In the beginning, Maria believes she loves her boyfriend Johannes. He is not cut out for life on the farm either, and is desperate to get out of the village once the wall comes down. By that time, however, Maria has got to know Henner, the alcoholic farmer who lives nearby and is somewhat of a recluse. Despite the age gap of over 20 years, after they meet in the field one day and Henner brushes his hand over her breasts and between her legs, they realise there is a chemistry between them that scares and intrigues them both. It is not long before they end up having sex and this leads to an affair. At first Maria is torn up with guilt but at some point she settles into a sort of routine where she sees Henner a couple of times a week after school. In the meantime, since the fall of the wall and the influx of western products into the East, Johannes has become obsessed with photography and no longer notices her except through his lens, so he is incapable of noticing any changes in her behaviour or appearance.
The most remarkable thing about the love shared by Henner and Maria is that they are both able to be themselves when they are alone together. It is obvious that they love each other for who they are. Henner has had his share of misery in life and his somewhat brutish behaviour and dependence on alcohol is not popular in the town. Maria finds herself cooking and cleaning for and generally looking after Henner, whilst experiencing a sexual awakening unlike that which she has ever known before. Ironically, the deeper she falls in love with Henner and the more she grows up, the more Maria is accepted and appreciated by Johannes' family. Inside, however, she is determined to leave the farm and move in with Henner, regardless of the reaction of those around them.
In a state where secrecy and lies, denouncement and death, hiding and betrayal were rife, Maria becomes accustomed to not telling the truth and to hiding her affair. Her thoughts about truth and secrecy are very thought provoking:
"The fear of being discovered has given way to a realisation that the truth doesn't always come to light. It makes me wonder what else goes on in secret that I'll never find out about."
It is clear that there is a lot going on in the world behind closed doors that maybe people never find out. Maria resolves to reveal the truth, however, but Henner dies abruptly before she gets the chance. He had been unsure about them bringing the affair to light as he didn't want Maria to be shunned in society too, and the implication (whilst never revealed) is that he killed himself to set her free. I do not believe she ever was free, however – her love for Henner was so strong that she would never have truly got over him. Following Henner's death, Maria followed Johannes to Leipzig where he was to study photography. She already knew that she did not love him, yet with no school leaving certificate and few other prospects, she remained tied to a man whom she did not love and who only had eyes for his camera. Maybe the truth would not have come to light, at least not immediately, and maybe Maria had indeed been spared the humiliation of giving herself up to an older man and renouncing those who had given her a home and a new life. However, I believe Maria would never have truly been happy with Johannes, having experienced true love with Henner, and the wall coming down would not really set her free, only push her into a new trap, from which there may well never be an escape.