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PRICE BOOSTS SEND E. GERMAN SHOPPERS WEST

SHARE PRICE BOOSTS SEND E. GERMAN SHOPPERS WEST

Katrin Matthes got out of bed before dawn Saturday, left her home in southern East Germany and drove three hours to West Berlin to find food she can afford.

She was among hundreds of East Germans crowding into a West Berlin store to buy meat, butter and milk that, paradoxically, are suddenly cheaper in the wealthy West than the struggling East.The 17-year-old factory worker from Dresden paid 102 German marks ($60) for groceries she said will feed her and three Dresden families in the next few days.

"It would have cost 300 marks ($180) in East Germany," she said.

The stunning rise in prices just days after the German states merged their economies has created a scandal in both countries and sent droves of East Germans into Western grocery stores.

After the two nations unified their economies on July 1, East German stores began filling their shelves with Western products.

But because East German stores face substantially less competition, their prices are not only three or four times higher than before economic unification but also often higher than the same goods sold in West Germany.

German media reported a flood of East Germans heading West on Saturday, the first shopping weekend since the economic merger and the first Saturday of the month, when West German stores by law are allowed to stay open longer.

At one store, a pound of salt was selling for 21 cents, while in East Berlin it was selling for 72 cents.

Andries Kurjo, a West Berlin economist and a leading expert on the East German agricultural economy, said consumers will have to rebel to bring prices down.

"The consumers won't accept these high prices," he said. "They have to pay for bread that is four times higher. They can get the same things in some West German shops much cheaper."

Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere of East Germany criticized the price increases last week, and government officials asked consumers to begin reporting instances of price gouging.