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West German Learns the Ropes in the East

GABRIELE J"AKEL is one of hundreds of ``Westies'' now working in East Germany. With no apartments to be had and the hotels full, she and West German coworkers at Commerzbank here live with East German families or in a small guest house rented by the bank.

The guest house ``is like a dorm, not at all like the regimental bank life,'' says Ms. J"akel, who has lived here since April. ``Some of the greatest friendships have already been made'' with the families, she says.

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J"akel, a perky young manager who considers her East Germany stint a good move for her career, has had to make some adjustments.

Working till midnight, there's no time for shopping. It's either order out or eat out, two activities that were nearly impossible in East Germany a year ago.

Like typical East Germans, she now carries a full canister of gas in her trunk because of the scarcity of gas stations and long lines at the pump. On weekends, there is usually a mass exodus of weary West Germans heading home, but she sometimes stays on if there is a good art exhibit in town or a day trip she is interested in.

Having observed the East German work ethic for several months, J"akel has mixed comments.

``The East Germans are Germans. They can work hard, but the conditions have to be right,'' she says.

On the other hand, she says, their idea of a free market is to charge whatever they want.

Basically, ``no big change has taken place'' when it comes to the regeneration of the old state-owned enterprises. ``Nothing is happening. The new generation of business managers is missing,'' J"akel says.

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This is one reason, among many others, why her bank has made relatively few loans to medium and large-size companies in Leipzig. So far, she says, the loans have been mostly to people who want to be self-employed: craftsmen, attorneys, and tax advisers.

J"akel says she likes working with East German clients because they are so enthusiastic.

``When I first got here, I had the impression that all of East Germany wanted to be self-employed.'' Often, however, ``they have lots of good ideas, but no overall concept'' of how to start a new business.

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