‘Have you travelled yourself since the Wall came down?’ I ask. She throws her head back. I see she is wearing purple eyeliner which, at that angle, phosphoresces.
‘Not yet. But I'd like to. Bali, something like that. Or China. Yes, China.’
The Stasi guards had asked to see the demonstrators’ identity cards, in a strange parody of the control they were, at that very moment, losing. The demonstrators, in shock, obediently pulled their cards from their wallets. Then they seized the building.
‘Look.’ Uwe touched my forearm gently, turning me towards him like a dance partner. His eyes were green and slanted up, his teeth short and neat, little pearls. ‘You're probably right. No-one here is interested—they were backward and they were broke, and the whole Stasi thing...’ He trailed off. His breath was minty. ‘It’s sort of...embarrassing.’
On the eleventh night, Miriam gave them what they wanted. ‘I thought, “You people want an underground escape organization? Well, I'll give you one then.”’
Fleischer had won.
Even in that terrible light, I could still see his head injuries. And I could see his neck—they'd forgotten to cover it up. There were no strangulation marks, nothing.
The German media called East Germany ‘the most perfected surveillance state of all time’. At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees—more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people.
It was a close call, but Germany was the only Eastern Bloc country in the end that so bravely, so conscientiously, opened its files on its people to its people.
Either Herr Winz doesn't know much, or he's not telling. He won't respond to my questions about the Insiderkomitee or talk about himself either. Each time I ask him about the reality of life in the GDR he returns to the beauties of socialist theory. I think he hopes, through me, to sow the seeds of socialism in an untainted corner of the world.
Whenever he stayed with her, the surveillance was intense and overt.
The couple could hardly leave the house without being stopped by the police and asked to account for themselves.
Her voice is slow. ‘I think I'd totally repressed that entire episode,’ she says. ‘Maybe what came later, the whole 1989 story, was so severe that other things just fell away. Otherwise, I can't explain it.’
Julia doesn't know why the Stasi was afraid of them complaining to Honecker. Possibly because both her parents were teachers, and outwardly conformist, or because the Stasi had no ‘legal’ basis for what it had done to her. Who knows? It is one of the very rare occasions when the bluff was called and someone ‘won’ against the Firm.
‘The amazing thing was,’ Julia says, ‘the next week I was rung up about a job.’ She was taken on as a receptionist in a hotel. It looked like she would work there for her lifetime.
And when we started to get tied up in this ridiculous GDR success propaganda—exaggerated harvest results and production levels and so on—I withdrew from that altogether and confined myself to my specialist area: the work against imperialism.
She is convinced that, in the amnesties of 1990, mistakes were made and the serial rapist was released. ‘It was terrible that this happened to me right at that time,’ she says. ‘It meant that before the good things about the west got to us, this negative thing—the letting loose of the criminals—affected me.’
Was this the point? Was Koch using the available evidence—in this case a bicycle permit—to construct or confirm a story of his father's innocence during the war? There's clearly a portion of the past here that cannot be pinned down with facts, or documents. All that exists is permission to ride a bike.
The Stasi subjected him to disciplinary proceedings on account of ‘inconstancy’, and in their files attributed the remarriage to ‘the repeated negative influence of Frau Koch’.
Klaus worked for years in the west as a sound-man in the theatre. After the Wall came down, he found out that ‘we'd become a cult band in the GDR—our records were more expensive than a Pink Floyd album’.
It seems to me that Frau Paul, as one does, may have overestimated her own strength, her resistance to damage, and that she is now, for her principles, a lonely, teary guilt-wracked wreck.
I am working in a feminist bookshop near Berkeley, and have made some friends. We went on a ‘Reclaim the Night’ march recently, something that made me feel real positive, and far away from Thüringen and everything that happened here.
He is telling me, in his quiet way, that the resources united Germany is throwing at this part of reconstructing the lives of its former East German citizens are pitiful, some kind of Sisyphean joke. What he is running here is an almost totally symbolic act.
Things have been put behind glass, but it is not yet over.