Large traffic jams built up at many border points Friday as Germans took to the road in record numbers for their first four-day Easter weekend with open inner-German frontiers.
Despite a decision at the first Cabinet meeting of the newly constituted East German government Thursday evening that only cursory border checks should be conducted, there were traffic jams more than 30 miles long at major inner-German crossings. West German television estimated that the backups on various autobahns across the country totaled 260 miles.
The All-German Automobile Club estimated that 1.5 million persons crossed in both directions Friday.
Gas stations in the border areas were also overwhelmed, with some motorists forced to wait up to four hours for service.
As the first long weekend in spring, Easter has traditionally been a time for family visits here. But during the 40 years of East Germany’s Communist rule, traveling across the inner-German frontier was initially impossible and always troublesome for West Germans. East German authorities restricted travel of their own citizens to pensioners or, in special cases, to family-related business. They rarely let all members of a family travel at the same time.
This year marked the first time in 23 years that East Germans also have a four-day Easter weekend.
Friday’s flood of motorists demonstrated once more how closely bound the two Germanys remain on a personal level despite nearly two generations of political division. Those ties provide an essential part of the support in West Germany for unification, even though many people in West Germany expect that political unity may bring higher taxes for them.
Leading West German newspapers and magazines have been filled in recent weeks with travel articles about East Germany. East German cities with tourist attractions, including Weimar and Eisenach, protectively closed off their central areas to traffic and ran shuttle buses from outlying areas.
However, in the last few days, some authorities have warned people to remain at home so as to avoid traffic chaos.
In Berlin, police said traffic across the inner-city frontier was lighter than expected, in part because many city residents crossed on foot. A total of 52 crossing points have been created between East and West Berlin since the beleaguered Communist government in the East opened the Berlin Wall five months ago.
On Thursday, public bus transportation began operating across the divided city for the first time since September, 1946. Passengers must have prepaid tickets, since it remains illegal to carry East German ostmarks into West Berlin.
In the early years after World War II, Berliners passed between the east and west parts of the city, but the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 closed the last exit for East Germans to the West.
A few years later, East German authorities began issuing passes during the Christmas and Easter holidays, enabling West Berliners to cross into the East, but only with strict controls, which meant long waits.