Funder works in television in the former West Berlin. Her boss is a man named Alexander Scheller, and her duties include answering letters from German television viewers. Another one of her colleagues is Uwe Schmidt, whose job is essentially “to appear busy and time-short.”
Funder works full-time while conducting her interviews. It’s interesting that her job involves communicating with (and, presumably taking at least some suggestions from) TV viewers. This suggests that new German TV is less authoritarian and more accommodating of audiences’ tastes than was the case in East Germany.
Funder receives a letter from a German viewer regarding the famous “puzzle women”—women who try to reassemble the files the Stasi shredded in their final days. The viewer explains that he wants to do a story on what life is like for East Germans living in the mid-1990s. Scheller is reluctant to approve such a story, however. He insists that the East Germans weren’t really a nation—just some Germans who happened to live under Communism. Funder is forced to tell the writer that, regrettably, her TV station doesn’t have any interest in doing “point of view” stories like the one he’s proposed—the station focuses on current affairs. Funder receives another letter from the same viewer, in which he angrily explains that current affairs are made from “point of view” stories like the one he’s proposed. He compares the current German state to Germany in the postwar years—reluctant to discuss or even acknowledge its recent history.
At first, Funder tries to use her TV connections to study the legacy of East Germany in the 1990s—or, put another way, she tries to integrate her job with her hobby. When this fails, however, Funder is forced to pursue her research on her own time, ultimately publishing her findings in book-form instead of broadcasting them on television. Contemporary German society presents East Germany as a historical phenomenon in museums, but it seems less willing to remember individual stories from former East German citizens. Perhaps this is because individual stories are messier, more challenging, more morally complex, and generally harder to categorize than the kinds of broader historical narratives one finds in a museum.
In 1996, Funder’s train arrives in Leipzig. There, Funder meets Miriam Weber, a woman in her mid-forties. Miriam explains to Funder that she became an “Enemy of the State” as a teenager. Back in 1968, she was involved in demonstrations against the destruction of the Leipzig University Church. Later, after the police began attacking demonstrators, Miriam and her friend made pamphlets criticizing the police. A few days later, the Stasi tracked her down. At the time, information in East Germany was closely monitored—even something as simple as checking out a book from the library was subject to strict government surveillance. Miriam spent a month in solitary confinement. Later, she was released to await her trial for the crime of sedition. At the tail end of 1968, she caught a train to Berlin, hoping that she’d be able to escape over the Berlin Wall.
Miriam Weber is one of the most important characters in the book, as well as one of the only East Germans with whom Funder meets more than once. Her behavior in the sixties, seventies, and eighties represents many different aspects of the East German experience: the courage of ordinary people under pressure; the cruelty of the Stasi; the omnipresence of government surveillance.