Wearing Brooklyn Pride

Wearing Brooklyn Pride

August 30, 2012 at 4:00 am

How Do You Say Brooklyner in German?

The Gentleman's Shop on 458 Bergen Street in Brooklyn displays a shirt that references a famous line from a speech President John F. Kennedy gave in Berlin. Photo MetroFocus/C. Knight

The bestselling design of  Magdalena Concepts, “Ich bin ein Brooklyner,” isn’t due to an increase in German speakers in Brooklyn, but to the significance of a speech given by President John F. Kennedy on June 26, 1963.

The Berlin Wall caught the world off-guard during the Cold War. In his first visit to West Berlin since the city was essentially walled off in 1961, Kennedy spoke outdoors in front of tens of thousands. He famously closed his message of solidarity with these words:

“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.'”

The crowd wildly appreciated the president’s use of German and the sentiment, but some media, and perhaps a few doughnut sellers, made sure the speech was remembered for an entirely different reason. By virtue of the fact that there is a jelly-filled pastry called a “Berliner,” and that Kennedy used the article “ein (“a”) in front of “Berliner,” the leader of the free world technically also said: “I am a jelly doughnut.”

Designer Magdalena Santos selling her wares at the Artists and Fleas holiday market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in Dec. 2011. Photo courtesy of Magdalena Concepts.

After spotting the shirt at The Gentleman’s Shop on Bergen Street in Park Slope, MetroFocus tracked down designer Magdalena Santos, 26,  for an interview.  Her company prints all its wares by hand in Sunset Park, on made-in-the-USA textiles.

Q: When you introduce this shirt to store owners, what percentage know what it means?

A: Actually a pretty high percentage, and for those who don’t, I give them a two-sentence summary of the story. I’ve been surprised by how many people do get the reference, and by how many Germans live in Brooklyn.

Ich bin ein Brooklyner is my best seller. It came out November of 2010. Anything that has anything referring to Brooklyn at all,  most store owners support. The most hesitance I get is from people who feel they’re not an authentic Brooklyner. They’ll say,  “but I was born in Queens.”

Q: Can you track where your online sales are going to?

A: A lot of them are sold in NYC. It’s a nostalgic gift. I have one guy who sent it to his grandmother in Germany, who was there when the Berlin Wall fell.

Q:  Have you done any other Brooklyn items?

I have a baby version of it and I’m working on other ideas that are New York in general, like “post no bills.” I guess inside jokes among locals. Ich bin ein Brooklyner set a high bar for something unique or original. I don’t want to do something that’s been done.

Q: Why did you choose this way to put Brooklyn in one of your designs?

I made this company as an outlet for several different venues of who I am. It fuses what I enjoy. I take what I love and what I would wear. That [the Brooklyner shirt] was something that I liked. It was a whim in a way and I had no idea how many people would get it. The inside joke aspect, a little twist of being slightly erudite. It attracted me.

Q: What is a Brooklyn characteristic that you identify with?

Wow, there are so many of them. Self-expression. Freedom of expression. I think there’s a lot of that in Brooklyn as apposed to Manhattan, which is more trendy, versus here, where everybody is themselves.


MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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