Sir Freddie






Q: You said earlier that the Vice President came over. can you describe that kind of - the coup - the hours, say, he kind of met -

A: Oh indeed I can, because I was his interpreter the whole period that he was in Berlin. It started out at the airport, was a lovely sunny day, with Mayor Brandt picking him up in his open convertible car, and of course that was just what Johnson loved. he could press the flesh and he could get out and do baby kissing and so on. And our first stop was at the McNair barracks where he had lunch with American military. And Brandt of course left. And when Johnson came out to go on with the programme there was the big closed Cadillac of the US mission. And he was furious and he asked who is responsible for transportation, and some pitiful Major showed up and he roared at him that he demanded an open car so that he could be seen by the people. So that was my first of many negative impressions. The next day, when we drove around the city, again there was only the closed Cadillac and Johnson was very angry, because he thought somehow the US should have succeeded in getting an open car. So we were sitting as follows in the front, the driver, myself and a secret service man, and in the rear Mayor Brandt to the left, then the American ambassador, a career ambassador, and Johnson to the right. Dowling was his name. And we had hardly gone 10-20 yards when Johnson ordered the American ambassador to kind of squat on the floor of the car, put his arms around Johnson's left leg, who thereupon opened the door, held himself with his left arm at kind of a railing there, let his right leg dangle and thus we drove through Berlin with his waving to the crowd, with the American ambassador sitting there with his arms around Johnson's left leg. At one stage we took the city highway where there were no crowds and poor Dowling was allowed to sit down for a little while. But Johnson was still in aggressive mood, so he suddenly said, of course I didn't have to interpret because Willy Brandt spoke fluent English, he said, 'Mr Mayor, I understand you have some very fine porcelain in this town.' Yes, says Brandt, 'the famous KPM, the old Prussian manufacturer.' 'Let's go there.' So Brandt says, the second day was Sunday the 20th, 'the store's closed today.' So fortunately I just ducked and didn't have to turn around. Johnson roars, 'what good are you as the Mayor of this city if you can't get a store open for the Vice President of the United States?' So you can imagine what happened. The secret service man started immediately to do some phoning and of course they roused somebody who went to the famous KPM and we, as part of the trip, stopped over there and Johnson selected a nice porcelain service for Lady Bird and Linda Bird and all the other Birds, which the German taxpayer paid for. that was the end of that particular incident. There was another similar incident in which I didn't participate, but that also I suppose went round the world. That he liked the shoes that Willy Brandt was wearing and he demanded to be taken to the store to get a similar pair of shoes, and of course again there was some alert and dozens of pairs were put out for his selection and he did pick one. But that was nowhere near as bad, because I was not personally involved, as the worst crisis in my career as an interpreter was when later in the day he made his big formal speech to the Berlin city parliament, and of course it was live television and radio, everything else. And at one stage he did give me a chance to do it more or less sentence by sentence. At one stage he said something I did not understand. I come from New York, and with his Texas accent, and I had to ask him to repeat it. And the second time I still didn't understand it. So in that split second I thought if I say a second time would you repeat that Mr Vice President he'll roar, 'get me a competent interpreter or something like this,' all this on live television. So I translated, as it turned out, something that was near enough it turned out, I later listened to the tape, that he said in

Q: You had a very different experience a couple of years later of being a translator for Kennedy. How was that?

A: Indeed it -to put it simply, it only confirmed the admiration I'd had for him beforehand. The whole three and a half days, whatever it was, not only in Berlin but in Bonn and Cologne and Frankfurt before I was his interpreter and in three days close to a person like that you get your own personal impression. For one thing, I was witness at the Cologne Cathedral when he and Adenauer attended mass. I sat in the row behind him in the famous Cologne Cathedral, and I could see how as you're required in a mass to constantly kneel down and sit down again, how he was obviously having great pain in his back and yet he never lost his patience during the whole time, which were surely stressful days. And I might mention how it - how I happened to be chosen. It was General Clay who recommended me, and therefore several days before he came to Germany I was asked to come to the White House and meet him and George Bundy, his political adviser, had asked me beforehand to prepare a few simple sentences in German. He took me into the Oval Office, I gave one copy to the President and slowly read out the first simple sentence that I had put down in German, words of welcome, and asked him to repeat it. And he did and I confess it was pretty awful. And my face must have shown it. He looked up and said, 'not very good was it?' So what do you say to a President of those circumstances? I could only think of stammering, 'well, at least it was better than your brother Bobby,' because he'd just been to Berlin and had tried on several occasions to say something in German and it was god-awful. You couldn't understand a word. So fortunately the President took it lightly and said with a smile to George Bundy, 'let's leave foreign languages to the distaff side,' and of course referring to Mrs Kennedy's fluent French. So I mention it because after that in the all the speeches in West German and so on, he didn't try so much as to say five words in German. So then how do we get to the ich bin ein Berliner? Well, the story is very simple. After our triumphant drive around Berlin, which outdistanced everything we'd seen in Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt, estimate is that two thirds of the Berlin's population were on the street, as we walked up the stairs to city hall, from the balcony of which he made his famous speech, he said to me I should he called me over and asked me, once we got to Willy Brandt's office to write out on a slip of paper for him, 'I am a Berliner' in German. Which he then tried a couple of times in Brandt's office while the crowd was roaring outside. And if you've ever heard the tape it is still not exactly perfect, but these are such simple words that everybody could understand them. So after the speech it obviously was not in the manuscript, because he asked me to give him this on a slip of paper. After the speech we came back briefly to Willy Brandt's office again. There were a lot of German dignitaries and therefore I had obvious instructions to stick close to the President in case he talked to some Germans. McGeorge Bundy walked up to him and since I was close I couldn't help overhearing his saying, 'Mr President, I think you went too far.' McGeorge Bundy had of course immediately seized that his saying it in German gave it infinitely more oomph than if he'd said it in English, and I'm convinced it wouldn't have gone around the world the way it did if he'd just said in English I'm a Berliner. The President seemed to agree. Because he pulled McGeorge Bundy and me over to a relatively quiet corner and thereupon made a few changes in the second major speech later at the Free University, toning down a little bit the aggressive language vis-a-vis the Soviets. And I made the changes in my copy. So to me that is proof that he agreed with McGeorge Bundy.

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