When Hans and Anna Muller finally get word from the East German authorities that they can emigrate, they will probably have something like 24 hours in which to pack, get the bank to confirm they have no debts, say goodbye to their friends, and buy porcelain.
Yes. They can't take East German currency with them, and it would be worth only one-quarter of its face value even if they could smuggle it out. So to get a little money to start their new life, they will take goods with them that they hope to sell in West Germany.
There's a problem, however: There isn't that much real Meissen china available at bargain prices, and the other hundred East Germans who are moving West on the same day as the Mullers are all out looking for porcelain, too.
Not unexpectedly, a racket has sprung up to prey on the harried leavers, and often they find out too late that what they have bought is mere crockery. As long as they are in the East, they aren't going to open a court suit and jeopardize their departure. And once in the West, they can no longer sue swindlers in the East.
That's only one of the hurdles faced by the stream of emigrants East Berlin has been letting out since mid-February.
Actually, the transition is incomparably easier for East Germans than it is for Jews who leave the Soviet Union. The East Germans go to a land, West Germany , where they can speak their native language and are immediately granted citizenship. They know viscerally the culture of their new country, not only from the shared heritage of Goethe, Kant, and Wagner, but also from the West German television they have probably watched every evening at home.
Then, too, the East German regulations and practice are not so onerous as the Soviet. With its very different history, Germany doesn't share the Russian tradition of viewing emigration as treason. And though the communist political equation of the two may be present in East Germany, the instinctive disapproval is not.
Thus, as all the Mullers and Schmidts and Zimmermanns begin their race from office to office to get the proper stamps, they very quickly fall into a camaraderie with their fellow paper-chasers. By the second meeting in the bank, utilities, phone, insurance, and apartment rental offices (all of which have to verify that there are no outstanding debts), they already ''duzen'' each other - that is, use the familiar ''du'' form of address that is reserved for close friends.
Even before the final OK comes over the telephone or in the mail, would-be emigrants have it easier in East Germany than in the Soviet Union.
They and their spouses are not automatically fired from their jobs. Many are, but not all. Typically, an applicant might be dropped from a skilled job, as a teacher perhaps, and be forced to take a low-paying job such as cemetery watchman.
The official grounds for selection remain mysterious, so there is not much an applicant can do to improve his chances of getting out. A newly married couple who applied to leave as recently as last fall are now in the West. A male nurse from Karl-Marx-Stadt applied 35 times before he received permission. In a third case, it took eight years and 10 months before exit approval was granted.
The majority of this year's leavetakers seem to be skilled workers or even middle-class professionals. The great majority come from either East Berlin or the southern parts of the country: Dresden, Jena, Weimar.
Speculation among emigrants as to the reason for the surge goes beyond the standard Western explanation that East Berlin wants more credits from Bonn and is therefore showing goodwill in humanitarian issues.
Some are convinced officials consider them troublemakers for their criticism or their participation in the peace movement and are therefore glad to be rid of them. Others think that East Berlin wants to ease its housing shortage or its mounting (if disguised) unemployment.
Once they do get permission to leave, emigrants begin thinking what to take with them. Unlike Soviet emigrants, they may take more than what they can carry. Some East Germans who leave legally may drive their cars. They may take a trailer. And they may take movable goods they own, except for things like antiques.
In a few cases emigrants might even be able to transfer modest amounts of money. This requires a special account, and the ceiling is far from covering living expenses: 600 marks ($240) per person every three months.