Amid the tension and tragedy, there are some flashes of levity. Taylor recounts how Vice-President Lyndon Johnson arrived in West Berlin to boost morale in the days after the borders were closed. Following a hero's welcome and much pressing of the flesh, Johnson asked West Berlin Mayor, Willy Brandt about the possibility of shopping for some quality porcelain during his visit. Brandt apologetically explained that as it was a Sunday, the shops were closed. "Well, goddammit! What if they are closed", exclaimed the furious Texan. "You're the mayor, aren't you?" Johnson got his porcelain.
Despite public condemnation, the West privately acknowledged little could be done about the Berlin Wall. As mayor, Willy Brandt wrote an angry letter to Kennedy demanding a robust American response to the crisis. But as Chancellor of West Germany, Brandt adopted a more conciliatory stance with the GDR. Taylor observes that during the 1980s, even as a deep freeze set in between the superpowers, the thaw between the two Germanys continued. During a visit to West Germany in 1987, East German leader Erich Honecker allowed himself a rare moment of melancholy, suggesting the borders between the two countries were not as they should be. By this time, East and West Berlin were divided by a sophisticated system of barriers, traps and checkpoints of which “the Wall” formed only the final frontier. Escape attempts had dwindled, and it seemed as if the East Germans had finally come to terms with life under a grim, brutal regime. But something was stirring.
No-one was prepared for the speed with which events moved. On the night of November 9 1989. Mikhail Gorbachev, who had loosened Moscow's grip on its satellite states, slept soundly as thousands breached the Berlin Wall. Meanwhile, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, making a visit to Poland’s new Solidarity government, discovered he was "dancing at the wrong wedding." Taylor's description of that night is enthralling. His minute-by-minute account captures the confusion surrounding a botched East German press conference and the subsequent euphoria at the newly-open border. Missing from this section, though, are the eyewitness accounts of ordinary Berliners which made the earlier chapters so vivid.