In East Berlin, `The Impossible Can Happen'

EAST BERLINERS, hungry for news of the opposition, know where to get it: in church. After work, an hour before a Monday evening prayer service, people line the walls and foyer inside the Gethsemane Church. In less than optimal light, they study position papers, letters, and announcements on the whitewashed walls.

Before they are left standing in a crowded aisle or squeezed against a stone pillar, they take a seat. It's time to pray for political prisoners.

This is the church's third straight week of prayer services for people arrested in the demonstrations of Oct. 7 and 8. It's also the fullest service yet, with the most contributions collected.

The sermon tonight is ``The Desert'': We are in the desert, but like the children of Israel, God holds us in his bosom, explains the woman Protestant pastor. We have escaped the slavery of Egypt. In the desert, she preaches, ``the impossible can happen.'' Manna falls from heaven, water springs from stone, ``and newspapers print something that is actually true.''

Then members of opposition groups, the youth, and workers stepped up to the microphone and read open letters to the new Communist leader and the Central Committee. Their demands for basic freedoms rose to the heights of the tall Gothic arches. Spirited applause followed.

There were new demands, too: an independent group should be set up to investigate police violence against demonstrators on anniversary weekend; officials, including head of state Egon Krenz, should be held personally accountable.

Along with demands came regular news dispatches: Opposition groups had given their first international press conference that day and the East German media were even there; as of 6 p.m., the center of Leipzig was stopped up with demonstrators and no signs of violence; a demonstration is being planned in Alexander Platz (in East Berlin) to protest Mr. Krenz's ``sham election.''

Listeners devoured every word. They nodded in agreement, commented to their neighbors, and had to be asked to keep their clapping ``loud but short'' - there was simply too much information to dispense in the time allotted.

But before people drifted homeward, they had to pass masses of dripping white candles - a tribute to those still in prison.

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