Funder takes the train to Nuremberg so she can visit the Stasi File Authority office, located in a village nearby. The director, Herr Raillard, has run the office since 1995. There, dozens of people—and not, contrary to rumor, strictly women—are paid to reassemble shredded documents. Computers could, in theory, do the work, but, according to Raillard, these wouldn’t count as “originals,” and therefore wouldn’t be legally authoritative. Raillard takes Funder into a room of workers sifting through masses of shredded paper.
Funder ends her book by focusing on the symbolic work of painstakingly reassembling the shredded legacy of East Germany. Bizarrely, the intricacies of German law make it impractical for computers to reassemble the documents, even though they’d be able to do so much more quickly than human workers. As a result, it’s going to be a long time before all Germans know the truth about Stasi surveillance.
When Funder interviews workers at the office, they tell Funder they’re still moved and baffled by the size of the Stasi surveillance effort. One employee criticizes the Stasi for manipulating people into informing on their friends and family—but also points out that the Stasi officers were themselves manipulated. Raillard shows Funder calculations suggesting that it would take 40 people nearly 400 years to reassemble the shredded documents—and there are only 31 people in the office. Funder is stunned. She thinks about Miriam and the hidden files that changed her life forever, and wonders when, if ever, these files will be reassembled.
By the time some of the Stasi surveillance files are reassembled, the people they concern will be long deceased. Clearly, the government could speed up the process by hiring more workers, but the German state seems to be deliberately trying to keep the process slow. But this raises the further question of whether reassembling the files will accomplish anything at all: even if the people have a right to know the truth about the Stasi, will the truth make them feel any better, or make up for the years of paranoia and fear?