Both Germanys squirm over East German family's exit to West
Frau Ingrid Berg and family have now left, after six days' residence, the palace that is the West German Embassy in Prague. The opulent baroque interlude of Frau Berg, her plumber husband, mother-in-law, and two children would ordinarily interest no one except family and friends. Her family, however, happens to include an uncle, Willi Stoph, who is prime minister of East Germany. And the reason for her refusal to leave the Lobkovic Palais before March 1 was that when she did leave, she did not want to return to East Germany. She wanted to go west instead.
This her uncle's government had previously declined to let her do. And that's why the Berg family took off for Prague in their Volvo on Feb. 24: Prague because no visas are required and Western embassies are not as closely watched there as in East Berlin.
At this point the Berg family, at East Berlin's insistence, is back in East Germany. They have the promise, however, that they will be slipped discretely West in the near future, the West German Domestic Press Agency (DPA) reports.
Frau Berg is by far the most prominent relative to get to leave East Germany in the 23 years since the Berlin Wall went up. This has made the Berg family sit-in a sensation in the West German news media.
A sensation is just what both the East German and the West German governments do not want. Bonn imposed an almost total news blackout on the case. East Berlin , after an initial embarrassed silence of four days, issued a disclaimer of sorts from Stoph's press spokesman and has said nothing since then about the incident.
Stoph, the statement read, had ''nothing to do'' with the actions of the Bergs. The statement berated the West German media for conducting a ''defamation campaign'' to spoil East-West German relations. The campaign would not work, it asserted: East Germany would continue its ''efforts to normalize relations.'' In a speech March 1, Stoph also reiterated his government's commitment to ''normal relations'' and detente.
This assurance is good news for Bonn. East Berlin, in fact, has increased dramatically the number of citizens it is allowing to exit the country legally to a 12-year high of 100 a day in the last week in February. Significantly, this flow did not diminish, even after the Berg case.
The Western interpretation of this unusual permissiveness is that East Berlin wants to keep some detente going - and that it also needs more economic help. Bonn is willing to grant, say, another billion-mark ($400-million) credits as it did last summer only if East Berlin shows more generosity on humanitarian issues.
The problem now is the fraying patience - and the mixed hope and despair - of the estimated 200,000 to 500,000 East Germans who have officially applied to emigrate and are still cooling their heels.
On the one hand, they are encouraged by the current surge in exit permissions: They might themselves win the next ''lottery.'' On the other hand, they are profoundly discouraged if they are being passed over even during the present thaw. Could they conceivably face another 23-year wait - the length of time it has so far taken for East Berlin to let 275,000 of its citizens leave legally?
Hence the dilemma for East Germany. It must be lenient with embassy squatters like the Berg family if it is to ensure Bonn's continued economic largesse. Yet this very leniency risks stimulating more would-be emigrants to headline-grabbing actions.