Never mind the slow Christmas sales in the United States and Britain. German merchants are enjoying a holiday boom, fueled by 16.6 million eastern Germans hungry for consumer products after decades of deprivation.

Shoppers have been standing a dozen deep at German cash registers this Christmas season, elbowing and pushing their way to snatch up everything from expensive video recorders to chocolate Santas.In a weekend report, the German retailers' association estimated Christmas sales in the united Germany at $18 billion. Nearly 70 percent of the stores surveyed reported sales were up this Christmas season compared with last year, although no percentage of increase was given.

There is "an overwhelmingly positive mood in the retail stores," the Association of German Retailers said.

Overall retail sales in Germany for the entire year are expected to reach $465 billion, up a hefty 12 percent from 1989. The annual figure will be a post-war record.

The figures tell only part of the story. Beyond that are packed stores, harried sales clerks and streets filled with shoppers.

In downtown Berlin, shoppers from eastern Germany and Eastern Europe are snapping up everything in sight.

"We don't have it," say sales clerks fielding dozens of demands. "Oh, that's been sold out for a long time."

Watches, computer and electronics products and toys are the leading sellers. Jewelry and other big-ticket items are often in hot demand as well.

Berlin's grocery stores are having a hard time keeping supplies in stock of Christmas baking staples such as almonds and raisins.