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Emigre Stream Despite Promises of Reforms, Free Travel

November 23, 1989

BONN, West Germany (AP) _ East Germany’s historic decision to open its borders last month has failed to halt the stream of citizens heading West to live, with more than 40,000 arriving since travel restrictions were lifted.

Millions of East Germans have crossed as tourists into West Germany since Nov. 9, taking advantage of their new freedom to see the long-forbidden West and buy goods not available at home.

As of Wednesday, nearly 11 million East German citizens had received visas to travel to the West. East Germany has a population of 16.5 million.

But the stream of East Germans crossing into West Germany with the intention of staying has not stopped despite East Germany’s promises of political and economic reforms.

East Germany granted free travel to assauge growing public unrest and the tens of thousands of its citizens fleeing across the borders. More than 200,000 have fled permanently this year, many of them young skilled workers including doctors and teachers.

The federal Interior Ministry said Wednesday that within the previous 24 hours 1,694 East German resettlers had arrived in West Germany.

Since East Germany opened its borders on Nov. 9, about 44,000 East Germans have arrived as permanent residents, the ministry said.

The continuing stream of resettlers indicates continuing pessimism that conditions, especially economic ones, in East Germany will be dramatically changing for the better anytime soon.

Nonetheless, the stream of East Germans coming as tourists is far greater.

More than half a million East German tourists crossed into West Germany and West Berlin on Tuesday, crowding downtown streets and jamming into stores.

But it was an official holiday in the West on Wednesday, and border police said the stream had ebbed considerably - something over 10,000. Banks that hand out 100 marks, $55, in free government-donated ″welcome money,″ as well as most stores, were closed for the day.

″I have not seen it this quiet in 14 days. Our colleagues with the GDR (German Democratic Republic) border guards are finally getting a breather,″ said Wolfgant Schlee, spokesman for the Bavarian border police in Munich.

The influxes of East German tourists have caused huge traffic backups at East German border crossings as the travelers line up to cross into the West in their sputtering Trabant and Wartburg sedans.

West Berlin police said streets there were also quieter.

″But travel from West (Berlin) to East (Berlin) has increased. Many people wanted to use the holiday to have a look at the Eastern side,″ said a West Berlin police spokesman, who did not give his name.

The open borders also have fueled the East German black market. The Communist government on Wednesday announced a ban on the removal of antiques and consumer goods that might be sold abroad.

The anti-smuggling effort was announced late Wednesday by East Germany’s official ADN news agency, which gave no details of the restrictions except to say that they were effective immediately.

Both government and opposition forces have called for more stringent customs controls to prevent East Germans from taking their valuables to the West and selling them for hard currency.

Update hourly