Abstract: This article focuses on the puzzling circumstances that led to the production of the first bottle of Coca-Cola in Eastern Europe—in Bulgaria in 1965. The curious story line is revisited because, while opposition to the expansion of the iconic drink after World War II particularly in Eastern Europe, has been well studied, more has come to light about the economic activities and intentions of the Bulgarian Communist Party. A central argument is that the ideological opposition of communist parties across Europe held less power than did local economic interests. What looked like the surprising “breakthrough” of Coca-Cola instead fit a general strategy to intensify trade with the West. The article broadens the understanding that local actors contributed to the cracking of the Iron Curtain at least as much as did the “irresistibility”of Western culture.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1961, American film director Billy Wilder was in Berlin shooting the comedy One,Two,Three. In one scene, the main character, Coca-Cola executive C. R. Mac Namara (James Cagney), claims that his company will be the first to breach the Iron Curtain. “Napoleon blew it. Hitler blew it. But Coca-Cola’s gonna pull it off,” he says. Typically, the seeming absurdity of such an idea would have been enough to make people laugh. But that particular summer, not many people were laughing at Billy Wilder’s humor. On the morning of August 13, when the Hollywood crew showed up at the shooting location next to the Brandenburg Gate, they were astonished to find the set literally divided in two. Through it, built overnight, ran the Berlin Wall.
The comedy was eventually completed after shooting was moved to a parking lot in Munich. When the movie finally hit screens in Germany and the United States, audiences found it unnerving rather than funny. It took another two decades before its brilliant humor could finally be appreciated—the film achieved box-office success only after being re-released in 1985.
While the comedy may not have seemed very amusing back in 1961, it did prove to be prophetic. Audiences, of course, had no way of knowing this at the time, nor did the film’s creators. In retrospect, though, we can see that at least two of the movie’sfictional premises anticipated real historical events.
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