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From Deutsche Welle: “Remembering Martin Luther King’s visit to Berlin”

I check Deutsche Welle for news almost every day. I value its coverage. Here’s a special piece on “Remembering Martin Luther King’s visit to Berlin”:

September 13 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s sermon in East Berlin, which sent at least as powerful a message to his audience as Kennedy’s pledge of solidarity in West Berlin a year earlier.

On a sunny September afternoon, Irmtraut Streit is revisiting the scene of one of the momentous experiences of her life. “We didn’t know for sure if he was coming,” she says as she gazes around the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in the Mitte district of Berlin. “It hadn’t been announced anywhere, but we all showed up just in case.”

The daughter of a Baptist minister, she was 21 at the time and just married. “In Communist East Germany, we’d stand in line at a store without even knowing what we were queuing for, just because there was talk of something special available. We’d learnt to be very ‘let’s just wait and see’ about things.”

The talk that day in late summer, 1964, was of an impending appearance by none other than the world-famous pastor and social activist Martin Luther King. The word on the street was that he would be crossing Checkpoint Charlie that evening to give a sermon in East Berlin. From listening to banned West Berlin radio stations like RIAS and SFB, many already knew that he was visiting the “free” part of the city.

Invited by its charismatic mayor Willy Brandt, that morning he had spoken to a rapt audience of 20,000 at the Waldbühne and visited the neighborhood of Kreuzberg to look at the bullet holes in a house front where East German border guards shot and wounded a young man called Michael Meyer, who was attempting to flee. But a trip across the Wall was on no official agenda, either in West or East Berlin.

American Express will do nicely, thank you

Somehow, however, the news trickled through. “No one had a telephone, but the rumor spread like wildfire,” says Irmtraut Streit. By twilight, thousands had gathered expectantly at the church on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, among them a young Joachim Gauck, today’s President and the nephew of Gerhard Schmitt, who had recently been appointed general superintendent of the East Berlin church.

To the younger generation in particular, Martin Luther King was a hero. “My friends and I heard that he was going to speak in Mitte and we knew we had to be there,” recalls Hans-Joachim Kolpin, then a 15-year-old schoolboy. “We’d listened to his ‘I have a dream’ speech on the radio the previous year, and we loved everything to do with America, from chewing gum and Elvis Presley to ‘Bonanza’. We couldn’t believe that someone so prominent was actually bothering to come and talk to us! The Wall had been built three years before, leaving us effectively imprisoned. We felt forgotten by the world, insignificant. No one ever showed any interest in us – but the great Martin Luther King was coming to East Berlin! We couldn’t believe it.”

King was one of the key figures of the era, having playing a pivotal role in persuading the US Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act only months earlier. On the international stage, Cold War tension was rife. The State Department was none too keen on the activist’s plans to leave the American sector on the same day of the Michael Meyer incident, going so far as to confiscate his passport. Undeterred, he managed to cross the border anyway, recognized by border officials who accepted his American Express card as valid ID.

The East German authorities might not have formally sanctioned his visit, which had been initiated by Heinrich Grüber, provost at the Marienkirche, but they did nothing to impede it.

“King was opposed to the Vietnam War, he was an advocate for unions and workers’ rights,” points out Streit. “The Americans didn’t want him going off to talk to ‘the Communists’, but for its part, the Party didn’t mind at all.”

“East Germany had nothing against anyone who showed the US in a bad light,” says Kolpin. “So we knew all about the March on Washington and racial segregation. King was seen very positively.”

But he had the rare distinction of appealing both to the communist leadership and to people critical of the system. “He stood for revolutionary change but believed in nonviolent resistance,” remembers Streit. “He knew how to galvanize people, and that made him a role model to us.”

A confidence boost

Yet the church was unprepared for the crowds who turned out to hear him speak that evening, and a second appearance in the nearby Sophienkirche was hastily arranged.

Here too, there was standing room only, but what he actually said barely registered. Referring briefly to the “symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth” and stating that “here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact,” his sermon concentrated mainly on the “great social revolution taking place in the United States of America,” and, according to Kolpin, was most probably barely understood by his audience.

“I had a good view of him in the pulpit from where I was sitting and there was no mistaking his passion,” he says. “I can remember the sound of his voice to this day. But although what he said was obviously rousing, none of us spoke English and his interpreter’s delivery was so flat and expressionless that you stopped listening after a while.”

King was inspirational nonetheless. People flocked around him as he made his way out of the church, eager to shake his hand or get an autograph. Hans Joachim Kolpin was one of the lucky ones, leaving with a signed napkin he would treasure for decades to come.

To him, King’s visit as powerful evidence that the lines of communication to the West weren’t entirely severed. “It was an uplifting experience,” he says. “That night, the big wide world paid us attention. He made us feel better about ourselves.”

A year earlier, President Kennedy’s legendary “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech reassured the people of West Berlin that America would stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Although largely forgotten by the history books, Martin Luther King’s 1964 stopover in East Berlin gave hope to the half of the city that perhaps needed it even more.

Looking back, Irmtraut Streit traces the roots of the peaceful uprising of 1989 to that balmy fall evening. “It still amazes me that not a drop of blood was shed,” she says. “The overthrow of East Germany was a revolution very much in the spirit of Martin Luther King.”

Author: Jane Paulick

Editor: Rina Goldenberg

My favorite quote of the week

While looking through The New York Times book review section, I came across this quote:

“I don’t read my own books. I read the translations.” [best-selling fiction author Haruki Murakami]

How to publish a business book

Many speechwriters have asked me how to publish non-fiction books – in particular, business books. After years of doing anonymous speechwriting, they’d like to see their own name on the title of a book.

Many professional speakers have asked me the same question. They realize that a published book would increase their profile, enhance their credentials, and (absolutely!) boost their speaking rates.

With 2014 marking the 30th anniversary of How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press), I’m getting more publishing-related questions than ever. I’d encourage would-be authors to start by reading this piece: “Crown Publishing group editor Matt Inman reveals how to get your business book published”

Then, get familiar with ASJA (the American Society of Journalists and Authors). Attend their conferences. See how other writers have published successful business books. Network. Become active on Twitter. (Not on Twitter yet? Get moving. Publishers see Twitter as mandatory for marketing a book and promoting the author’s credentials.)

You’ve already got the idea for a book. Now gather the gumption to make it happen.

Was that a soccer star on the big screen?

When President Barack Obama spoke in Tallinn, Estonia on Wednesday, he got the same great media treatment enjoyed by top matches at 2014 World Cup events.

Speeches seldom wind up attracting crowds with big screen performances like sporting events, but this speech did.

Right there in Freedom Square (near the medieval old town in the Estonian capital), President Obama made NATO the topic of the day.

Once again: It’s not just what you say, it’s where you say it. And saying it in Estonia made his message resonate – both locally and globally.

How to charge for a freelance speechwriting assignment

Don’t know what to charge? Very basic: Start by asking the client, “What is your budget for this?” You will learn a lot from their answer. If they state a budget range (and most good clients do), it might be for a larger amount than you were initially willing to bid. Lucky you!

If they state a budget range that’s way/way too low, you can save the time of preparing a proposal. “Thank you for your interest in my work. However, that budget range is far lower than my speechwriting rates. I wish you well in finding the right person for your job.”

If they say, “We don’t have any budget in mind” … well, that seems unlikely [read: untruthful]. They surely have some kind of budget in mind: $500? $5,000? $15,000? $25,000? Perhaps they’re just on a “fishing expedition” to find out what various freelance speechwriters charge. Consider this a red flag. You might put 2 or 3 hours into writing a professional speechwriting proposal, never to hear from them again. Press them a bit: “When you hired your last few freelance speechwriters, what did you pay?” If they won’t answer that fundamental question, you don’t have to waste any more of your time. Bow out – graciously, but fast.

The new edition of How To Write & Give A Speech has a large chapter on hiring speechwriters. What you don’t know about the speechwriting hiring process can cost you money, time and frustration.

The King’s Speech … the book, not the movie

Last week, a colleague wrote to tell me that she had read a wonderful book: The King’s Speech – How One Man Saved the British Monarchy (written by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, published in 2010, based on the newly discovered diaries of Lionel Logue).

As it turns out, I read the book about a year ago and I concur with my colleague: This book is absolutely wonderful. I keep it by my desk just so I can remind myself of the power that lives in each speaker.

If you’re a speechwriter … if you’re a speaker … if you’re a speech coach … if you like history .. if you follow royalty … if you are keen on all things British … if you just plain like to read a fine book … then do not miss this book.

How to line edit a speech

A few days ago, I was coaching two top-level government speechwriters. Our discussions covered a range of significant speechwriting issues – working with clients who have incredibly busy schedules, serving our organizations effectively, creating speeches that generate positive media buzz.

But I told them: It’s your nitty-gritty line editing skills that will distinguish you as a professional speechwriter, and it’s your nitty-gritty line editing skills that will give your speakers a manuscript they can deliver with style.

I highly recommend Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing [The one book that shows you how to make what you say as good as what you mean], written by Claire Kehrwald Cook and published by the Modern Language Association.

Study this material. It will pay off.

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