Growing up in East Berlin, Maxim Leo knew not to ask questions. All he knew was that his rebellious parents, Wolf and Anne, with their dyed hair, leather jackets and insistence he call them by their first names, were a bit embarrassing. That there were some places you couldn't play; certain things you didn't say. Now, married with two children and the Wall a distant memory, Maxim decides to find the answers to the questions he couldn't ask. Why did his parents, once passionately in love, grow apart? Why did his father become so angry, and his mother quit her career in journalism? And why did his grandfather Gerhard, the Socialist war hero, turn into a stranger? The story he unearths is, like his country's past, one of hopes, lies, cruelties, betrayals but also love. In Red Love he captures, with warmth and unflinching honesty, why so many dreamed the GDR would be a new world and why, in the end, it fell apart.
The first Party assembly at the university is a dreadful spectacle. Two lecturers are told to stand at the the front by the board. A comrade rises to his feet and declares that the two of them aren't worthy members of the SED [Socialist Unity Party of Germany] because they have attacked the Party and the working class with their hostile speeches. Their reactionary, revisionist behaviour discredits the whole university.
A comrade whispers to Anne, telling her what's going on. The two lecturers clearly dared to express doubts about the correctness of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. They hadn't actually protested against the invasion, but just asked whether this action by Moscow was reconcilable with the peaceful partnership of the community of Socialist states.
Now one comrade after another gets to his feet and hurls criticism and contempt at the two men. They stand there, heads lowered, as if petrified, and don't dare say anything themselves. They look like rabbits acting dead so that the snake won't eat them straight away.
Later, Anne often returns to that scene. In her imagination the two men are wearing pointed hats and signs around their necks with self-denunciations written on them. Anne finds this assembly so frightening that she undertakes to be even more careful from now on. She understands that conditions at the university are very different from those in the newspaper office where she'd been working. On the newspaper, no one demanded that you believe in what you do. It just needed to work. Here in the university even the purity of thought is checked. Anyone who doesn't declare unconditional loyalty is isolated. Later she sometimes sees the two punished lecturers in the student canteen. They are always alone, no one dares to talk to them or even to join them. They still keep their heads lowered, they are penitents in perpetuity, a warning to others.
She thinks about what Wolf is always saying. That everything in this country is nothing but lies and propaganda. And she starts to think about abandoning journalism completely.
The final blow comes at a meeting in which the Party heads of the editorial board are to be re-elected. As always, it's been decided in advance. When the chair of the meeting asks if anyone wants to suggest a candidate, the ones who speak up are the ones who have been told to. All of a sudden Anne has the idea of suggesting a colleague that she values very highly. Everyone's flabbergasted, because nothing like that has every happened before. The chairman doesn't know if he's even allowed to accept the proposal, so a vote is held. Thirteen colleagues spontaneously decide to support Anne's suggestion. But most are opposed, and everything goes exactly as planned. As far as Anne's concerned, that's that. But a month later, at the next Party meeting, a man from the Central Committee is there, and all the people who voted for Anne's suggestion have to stand up one by one and castigate themselves for their lack of Party discipline. They accuse themselves, demanding punishment for their unworthy behaviour. Worst is the performance of the colleague that Anne suggested as a candidate. He subjects himself to the most severe criticism, begs for forgiveness, promises never again to try to be cleverer than the Party. At the end of the meeting fourteen broken men leave the room with their eyes lowered and their shirts drenched in sweat.
Only later Anne finds out that immediately after the Party leadership election an investigating commission in the Central Committee questioned all the dissenters for hours on end. They're talking about a coup, an attack on the Party. But why was she not questioned? Why was she alone spared? A colleague familiar with such matters later explains to her that this tactic is a well-known way of isolating provocateurs. If everybody is punished but the provocateur himself, the others will never want to have anything to do with the person who made life so difficult for them. And from that day onwards none of the people punished ever speak to her again. It's as if she's ceased to exist.