Hard times take meat out of E. German shopping bags
Herr Normalverbraucher (''ordinary customer'') is having trouble finding meat , high-fat butter, and bicycle pumps in East Germany. He is hopeful, however, that raisins and almonds - which have all but vanished in the past two months - will be back in stores for Christmas baking.
The government will probably comply with the latter wish, although it can't do much about the more basic shortages of milk, cheese, rice, and noodles. It has already ordered a raid on central stocks for one surge of goods in late October, and the grapevine has it that all the raisins and almonds are being saved for a second, pre-holiday surge on the market.
The East German economy is running into hard times, and the man on the street feels it right in the shopping bag. The culprits are the Polish dollar debts, Soviet reductions in fuel deliveries, a drastic curtailing of imports, diseased cattle, the inefficiencies of a centralized command economy, and hoarding.
These things have to be seen in perspective, of course. East Germany's industrial growth rate of 4.2 percent so far this year is probably the highest in Europe, East or West. And the average East German, after a 33 percent rise in meat consumption in the 1970s to an impressive 90 kilograms (198 pounds) a year, eats and lives more comfortably than any other Eastern European or Soviet citizen.
Unfortunately for the East Berlin government, however, the perspective that the East German Normalverbraucher employs is not that of Warsaw or Moscow, but the Hamburg and Munich he sees on his TV screen every night.
If he is attentive, he knows that East Germans average only 43 percent of West German net incomes (a drop from the 78 percent of 20 years ago), that East German output is only 46 percent of West Germany's, its productivity only 60 or 70 percent. If he's not attentive, he still gets the impression that even those 2 million unemployed West Germans can buy the pork and raisins in stores that he can't.
The deteriorating consumer situation in East Germany has several causes. The most basic, in a way, is Poland.
Warsaw's near default on its Western debts jolted Western banks into doubting credit worthiness throughout a Soviet-Eastern European world that now owes some (with Western debts running an some $10 billion) is having a hard time raising even ordinary supplier credits.