Jakob Abs is killed crossing the railroad tracks, tracks he has crossed many times in the past. His death leads several people to recall what they know of his life and to speculate about his death.
Rohlfs, an East German secret agent, is observing Heinrich Cresspahl in the small northeastern town of Jerichow because Cresspahl’s daughter, Gesine Cresspahl, works for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in West Germany. Gesine met Jakob Abs when he and his mother arrived in Jerichow as refugees from Pomerania at the end of World War II. She was thirteen and he eighteen at the time. They soon developed a brother-sister relationship, which they have continued through her university years and his time working at a railroad job in another town. Gesine finally decided to leave Communist East Germany and move to West Germany.
Rohlfs talks to Jakob’s mother about the goals of socialism; she asks Heinrich Cresspahl to carry two suitcases for her to the train station, which causes the rumor that Cresspahl has left for West Germany. Jakob, who works as a dispatcher for the state-owned East German railroad, is contacted by Rohlfs and receives a telegram from Cresspahl, saying that his mother has gone to the West.
Jonas Blach leaves East Berlin, where he teaches English at the university; he meets Gesine in the street when she is walking with American officers to their car. In Jerichow, he is introduced to Jakob at Cresspahl’s house, where Jakob has gone because his mother has left. Some time before he traveled to Jerichow, Jakob broke up with his girlfriend, Sabine. As usual, Rohlfs is keeping them all under surveillance. Jakob puts his mother’s things in order; to him it feels as though she has died. Jonas, who is involved in a group critical of the Communist government, tells Jakob and Cresspahl about the group.
When Cresspahl calls Gesine to tell her about...
(The entire section is 784 words.)