In 1985, Hagen Koch continues, Heinz died. Koch was banned from the funeral, and he became so furious that he resigned from the Stasi again. He was then transferred into the regular East German army. Before he left the Stasi, Koch took a tiny souvenir—a little plastic plate his unit had won for its “cultural work.” Three weeks after he left, he got a call from the Stasi, accusing him of stealing the plate. Later, he got a call from the District Attorney, demanding the plate’s return. However, Koch was never prosecuted for his theft.
Koch stole the plastic plate not because it was inherently valuable—either to him or to anyone else—but because it took on a greater significance after he stole it. The plate represented his defiance and independence, and his refusal to go along with the Stasi’s commands (even if his act of rebellion against them was comically tiny).
In 1993, Hagen Koch was interviewed for German television, and the interviewer, noticing the distracting glare from the plate on the wall, asked Koch to remove it. Koch fiercely refused. A couple days after the interview aired, German soldiers showed up at Koch’s apartment, demanding the plate’s return. Koch refused to allow the soldiers inside, and a few days later, he was charged with theft. Then, unexpectedly, the allegations were withdrawn—they were outside the statute of limitations. However, Koch was now charged with perjury, since he’d formally claimed not to know where the plate was. Koch was never tried, but his wife lost her job. However, Koch tells Funder, “All the courage I had is in that plate.”
Evidently, Stasi soldiers noticed the plate in the background of Koch’s TV interview (and it’s even possible that Koch left the plate up in order to mock any Stasi viewers). As time went on, Koch’s theft of the plate became a test of his resolve as well as a symbol of his defiance. Even though it would have been easy for him to return the small, worthless plate, doing so would have signaled Hagen’s surrender to the state’s authority. Hagen’s behavior suggests the ways that Germans found tiny, symbolically loaded ways to rebel against the Stasi.
Shortly after this interview, Funder calls Miriam and leaves a message to ask if they can talk more. She goes to the station where, years ago, Miriam almost made it into West Germany. Where the Wall used to stand there’s now a stretch of grass. Funder walks along the grass, remembering what Miriam told her about avoiding the dog and cutting herself on barbed wire.
The East German state is no more—even the Berlin Wall, the main symbol of East German might, is rubble. And yet the memory of those forty years lives on in Miriam and, now, in Funder and her readers.