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East Germans Find Road to Promised Prosperity Marked By Pain

August 29, 1990

BITTERFELD, East Germany (AP) _ Wolfram Grimm was 20 when he signed on at the big potassium mine outside this grimy industrial city. At 46, he’s out of work, like hundreds of thousands of other East Germans.

″I really don’t know what I’m going to do now,″ he said, standing in a long line at the Bitterfeld employment office. ″I don’t deserve this kind of treatment after 26 years of sweat and hard work.″

Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany promised no East German would be made worse off by the July 1 economic merger of the two countries.

Whatever the promises, there are people like Grimm all over the formerly communist East, hard workers who have been demoralized by losing their jobs and seeing prices of nearly everything zoom upward.

East German officials say more than 1.2 million people, about 10 percent of the working population, are either out of work or on drastically reduced hours.

Experts say East Germany will climb out of its economic morass as inefficient plants close and capitalism takes hold. That’s little comfort to those being forced to make the first sacrifices in return for a promise of prosperity that could be years in coming.

Social problems are growing in tandem with the hard times.

Jobless youths loiter or lean against store fronts, drinking vodka or beer.

Crime was rare under the Stalinists, partly because of the fearsome secret police, since abolished. Now, regular police have trouble keeping up with theft alone.

″It’s everything from pickpocketing to thieves cutting the straps of ladies’ pocketbooks,″ said said Dietmar Kiehne, police spokesman in Bitterfeld, 60 miles south of Berlin. ″These are not things we are accustomed to.″

While old, inefficient plants fail, many East Germans rise to the challenge of unification. Shops and businesses are springing up all over the country. Craftsmen who worked for state-owned enterprises now work for themselves.

Budding capitalists face many obstacles, however.

Ingo Jung helps run a used car lot in Bitterfeld, offering Volkswagens, BMWs and other cars bought in West Germany.

Business was brisk in the first few days of economic union, when his fellow East Germans had wallets stuffed with West German marks, but caution soon prevailed.

″A lot of people are really afraid they’re going to lose their jobs, so they’re cutting way back on what they spend,″ Jung said.

The economic woes are many.

Western investors, wary of antiquated, heavily indebted operations, are not rushing to help rescue East German companies as Bonn had predicted.

Industrial production is plummeting. According to the West German central bank, East German output in the second quarter of this year fell 9.5 percent from the same period a year ago.

Coffee and electronic goods are cheaper since July 1, but prices of many basic goods have increased enormously. West Germany’s Economics Ministry said East German bread prices rose 122 percent in a month and postal rates went up 230 percent.

Workers are striking for job security and East Germany’s economic problems are beginning to burden West Germany.

West Germany already provides huge amounts of financial aid, but more is needed. Bonn will have to provide an extra $4.5 billion to cover programs for the ever-growing number of jobless East Germans.

Initial West German predictions were that unemployment in the East would reach 440,000 by the end of 1990. It now appears the number will surpass 1 million, not including people on reduced hours.

Highly industrialized cities like Bitterfeld suffer most. Thousands of workers have been laid off or given short hours in its soft coal and potassium mines, film-making factory and giant Chemie AG chemical complex.

Many big industries, like Chemie AG, are in economic limbo along with their employees. Of its 16,000 workers, 5,000 are on short hours.

The company has ecological as well as economic problems. The Bitterfeld complex, formerly known as CKB, has been one of Europe’s worst polluters, dumping raw chemical waste into streams that feed the Elbe River.

It would cost a fortune to raise Chemie AG to Western environmental standards. Several of the complex’s operations already have closed and others probably will follow.

Company officials say staff will have to be cut drastically if it is to attract investors who can turn Chemie AG into a profitable, ecologically safe operation.

Asked to assess the firm’s future, company officer Wolfgang Koppehel said: ″We think it will survive, but certainly not without pain.″

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