West Germans Scramble to Shelter Visitors from East
SINCE the opening of the East German border last Thursday, at least 800,000 people have crossed over to West Germany and West Berlin to see how the other half lives. Stores and banks in larger cities stayed open over the weekend to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of curious East Germans eager to spend their so-called ``welcome money'' of 100 marks ($53.75) on citrus fruits, bananas, chocolate, and other rare items not found in the East.
While East German border police report some 2.7 million applied for visas over the weekend, West German border authorities say that only some 5 percent want to stay. Authorities there reported only 85 of the 220,000 East Germans who crossed over intended to stay in West Germany - compared to the some 300 East German refugees an hour emigrating to West Germany before the weekend.
``We will have to increase our efforts to find them shelter - but the term `crisis' is one we can drop for the moment,'' said one Bonn Interior Ministry spokesman.
Over the weekend many cities arranged soup and lunch lines to help the thousands of East German visitors who decided to stay longer in the West and, as a result, found themselves stuck without food or shelter. In the city of Paderborn, West German Bundeswehr soldiers moved out of the barracks and into barns and beds made of straw to make room for the newcomers.
Bremen, one of West Germany's smallest and poorest states, was so overwhelmed by the wave of refugees before the weekend that it was forced to call a three-day pause in processing them. Bremen Senator Henning Scherf told the press that this state would have to turn to the unpopular alternative of opening old air-raid shelters or ``put them out on the street.''
The state used the three-day pause to secure new shelters for the refugees. Said Werner Alske, member of the Bremen Senate: ``The standard is getting worse, but we have made room for them. We're not about to turn anybody back.'' Mr. Alske said Bremen has already prepared bunkers, Army barracks and gymnasiums to provide temporary shelter for thousands of East German refugees and visitors staying in the area.
Despite the willingness of West Germans to welcome the refugees and visitors from the East, some politicians are worried that this goodwill could soon wear thin. Earlier this week, Social Democrat and mayor of Hanover Herbert Schmalstieg told the press he would welcome a limit on the number of refugees allowed entry to West Germany as the only way to maintain ``social order.''
His constituents, he said, were developing envy and aggression toward the refugees, who in addition to welcome money, can claim pensions for work they did in East Germany, and credits and preference for housing at a time of acute housing shortages.
Mr. Schmalstieg's call met with hefty criticism from many parties which called it unconstitutional. Recent polls by the West German Emnid Institute suggest that the majority of West Germans welcome the refugees. Only 11 percent of those polled favored a quota compared to 63 percent in favor of giving all refugees shelter in the West.
For West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Cabinet, providing shelter is a ``duty.'' Mr. Kohl interrupted his visit to Poland to join celebrations in West Berlin and call a special Cabinet session to discuss the opening of borders. At a press conference Saturday, Kohl repeated his call for economic aid and tied this aid to East German reforms. Kohl also turned down a suggestion by opposition Social Democrats for a round-table discussion involving all parties, saying similar discussion rounds were used in the past to talk ``dictatorship politics.''
Kohl in a telephone conversation Saturday with East German leader Egon Krenz discussed a possible agenda for their first meeting scheduled for early December. Kohl's chief of staff, Rudolf Seiters, will travel to East Germany on Nov. 20 to meet with Hans Modrow, East Germany's first reformist prime minister.
Foreign ministry officials say it is too early to specify what will be on the agenda, but Mr. Krenz has told the West German news media that ``reunification is not a question for the agenda.''
Said Kohl, ``East Germans have not yet realized their right to self-determination and the task of our Constitution, to achieve the unity and freedom of Germany, has not yet been fulfilled.''