Funder next goes to speak with Frau Paul, the woman whom the guide at the Stasi museum mentioned. Frau Paul turns out to be a woman in her early sixties. Over lunch, she tells Funder about her life in East Germany.
Funder first mentioned Frau Paul much earlier in the book, suggesting that she’s a particularly important interviewee—even the museum guide knew that she had defied the Stasi.
Frau Paul gave birth to a child in early 1961, a boy named Torsten. The birth was difficult, and Torsten had many health problems as a baby. In August, the Berlin Wall went up, and that same day Frau Paul learned that she no longer had access to the West German medicines that she’d been using to take care of her child. East German doctors managed to move the baby across the Wall just as it was being completed—this probably saved the baby’s life. Frau Paul was allowed to cross into West Berlin to attend her child’s christening, but her husband was not.
As sad as it was, Frau Paul’s situation wasn’t uncommon in 1961: the Berlin Wall tore apart families and entire communities. It’s a mark of West Berlin’s medical and technological superiority to East Berlin that Torsten was sent to a West Berlin hospital (and, in fact, West Berlin’s clear economic superiority was part of the reason the East German government built the Wall in the first place.)
As time went on, Torsten remained in the hospital and his condition continued to deteriorate. Frau Paul and her husband decided to move to West Berlin, where they’d be able to get better healthcare and be with their child. However, their request to move was denied. Frau Paul and her husband then met a man named Dr. Hinze, who was trying to find a way to send his son Michael into West Berlin.
After the building of the Wall, there were many who tried to cross into West Berlin in order to be with their friends and families and, furthermore, to enjoy a better quality of life. In light of this, von Schnitzler’s claim that the Berlin Wall was designed to “protect” East Germany seems particularly absurd.
After interviewing Frau Paul, Funder spoke to Michael Hinze about his experiences. He explained how, in 1961, his parents put him in contact with a group of ten students. At the time, East Germans with West German passports were allowed to pass into West Berlin as long as they bought a ticket to Denmark or Sweden—so Michael just bought the ticket and got off in East Berlin. Michael was able to forge a West German passport and escape into West Berlin.
Even in the first year of the Berlin Wall, a large black market of forged passports and shady business deals arose, suggesting that there were lots of people who wanted to cross into West Germany. Notice the intricate, almost cinematic way that Funder intercuts her interview with Frau Paul and her interview with Michael Hinze.
Funder resumes describing her interview with Frau Paul. Frau Paul and her husband tried to do exactly what Michael Hinze had done: forge West German passports and leave East Berlin. They joined forces with a man named Werner Coch, and some students. Coch “elaborates” on Frau Paul’s memories, explaining that he’d obtained a forged West German passport. On the day he and Frau Paul were scheduled to leave, however, he got word from the students that it wasn’t safe to leave, because the Stasi were cracking down on forged passports. Frau Paul and her husband burned their forged passports.
Crossing into West Germany on a forged passport was a risky gamble, because, if you were caught, the Stasi would have concrete proof that you’d broken the law. Unfortunately, Frau Paul has no choice but to destroy her forged passport. Funder presents her two interviews (one with Paul, one with Coch) almost as if Coch and Paul are speaking to one another, when in reality Funder speaks to Frau Paul, and later to Coch.
Funder again resumes describing her interview with Frau Paul. In February 1963, the students asked Frau Paul if they could stay in her apartment for a few days. There had been a secret tunnel between West and East Berlin, but the tunnel had collapsed—now, the students were trying to escape in a different way.
Even after their first attempt to cross into West Berlin was thwarted, the students tried another way, suggesting the urgency of their desire to leave East Germany.