In the evening, Funder walks through the park. She notices “drunks and punks” smoking and drinking in the grass. Back at home, she finds her door unlocked—Julia is there again, this time retrieving some old love letters. Funder asks Julia about homeless people in the park, and Julia explains that there were no homeless people before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She tells Funder than men look at Funder because she’s clearly foreign—apparently, she’s too pale to be German. Julia also mentions that she had an Italian boyfriend—something that Funder finds remarkable. Noticing that Julia is more talkative than usual, Funder asks her to stay for dinner, and Julia agrees.
Funder’s walk through the park suggests that, even after reunification, Germany is far from perfect—there are still criminals, homeless people, etc. Julia’s claim that there were no homeless people in East Germany isn’t just propaganda: the Communist regime made a point of allocating resources for the homeless, something that most capitalist societies don’t do. This complicates the narrative of East Germany as a wholly repressive and terrible state, though its positive aspects certainly don’t cancel out its human rights violations.
Julia Behrend and Funder are the same age, which means that Julia was 23 when the Berlin Wall came down. She’s currently studying Eastern European languages at Humboldt University. Her parents, Irene and Dieter, were teachers, and fairly suspicious of their country. As a result, Julia grew up skeptical of the East German government, yet she was never jailed for her beliefs. Dieter joined the Communist Party, but often spoke out against what he saw as its unfair methods. Dieter was also unwilling to adopt the standard party line about how East Germans weren’t in any way responsible for the Holocaust.
Julia grew up in a family of people who were unusually open in their opposition to the East German government, and her parent’s behavior was critical in inspiring her to speak out against her government. At times, it may seem unusual that Funder would speak with so many dissidents and subversives—where are the ordinary German people who went along with the state? But Funder’s book is focused on the former group of people—and, further, it was probably harder for her to find people of the latter type who’d be willing to speak to a stranger.
Julia excelled at languages as a young girl, and won prizes for translating Russian. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a translator. As she opens up to Funder, Funder begins to get an idea of what Julia’s life in East Germany has been like.
By learning about Julia’s individual experiences, Funder begins to get a vivid sense for what life was life in East Germany—and this, of course, is exactly what Funder wants readers to experience, too.