EAST BERLIN -- The window of Egon and Brigitte Zeidler's shop is a blast of color on a typically gray East Berlin street.
The bright yellow of Nesquik, the blazing red of Ghostbusters candies and the screaming pink of Hubba Bubba bubble gum, all trucked over from West Berlin, shout of the change that has descended on East Germany. At the same time, the grocery store's East German goods, with their plain labels and inferior quality, are dismissed by shoppers newly faced with a choice.
But the novelty of the consumer society is wearing thin as East Germans count down the final weeks before Day X -- July 1 -- when their East German marks turn overnight into a relic of the Communist state they overthrew last fall.
On Monday, July 2, the first day East Germans will be able to go to their banks and withdraw West German marks, they will have their entry ticket to the wonderful but bewildering consumer world they have long watched on West German TV.
They will also see a tripling in the cost of basic consumer goods and an effective cut in their salaries by one-half, consequences of the end of government subsidies. The new money is part of an economic revolution that has already injected a strong dose of chaos into East Germans' lives and threatens to leave many families thinking wistfully about the security of the centrally planned Communist system.
"After July 2, our sales will be halved, by my calculation," said Egon Zeidler, one of East Germany's burgeoning breed of private shopkeepers. "My customers have a fatalism about the future. It's a new world for them and they don't have the income to enjoy it."
Since the mid-1970s, the Zeidlers have run their crowded, living-room-sized shop in the Pankow section of East Berlin. After the collapse of the Communist regime last fall, Zeidler contacted old friends in West Germany and arranged to have Western products trucked across the newly opened border.
The result was a huge hit. Customers were intrigued by the wine and cheese Zeidler imported from France, the ready-made soups and flavored yogurts from West Germany. They were even willing to pay three and four times the price of East German goods -- a result of the 3-to-1 exchange rate that Western suppliers charged Zeidler.
But after the first few months, the thrill was gone. Now East Germans face the prospect of dramatically higher prices for goods the government subsidized at virtually unchanged prices for four decades.
As part of the economic merger of the two Germanys, Bonn is insisting that East Germany scrap those subsidies. So, beginning in July, the price of a loaf of bread will nearly triple. The same for milk, butter and other basics.
That will happen as East Germans' salaries are effectively cut in half. Most East Germans will get the far more valuable West German mark at the bargain rate of 1 to 1 for the first 4,000 marks they have saved; the rest of their money will be exchanged at the less favorable 2-to-1 rate.
In addition, East Germans' salaries are generally so much lower than those in the West that their purchasing power will be only a small fraction of their West German neighbors. East Germans on average make about 60 percent of what West Germans earn.
"There's certainly the danger that we will become second-class citizens," said Roman Czekay, an East Berlin streetcar driver. "We go to the market now and you can only find Western products, and they're so expensive. I guess we'll just have to live with it and be more frugal for a few years. The East German products just aren't there anymore."
In part, that's because no one wants them. For example, East German farmers are sitting on a surplus of 3 million eggs because shoppers are buying the more expensive eggs from the West -- despite general agreement that an egg is an egg.
East German products are also disappearing because industries are going out of business. West German economics institutes estimate that 1.5 million to 2 million East German workers -- nearly one-fifth of the working population -- will lose their jobs in the shakeout of the country's inefficient, outmoded and corrupt industries.
Already, unemployment has more than tripled in a single month, jumping from 26,600 in March to 65,000 in April, the Labor Ministry said.
On the surface, the introduction of Western products is a boon to a shopkeeper like Zeidler. But he said he will be lucky if his earnings even stay close to the narrow profit he made under the old system.
A market economy means Zeidler will lose his subsidized life. Rent for the shop will jump from 400 marks to 2,000 marks a month. Utility fees will more than triple. And the market for Zeidler's luxury goods will most likely plummet.
"This buying craze is all well and good for now," he said. "But I know my customers -- they're not heirs to Onassis. Hard times are coming."
A top official at Bonn's Ministry of Inter-German Affairs said that although most of East Germany's large industries will be saved by their continuing contracts with the Soviet Union, many small and mid-size East German businesses will go bankrupt in the coming months.
Worried East German labor leaders have already demanded 50 percent wage increases, an idea Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere immediately dismissed as preposterous. But de Maiziere has conceded that the country's economy is in crisis.
Any bank manager in East Germany could attest to that. Banks have been handling record crowds as the national rumor mill produces ever more methods of outfoxing the currency changeover.
None of the tricks -- opening new accounts, moving money into children's accounts -- will have the slightest benefit on July 2. But that isn't stopping people.
Ursula Drews, a 53-year-old East Berliner, admitted that "we're going to lose money no matter what." Nevertheless, she waited in line at the Sparkasse bank, hoping to move some of her savings into an account in her son's name, the idea being to find another opportunity to change money at the more favorable 1-to-1 rate.
"It won't help," branch manager Ingrid Manthei explained to her, describing how each East German will be allowed to change money at the parity rate only once, an act that will be marked on their personal identification papers.
"Even so," Drews said, "the boy is in the hospital and he'll be there until after July 2. You have to do this for me."
Manthei relented and allowed Drews to move her money.
"All we can do is tell them it makes no difference," Manthei said. "Then we let them do what they want. The fear and uncertainty are just terrible, especially with the old people."
The banker said all she can tell account holders is to sit tight and wait. She has no other advice because she knows nothing more herself. "We are all in the dark," she said. "We've gotten no instructions from our government and nothing from the Bundesbank," West Germany's central bank.
"The only thing we know about July 2," she said, "is that they'll be lined up out the door. After that, it's a mystery to all of us."