“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.”
–John F. Kennedy, Berlin, June 22, 1963
Introduction: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
During the Cold War between the US and the erstwhile USSR, no matter what the strategic issue, Berlin seemed to be the most likely place on the earth where the contest would inevitably be played out. Like a canary in a coal mine, the success or failure of the economically prosperous but strategically imperiled enclave of West Berlin functioned as a sort of geopolitical thermometer, highlighting whether the capitalist West or communist East had the overall advantage.
After a number of fraught years, the outcome became clear. By 1958, stifled by a grey system of endless, soulless, repression and a sclerotic economy, people (ironically to paraphrase Lenin) were voting…