EAST BERLIN -- When East Germany's defense minister, a pacifist preacher named Rainer Eppelmann, started demanding that his Communist-trained officers be accepted into the West German army, Eppelmann suddenly found himself with a West German "adviser" who watched over his every public pronouncement.
Indeed, from bank branches to the prime minister's office, at used car lots and on sports teams, West Germans are -- with varying degrees of subtlety -- serving as "advisers" and "assistants" whose real job is to launch the West German takeover of East Germany. When East Germans go to the polls Oct. 14 to choose state premiers for the first time, almost half of the major party candidates will be West Germans.
In nearly every government office, East Germans have West German consultants (usually on the payroll of a Bonn political party), who advise them on their image, their policies, their relations with the West, even their clothing and personal hygiene.
As West German companies take over East German enterprises, Western executives automatically step into top spots. The new editor of an East German newspaper bought by the establishment Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is the Frankfurt paper's former East Berlin correspondent, Monika Zimmermann, who is also the new president of the East German Press Association.
The mayor of Leipzig, East Germany's second largest city, is a West German. So are the top executives of an all-powerful East German agency set up to oversee the dissolution of the country's 8,000 enterprises.
Not all of the Western consultants have been chosen for their ability to teach the details of democracy or methods of market economics. In East Berlin's Foreign Ministry, the top adviser to Minister Markus Meckel, another preacher and veteran of last fall's anti-Communist revolution, is a West German named Carlchristian von Braunmuehl.
Until Meckel resigned last week in a dispute with the prime minister, von Braunmuehl had turned the Foreign Ministry into an employment agency for his relatives and friends, leading one East Berlin newspaper to call it the "Ministry for Families."
Von Braunmuehl's cousin Claudia worked on development policy. His nephew Patrick, a West Berlin law student, became Meckel's personal adviser. And Patrick's girl friend, a 20-year-old college student, served as Meckel's personal appointments aide. This did not go smoothly: The young woman had to ask a colleague "Who is Teltschik?" Horst Teltschik is Chancellor Helmut Kohl's top adviser.
Despite such incidents, West German "keepers," who run East German government and industry by acting as shadow executives, have been accepted and sometimes welcomed into nearly every corner of society.
"There still seems to be a strong inferiority complex at work here," says an American diplomat who has traveled through East Germany meeting with local officials and their West German advisers.
"The Western parties assume that people will trust West Germans more. And when you talk to them, East Germans say, 'Oh, these people are so smooth and assured.' On the other side, there is pride and self-value that is obviously reacting to what is often a very difficult personal situation."
Some West Germans have exacerbated the strains between the two countries by lording their superiority over their poor relations; they have taken to telling East German jokes and portraying the East Berlin leaders as pudding-brained wimps. On West Germany's popular satirical TV program, a puppet show called "Hurra Deutschland," East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere is depicted as a slobbering fool, his lisp cruelly accentuated, a generous stream of spittle cascading from his mouth.
One recent edition of the show, which is broadcast only in West Germany but is easily tuned in in the East, portrayed de Maiziere begging Kohl to let him do something useful after unification. Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, though, were too busy laughing and singing to notice. "The postwar period is over!" the Bonn leaders shouted. "Yeah, yeah, the past is finally gone! Everything's democratic in Germany now!"
A cartoon in Stern magazine showed Kohl preparing a place for de Maiziere at the Christian Democratic Union's party leadership table. "I want him to be able to present his ideas in the most fitting way," the chancellor says. By his side at the head of the table, an infant's highchair awaits the East German. From the moment East Germany dissolves itself on Oct. 3 until Dec. 2, when the first all-German elections are to take place, East Germans will be governed from Bonn, without any elected representatives of their own. Although Kohl briefly used that as an argument for moving the elections up to October, he has not been heard to utter a word about the inequity of the situation since he lost the election date battle. De Maiziere wanted Bonn to create a Reconstruction Ministry to supervise the transformation of the East and, at the same time, to serve as a training ground for East German leaders. Bonn declined.
Now Bonn is making no more than cosmetic efforts to retain some role for the only freely elected government in the sad history of East Germany. About 160 of the 400 members of East Berlin's parliament will travel to Bonn to act as non-voting observers during the interim period. Neither de Maiziere nor any of his ministers will be kept on. After unification, the East Germans who were elected last March will return to their towns and cities and try to fight their way up the long ladder of party politics.
"They'll be lucky if a handful of more than 20 ministers in the new government will be from East Germany," says Barbara Donovan, until recently the East Germany analyst for Radio Free Europe. "Through this whole process, the West Germans are the real players. It can be distasteful, but it's reality."
West German politicians say there is no alternative to the quick, massive infusion of themselves into East German affairs. "They need our help," says Eduard Heussen, spokesman for Bonn's Social Democratic Party. "They wouldn't survive one day without the help of the West. There are so few people there with any expertise who were not in the Communist Party.
"Look, some of them still pretend there is a separate state, but basically they gave up most of their autonomy when they got the Deutsche mark" on July 1.
Many of the West Germans who are advising in the East are teaching market-based economics to managers who only know how to implement five-year plans. And all East German industries now answer to the Treuhandelanstalt, the agency created to oversee the breakup of all 8,000 state-owned enterprises.
Run by West German executives, the all-powerful agency is the ultimate expression of Western control of the East. But the Western presence is even more pervasive at lower levels of the economy, in the new car lots, supermarkets and corner snack bars that often have Western bosses and Eastern workers. East Germans have reacted to all this with resignation and private disgust. Kohl, who could do no wrong last spring, is a less and less popular figure; just as he was earlier the symbol of the promise of a Western future, he is now the lightning rod for complaints about arrogant "Westies" who talk big but have yet to invest the billions they talked about before July's economic unification.
"They come in here like they always owned the country and we've just been holding it for them," says Axel Senst, an East German farming expert who has dealt with West German agriculture executives.
With their sharper suits and trendier haircuts, the West Germans stand out visually. With their brimming confidence and the financial backing of a more-than-solvent government, they stand out in any policy discussion. The takeover is most evident in government. Four of the nine department heads in the East Berlin city planning agency are West Berliners. And West Berliners are present in every office of City Hall.
"We've been very patient with these amateurs while they pretend to be leaders," says a Bonn official who deals with the East German government daily. "But the sooner we get professionals in charge, the better it will be for all the people, here and over there."
The West German takeover of East German politics is too much, too fast, says Angelika Volle of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn. "We should send know-how, but we mustn't undermine their confidence," she said. "We must not make them feel like second-class citizens. We must tolerate their mistakes."
In fact, East Germans already consider themselves second-class. All they need do is look at the vast gap between their salaries and those in the West and they can see a future as the janitors, sales clerks and gardeners of the new Germany.
One can see occasional examples of enterprise on a drive through the East German countryside -- wurst stands, corner groceries, even a few mechanics' shops -- but in dozens of interviews, the overwhelming sense is of a people who are still waiting to be told the next step. Again and again, when I have asked newly unemployed or fearful East Germans about what they will do after they lose their job, I get a similar response: "I'm waiting to see what they assign me to." Or "They haven't told me yet."
Of course, there is no more "they." But despite the virtual collapse of the communist enterprises and unemployment rolls that have shot up from nil to more than a million in five months, East Germans remain strikingly passive.
"They are like we were in the '50s," says Stephanie Wahl of the Institute for Economic and Social Politics in Bonn. "For 40 years, their initiative was constantly oppressed. After the Nazi time, it was easier for us because we didn't have Big Brother looking over us. We had the Americans, who helped push us to start over, and who gave us the money to do it.
"The young East Germans will change quite quickly, but for those over 40, it will be very difficult."
Volle and some other West Germans looking for ways to smooth the transition have even suggested that West Germans get used to the idea of affirmative action for East Germans -- preferred hiring and even quotas in college admissions, entry-level jobs, civil service and even in executive positions.
"It's very important for people to mix quickly," Wahl says. "The East Germans seem very depressed and a bit resigned now. Neither East nor West is feeling pride now. So we should be over there being helpful, but there are those who are not sensitive enough. They can do damage." Marc Fisher is the Bonn correspondent for The Washington Post.