On her train ride back to Berlin, Funder decides to get off in Leipzig. She wanders through the city, noting the new buildings and museums. The government has funded an “effort to put the history of the separation of Germany behind glass.” One museum, the Contemporary History Forum Leipzig, contains samples of the Wall and interactive displays of important episodes in Berlin history. Funder is the only person in the museum, however.
The fact that Funder is the only one in the museum could symbolize the fact that most Germans simply aren’t ready to treat East Germany as history yet: they’re not ready to put their painful memories of the German state “behind glass.”
Funder leaves the museum and walks through the streets. She notices a girl, probably about sixteen years old. This would mean that she’s barely old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Funder thinks about how the girl is the same age that Miriam was when she tried to cross into West Berlin.
The sixteen year-old girl represents how rapidly concrete, visceral realities (such as the Berlin Wall) become figments of the past.
Funder calls Miriam and, to her amazement, Miriam answers and explains that she’s back in Leipzig. Miriam agrees to meet Funder. Over tea, Funder tells Miriam about her research, culminating in her visit to the Stasi File Authority office. Miriam tells Funder that, lately, there’s been a lot of nostalgia for East Germany, though many of the nostalgic people are too young to remember what the East German state was like. Miriam tells Funder that recently she found a copy of a poem Charlie wrote years ago. Funder suddenly realizes why she found the Leipzig museum strangely frustrating—“Things have been put behind glass, but they are not yet over.”
Miriam, more so than any other single character in the book, represents the idea that, though the new German state wants to be “through” with the past, the past is not through with the German people. In other words, East Germany history continues to play a part in German people’s day-to-day thoughts: their worries, their fears, their triumphs, etc.
Miriam shows Funder a photo of herself with Charlie. Funder gently asks Miriam what Charlie was like, and she says that Charlie was sensitive but reserved, with a good sense of humor. She loved her marriage, because she and Charlie were comfortable with being alone. Miriam recalls how hard life became when she and Charlie tried to leave East Germany—people harassed them in the streets.
Clearly Miriam is still haunted by the death of her husband, whom she seems to have loved dearly. Furthermore, she seems to have unconsciously taken all the troubles and traumas of her past and associated them with the still unsolved mystery of his death.
Miriam hasn’t given up trying to exhume Charlie’s coffin. Recently, she’s spoken with a witness who was in prison with Charlie on the day he supposedly hanged himself. That morning, the witness recalls, there was some kind of “commotion” in Charlie’s cell. Miriam guesses that the guards beat up Charlie and left him to die, slowly and painfully. Funder imagines that Miriam could be right—but she wonders, “will digging him up reveal anything?” Miriam, Funder realizes, wants “some kind of justice,” even if she doesn’t know exactly what.
Even after years of trying, Miriam hasn’t been able to solve the mystery of Charlie’s death. But as Funder points out, it’s not clear if finding the truth will bring Miriam any real peace or happiness. Miriam seems to feel an indescribable compulsion to learn about Charlie’s death—she has a sense that the truth will provide her with “some kind of justice” and, perhaps, some closure or satisfaction, easing the pain she’s felt for the last two decades.
Funder spends the night at Miriam’s house, and the next morning Miriam takes her to the station. On the train back into Berlin, Funder reads Charlie’s poem. It reads, “In this land / I have made myself sick with silence / In this land / I have wandered, lost / In this land / I hunkered down to see / What will become of me. / In this land / I held myself tight / So as not to scream. / - But I did scream, so loud / That this land howled back at me / As hideously / As it builds its houses. / In this land / I have been sown / Only my head sticks / Defiant, out of the earth / But one day it too will be mown / Making me, finally / Of this land.”
Charlie’s poem describes the relationship between people and their society (“the land”). Charlie’s tone is dark as he describes the way East Germany has censored him and tortured him—he even seems to prophesize his own death, noting how, one day, the land will cut off his head. And yet there’s also a valedictory, defiant tone to the poem as Charlie describes how, until the day he dies, he’ll cry out, denouncing his land—while still remaining a crucial part of it. In all, the poem seems to represent Charlie’s (and many other characters’) conflicted, often love-hate relationship with the East German state.
Back in Berlin, Funder watches people play in the park: “People shake infants up and down to make them calm, and children spin on swings and roundabouts I never noticed were there.”
The book ends on an ambiguous note. Over the course of her years in Berlin, Funder has learned a lot about East German history by interviewing people (symbolized, perhaps, by the “spins and roundabouts” she mentions here). She’s uncovered a lot of pain, as well as a lot of pride and triumph. Meanwhile, life goes on—children are being born, none of whom will ever entirely understand what it was like to live in East Germany before 1989. But in her book, Funder has tried to record some of the lost stories of the era—stories which future generations should study closely, both as cautionary tales and as sources of inspiration.