EAST BERLIN (AP) _ Annelisa Schoen choked backed tears of joy as she tried to express her feelings about East Germany's first free elections Sunday.

''This is the greatest day of my life after being put down all these years,'' whispered the 66-year-old woman.

After four decades of Communist rule, East German voters were filled with emotion and enthusiasm as they lined up at city polling stations, and in rural areas at makeshift voting booths in pubs and eateries.

Adelgund Fernschild cast her ballot from a hospital bed in Leipzig. Even former Communist Party functionaries and leaders being held for alleged abuses in office were allowed to vote, the official ADN news agency said.

''Before I couldn't choose. I could only hand in my ballot, and today I can choose between many. This is a very special day,'' said Elfriede Matzko, 53, as she strolled along in the sunshine after voting.

Her family was divided over the best candidate, and her daughter voted for the Communists.

''But I am 53, and she is in her 20s. That makes a lot of difference. I never could accept that they built the Wall, and refused to let us travel for no reason,'' Mrs. Matzko said.

She said she was looking forward to German unification. ''I think we will have a good future. This is a very special day.''

Karsten Simmert, 24, a trampoline artist with the East German state circus, said he went to the polls first thing Sunday morning.

''I had the feeling that my vote counts. That I am helping to decide something special,'' Simmert said.

Ines Hohenstein, 27, brought her 5-month-old son along in a stroller. ''We are very anxiously waiting to see what the results will be tonight. We'll be in front of the television waiting for the results,'' she said.

''My husband Hans and I are of the opinion that something must happen here and that it won't come with the Social Democrats or the Communists. We are going to vote CDU,'' Mrs. Hohenstein said.

She was referring to the Alliance for Germany, a coalition of three parties supported by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

About 12.2 million East Germans were eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections, and they had 24 parties and organizations to choose from. The broad slate perplexed some East Germans.

''Of course we're all happy that we can vote,'' said Christel Wilke, a poll supervisor at a makeshift booth in a restaurant in the village of Schoenwalde, 18 miles north of Berlin.

''But we have nothing we can draw from, no experience with the new parties that we can use as a measure. There's no way we can know if we are voting for the right person.''

Most polling places opened at 7 a.m., but many shift workers in industry were permitted to start voting two hours earlier.

Wolfgang Koegel, an employee at a power plant in the southwestern city of Suhl, was the first to vote in his district.

''No one really knows who's going to be elected. But by all means I am for a better future, especially when I think about my two children,'' he told the ADN news agency.

Even prison inmates were able to vote. According to ADN, prisons throughout the country set up private voting areas.