In 1961, Hagen Koch painted a line in the streets of Berlin, marking the future location of the Berlin Wall. Funder visits Koch in his apartment, which Koch jokingly calls the “Wall Archive,” since it’s full of old documents about the Wall. He shows Funder Stasi maps, showing secret Stasi locations throughout Berlin, and then sits down to tell her about his life.
Koch keeps his own private museum of information about the Wall. This is somewhat odd since, as we’ll see, he has strong objections to the East German state. The Wall itself, however, is an important part of his life for better or worse.
Koch talks about growing up in East Germany. For as long as he can remember, he was surrounded by German propaganda, and when he did well in school, his teachers could think of no higher compliment than to suggest he work for the Stasi. Love for the East German state, Funder realizes, was for all intents and purposes a religion—and like any religion, it had its own versions of heaven and hell and its own system of punishment and redemption. In German schools, teachers explained how history consisted of an evolution from chaos to Communist perfection.
Paradoxically, the Communist state of East Germany was extremely religious, despite the fact that it had banned almost all religion—the official “religion” of East Germany was Marxism itself, bolstered by a pseudoscientific theory of the historical dialectic.
Hagen Koch’s father, Heinz Koch, was born in Saxony in 1912, an illegitimate child and therefore a social outcast in German society of the time. He signed up for the military in 1929, and later fought for the Nazis in France. Peculiarly, Koch tells Funder that the Soviet state gave his father permission to ride a bike in 1945, suggesting that they’d vetted his father’s record and concluded “he wasn’t an evil person.” Funder senses that there’s a lot Koch isn’t telling her about his father.
Like many of Funder’s interviewees, Koch appears to be hiding something unsavory about his past or his family. The fact that Koch seems to go out of his way to emphasize that his father wasn’t evil would strongly suggest that Heinz Koch did something that Funder would find contemptible.
After the end of World War Two, Germany was divided between the Allied powers and the Soviet Union. In the West, the Allies prosecuted former Nazis and established democracy; in the East, the Soviets established a one-party system and stripped Germany of its factories. The “party line” on Nazism was that East German had never had Nazis—that was strictly a West German problem. Hagen Koch’s own father became a Socialist schoolteacher. At the time, there were many in the West who believed that Russia was creating a Socialist paradise in Germany.
One reason that fascism may still survive in German culture, as Funder has suggested in the previous two chapters, is that East Germany never came to terms with its own history—it simply denied that it was ever run by Nazis. East Germany in the late 1940s was a lot like Germany in the 1990s: many people wanted to believe that the new society would blossom into a “paradise.”
Heinz Koch ran for mayor in his small town, representing a moderate, non-Communist party, and won in a landslide. However, the Communist candidate was also the head of the voting commission, and declared himself the winner. Heinz was sentenced to work in a POW camp for seven years. A month later, his opponent, now the mayor, offered to get him out of prison, on the condition that he join the Communist Party. Heinz agreed, and he returned to teaching school.
Heinz was sentenced to prison, it’s implied, simply because he’d defeated his opponent in the election. Then his opponent pressured him into accepting the terms of the election, on the condition that he (Heinz) be released from jail. This is a good example of how East Germany had the trappings of democracy (like elections), but no real substance behind them.
In 1948, the Soviet Union tried to starve out West Berlin by cutting off the power. In response, the Allies sent troops and supplies to West Berlin. A rumor began to circulate in East Berlin that the American military was dropping beetles on East German crops, creating mass starvation. When Funder asks how anybody could believe such an absurd allegation, Hagen Koch points out that Americans bombed Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden.
For many Americans, it might seem absurd to think that America could be seen as an imperialist menace. But of course, America was responsible for destroying huge cities during World War Two, and for starting wars and installing regimes in foreign countries even to the present day. While the idea of America as an “evil empire” is rejected by most Westerners, during the Cold War it was a central aspect of Communist ideology.