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East Germans Pour Into West for Christmas Shopping

December 15, 1989

WEST BERLIN (AP) _ Hundreds of thousands of East Germans hopped onto crowded westward trains or trudged across the border through pouring rain Friday in a rush to do their Christmas shopping in the West.

The Communist leadership reminded its citizens that despite their forays into ″consumer paradise,″ some ″hard, sweaty work″ is needed to improve things back home.

Since borders were opened Nov. 9, millions of East Germans have poured into the West Germany, lured in part by the 100 marks ($55) in ″welcome money″ the Bonn government gives each of them.

With Christmas just around the corner, the pace of visitors has picked up, with 320,000 crossing into northern Bavaria alone early Friday. Tens of thousands more arrived in West Berlin and other parts of West Germany.

Officials in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and the central state of Hesse were planning to open nine new border crossings to handle the influx.

To cut down on the traffic chaos, the new crossings will be limited to those on bicycle and foot.

The will to shop was driving some of the visitors to extremes.

Dozens waited at the crossing near near Probstzella, jumping onto packed trains as they slowed down before entering northern Bavaria, said Hans Schlee of the state border police headquarters in Munich.

About 1,100 people couldn’t get on any train at Probstzella and walked into Bavaria through a driving, nearly freezing rain. Shivering and soaked, the group arrived in nearby Ludwigstadt, much to the surprise of local townspeople.

″It’s unbelievable what people will do,″ said Schlee, noting there were dozens of children in the group.

The now-familiar East German Trabant cars filled parking places in downtown Munich and in other major West German towns along the border.

But the Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland reminded its readers the shoppers will be returning to the same troubles after their excursions to what it called ″consumer paradise.″

″The shining mountains of goods in the society of over-abundance have magical attraction,″ the newspaper acknowledged.

But it cautioned: ″We will have to live with the reality of open borders but a markedly lower level of productivity and prosperity.″

It will take ″hard, sweaty work″ to minimize the gap between East Germany and its rich Western neighbor, it said.

For those thinking of possible reunification, Neues Deutschland warned of the ″two million unemployed in the Federal Republic, an estimated six million poor as well as the crisis in housing and education.″

East German leaders have been pleading with the people to avoid the temptation of reunification with West Germany.

But there are growing indications that a sizeable portion of the country would gladly exchange socialism for some of the shimmer and prosperity of Western capitalism.

Despite the new freedom of movement, more than 1,000 East Germans each day are coming to West Germany to resettle permanently.

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