German. Fortunately President Kennedy took it lightly, smiled and turned to McGeorge Bundy and said, 'let's leave foreign languages to the distaff side,' of course referring to Mrs Kennedy's fluent french. So I mention it because in all the earlier appearances before the famous speech, in Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt, he never asked to even have three words written in German for him. After our triumphant tour through Berlin, which outdid anything we'd encountered in Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt, as we walked up the stairs to city hall, from the balcony of which he made his famous speech, he called me over and said, 'I want you to write out on a slip of paper for me "I am a Berliner" in German.' Which I did, up in Willy Brandt's office and he rehearsed it a couple of times and if you've ever heard the tape, it still wasn't exactly perfect but there isn't much you can do wrong with 'ich bin ein Berliner'. So after the speech we again stopped in Willy Brandt's office for a while and since I had instructions to stay close to President Kennedy in case he talked to some Germans, I couldn't overhearing McGeorge Bundy coming up to him and saying, 'Mr President, I think you went too far.' He had of course seized immediately that by saying it in German it gave it, if you wish, a far more aggressive character than if he'd simply said, 'I am a Berliner' in English, and my own conviction is that it would not have gone around the world the way it did if he'd said it simply in English. Proof of that is the President seemed to agree and pulled McGeorge Bundy and me over into a corner and made a few changes in the second major speech later on at the Free University, in which he toned down a few kind of challenges to the Soviets. So that's the story of my participation in the 'I am a Berliner' speech.

Q: Why do you think was Kennedy so welcomed in Berlin, particularly in Berlin?

A: Well, he was the star new President, popular all over the world and I would not see any other particular reason except that they were happy that he came to Berlin and he'd been on German television and so on, so he had made such a positive impact on the German population. I might say that three months later, to me no, I saw a lot of television reaction of other cities in the world to his assassination, to me no city in the world showed its grief as effectively as Berlin. Within minutes of the first nof the assassination Mayor Brandt went on the air over RIAS, the American s, and appealed to the West Berliners to put life candles in the windows. And of course I rushed down to the station, it was a Sunday and we changed the programme and relayed constantly to Washington, and so hours later, only at 11 o'clock or so at night, when I drove home, I saw hundreds of thousands of life candles which I'm sure no other city in the world did. So this of course came within such a few month of the tremendous visit by the President, but it was a very moving experience.

Q: I (cough) I would like to come back to talk a bit about your radio career, particular in RIAS. And you started, you came back I think in June or August of '61 to -

A: No, in March.

Q: In March, in march '61, to be head of the RIAS, what kind of policy did the RIAS have on the wall? On the issue.

A: No more policy than on anything else. As I mentioned earlier, all the news that's fit to broadcast. But within the framework of a reporting job, not as a political instrument, that's why my predecessor then turned down the invitation or demand from the East Berlin workers to seize the microphones to appeal to their fellow workers to join the uprising. So RIAS was never conceived as a propaganda station against the Communists, but the same way Clay had ordered us in '45 to build up new free democratic radio stations, RIAS was a model within the world of the Communist propaganda stations of bringing the objective truth. Now, you might ask why did the East Germans listen as all surveys before and after reunification brought out to RIAS as their main station? The answer is simple. They could of course get other German - West German stations, who all had relay stations along the East-West German boundary. They could listen to the German West Berlin station SFB, Station Free Berlin. But these were stations whose audience was the West Berliners in one case, the Bavarians, whatever. Of course the East Germans could listen in, but RIAS was constantly aware of the fact that they did not receive objective news, say, through their newspapers. In a West Berlin radio station or a West German, in an evening commentary you can take for granted that the listeners have found the main news from their newspapers. We were constantly aware of the fact that we had to bring background information for major news items, above all for commentary. And in that sense we were unique that we addressed ourselves to the needs of the East German population. As it turned out, in all the decades more West Berliners listened to RIAS than to their own station. But that was incidental, that was not our market. Our market was East Germany. And of course we couldn't reach all of it because for decades, though not up till the end the Communists continued to jam the medium wave broadcasts of RIAS. But we had quickly shifted, as did all of Germany after the loss of World War 2 (cough) to FM stations, because Germany as a whole lost more of its medium wave wavelengths, to the victor the spoils. So Germany had to shift over to FM much faster than other European countries, and FM of course is only line of sight, like television. So with an FM we could never reach the most Eastern part of the GDR, particularly the city of Dresden. But we had a relay station along the GDR Bavarian frontier which, and that's one of the mysteries of the blockade, which was never cut by the Soviets during the blockade. They cut everything else. Waterways, railroads, streets, but obviously a land line led from the RIAS building in West Berlin to this relay station in Bavaria and was never cut during the blockade. And I'm kind of waiting for somebody wading through the Soviet archives which are opening up now to find out, because it's to me totally incredible that they should have overlooked it. But otherwise why not cut it. So anyhow, even during the blockade this relay station in Hof in Bavaria reached kind of the soft underbelly of the GDR, but it did not reach enough into the East to, for instance, cover the city of Dresden, and that's why a lot of East Germans who (cough) in some cases were given attractive promotion offers to Dresden would under some subterfuge refuse to move there because there they were cut off from West German television and radio and that was a thing that a lot of East Germans valued more highly, this access, than a better job in Dresden.