At the age of the sixteen, Julia worked as an usher at the annual Leipzig Fair. There, she met her Italian boyfriend, a much older man who worked for an Italian computer company. For two years, they had a long-distance relationship, but occasionally visited one another in Hungary. When Julia’s boyfriend visited her in Germany, they were surveilled—police officers would tail them, terrifying the boyfriend. Julia’s phone lines were also certainly tapped.
East Germany was such an insular society that it was automatically suspicious when any of its citizens became romantically involved with foreigners—even in the case of Julia, a teenager girl who seemed to have no real plans to undermine the state’s authority. It’s a sign of the Stasi’s size that it had the resources to monitor relatively low-risk people like Julia.
As a teenager, Julia was mandatorily sent to boarding school; the authorities never offered an explanation. At school, she and her classmates were forced to watch state-sponsored news programs, as well as a program called Der Schwarz Kanal, in which the presenters attacked Western media. One day in 1984, the boarding school headmaster met with Julia’s parents and begged them to convince Julia to break up with her boyfriend. The state, Julia tells Funder, must have assumed she was planning to leave East Germany.
Julia’s story would suggest that she was moved to another school so that the Stasi could monitor her and influence her behavior more easily (perhaps the headmaster was a Stasi collaborator).
Julia graduated from school with superb grades, and applied to become a state translator. However, she failed the translation exam—not because she was bad at languages, but because she flunked the “political exam,” in which she was asked questions about the East German government and had to recite the standard “socialist catechism.” Some of Dieter’s friends privately told Dieter that Julia would never be allowed to become a translator. Instead, Julia applied to become a receptionist at a hotel; although the interview went perfectly, she was never hired.
The East German state wanted its translators to be politically loyal, not just to excel at languages As a result, an extremely talented student like Julia was unable to get a good job. Furthermore, it’s strongly implied that the Stasi, suspicious of her relationship with her Italian boyfriend, rigged her exam and job interviews to ensure that she wouldn’t be able to find work.
Desperate for work, Julia went to the East German “Employment Office.” Julia explained that she needed work because she was unemployed, at which point the office officials told there, “There is no unemployment in the German Democratic Republic.” Julia realized that she would have to marry her Italian boyfriend and leave. But when she met him in Hungary, she broke up with him.
By the time she was in her late teens, Julia had hit against the limits of East German society: because of something as trivial as who she was dating, she was unable to find work and, furthermore, she was unable to find anyone who would listen to her problem—since, by definition, it conflicted with the usual “party line” about how perfect East German society was.