EAST BERLIN — A special session of the East German Parliament on Monday elected reformer Hans Modrow as prime minister of the beleaguered Communist government on a day during which most East German citizens returned to work after a tumultuous weekend of newly granted freedom in the West.
Asked in a television interview whether the Communist Party might lose its commanding position here, Modrow replied drolly: "It's not what one imagines--but one can never say never."
Modrow is expected to play a more central role in the new government of East German head of state Egon Krenz than his predecessor, hard-liner Willi Stoph, who resigned last week along with the entire East German Cabinet. One of his first tasks will be to create a new Cabinet.
Also Monday, another reformer, non-Communist Guenther Maleuda, was elected in an unprecedented secret ballot as Speaker of the Volkskammer, as the Parliament is officially known. Maleuda, chief of the Farmers' Party, won by a narrow margin of 246 to 230 over Manfred Gerlach, the popular reformist head of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Meanwhile in Paris, French President Francois Mitterrand called a special summit meeting of the European Community on Saturday to discuss the developments in East Germany.
At the same time, the official East German news agency ADN announced that wide stretches along the East German frontier that have been military zones now will be open to travel and ordinary use. The zones include the famous "death strip"--up to three miles wide--that runs along the border with West Germany and has been the scene of 191 deaths since 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built.
ADN said the zones will be dismantled, but he did not say when the barriers will be removed.
On Monday evening, massive crowds again turned out at the weekly peaceful demonstration in the southern city of Leipzig, held to continue pressure on the government for political and economic reforms.
However, officials said the assemblage of 200,000 was smaller than last week's turnout, partly because of dense fog, but also because many demands for reforms were being met.
In Berlin, about 100,000 East Germans crossed into West Berlin on Monday--far fewer than the estimated 3 million who visited the West over the weekend after travel restrictions were lifted. Of the East Germans who have taken advantage of the new holes in the Berlin Wall, only about 1% have elected not to go home.
In an unusual and biting comment Monday, the official newspaper here, Berliner Zeitung, declared: "The overwhelming stream of travelers has freed the dammed-up feeling that made life in this country sometimes unbearable or for some completely intolerable."
About 3,000 East Germans have passed through the main refugee processing center in Giessen, West Germany, since Wednesday, local officials said.
"With the borders open now and people free to travel, we're bound to see fewer and fewer wanting to actually resettle here for good," said Hans Heuser, spokesman for the regional government in Giessen.
"You hear rumors that people are changing their minds and going back to East Germany now, but we have no way of confirming that," he added.
One refugee, Michael Kossman, a 27-year-old waiter from the northern city of Rostock, declared: "Nothing could get me to ever go back there."
Kossman and his roommate, Mathias Voigt, fled west across the Hungarian border two months ago, leaving behind their parents, siblings and friends.
Now they live in a cramped room in a refugee compound in Laubach, near Giessen. They have applied for unemployment and have been told that West Germany's housing crisis could mean a two-year wait for an apartment. Still, they are not discouraged.
"We have every reason to stay here--the standard of living, the freedom to go where we want and say what we want," Kossman said.
East Germany, he said, "is a place where there are thousands of speeches and no conversation."
At the Giessen processing center, a couple in their 30s expressed similar skepticism, as well as fear. They asked that their names not be used to protect relatives they left behind from possible reprisal.
"We left everything behind--gave it all away--and came over Friday night with our three kids," the wife said.
"As far as we're concerned, the open borders and political changes are just a carrot to try to lure people back," she said. "Then they'll slam on the brakes."
In Lublin, Poland, on Monday, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared that the partition of Germany was "implausible" and "anti-historical," but he said that it was equally not for the Germans alone to decide on the issue of reunification.
During an official visit to Poland, he said: "The truth is that we Germans, as a people living in the heart of Europe, know today that this question--and our answer to it--is not something to which our neighbors in East and West are indifferent."
As the formerly rubber-stamp East German Parliament met Monday, television viewers could watch Krenz smiling at the camera and glad-handing fellow politicians in a Western style that was totally alien to his deposed predecessor, Erich Honecker.
Later, Parliament members endorsed upgrading next month's meeting to a full Communist Party congress, the nation's supreme political body and one with the power to dissolve the policy-making Central Committee.
In another unusual reform Monday, ADN reported that the State Security Ministry has announcement that the hated Stasi secret police will confine their activities to "fighting activities hostile to the constitution" rather than spying on citizens, including "operations against dissidents."
Times staff writer Tamara Jones, in Frankfurt, West Germany, contributed to this story.