For Sale: East German Flags, Uniforms, Spy Suitcases
AS German unity approaches, the East German government is holding its final going-out-of-business sale, selling off the former communist regime's military and state security properties at bargain-basement prices. At an austere East German Army base outside Berlin, buyers line up before dawn to bid on rows of trucks, motorcycles, armored cars, and other military vehicles parked on a sprawling parade ground.
In East Berlin, bargain hunters sift through crates of loot removed from the warehouses, office buildings, and hideouts of the once-ubiquitous Stasi secret police. The collection includes everything from sophisticated spying equipment to luxurious furnishings taken from former government guest houses and country retreats.
Military officials at the base near Berlin say that they recently sold 43 trucks within two hours - for a quick 57,000 marks ($36,835). East German government officials say 7,000 former East German military vehicles have been sold so far, for a total of 15.7 million marks ($10.2 million).
The Stasi sale hasn't been a disappointment either, officials say. It has already brought in 1.2 million marks and there are no signs of a sales slump.
``We still average about 500 customers a day,'' says Dieter Jung, who helps manage the sale for the commission responsible for dismantling the once feared and despised security agency.
The Stasi sale offers everything from paper shredders (80 marks) and suitcases with double bottoms (20 marks) to lawn equipment and kitchen utensils (one to five marks). There are even boxes full of baby bibs and stuffed toys, apparently stockpiled to dole out to Stasi families and the party faithful. There are also plenty of Communist Party relics, including huge red banners, soon-to-be-defunct East German flags, and pennants proclaiming eternal ``Friendship with the Soviet Union'' (price: 30 marks).
``Most of the people who buy the flags are from the West,'' Mr. Jung says. ``The East Germans are glad to see them disappear.''
Jung says the sale, which is held three days a week at former Stasi headquarters in East Berlin, has drawn customers from all over Europe.
``We have a lot of souvenir hunters,'' Jung says. ``After all, there won't be an East Germany in a few weeks. People are buying things they think will increase in value.''
The East German military surplus business is also booming in West Germany. West German wholesalers have bought tons of East German uniforms and field gear from the government here. A company in Frankfurt recently advertised in a West German newspaper that it could deliver 13,000 tunics, parkas, and boots immediately.
East German entrepreneurs are also flourishing. ``Even with a markup of 500 percent, the prices are still reasonable,'' says an East Berlin man selling East German military caps near the Brandenburg Gate. He says he gets the headgear directly from the factory that once outfitted the nation's armed forces.
While the trade in East German and Soviet military gear is booming in the open, officials say lucrative illegal weapons deals are also on the increase.
Officials in West Berlin say the number of arrests in connection with illegal weapons trading has increased dramatically in recent months. Law enforcement officials have confiscated substantial quantities of explosives, pistols, grenade launchers, and other light weapons.
``We're seeing an alarming number of Soviet weapons on the black market,'' says Matthias Graichen, a West Berlin law enforcement official.