Stralsund gets ready for Bush's visit

12th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

Angela Merkel is about to welcome George W Bush on a visit to Stralsund in her home constituency - but left-wing and far-right activists are planning protests. Leon Mangasarian previews Bush's visit to the former Hanseatic town.

The visit is said to be a sign of increasingly cordial US-German relations

Shunning Berlin's formality, Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking US President George W Bush for a tour of her parliamentary district deep in what used to be communist East Germany, during his scheduled visit on 13 July.

Merkel, normally intensely private over her personal life, has invited Bush to the city which elected her to the Bundestag - the Baltic Sea port of Stralsund just a few kilometres from the Polish border.

Merkel's hideaway

"Stralsund is Merkel's Crawford," said Gary Smith, head of the American Academy thinktank in Berlin, in reference to Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas, to which the president only invites his closest political friends.

A Hanseatic League trading city, Stralsund has crooked streets, soaring Gothic brick churches, and an ornate 14th century town hall showing the city's wealth and power during the Middle Ages.

*quote1*Paving stone streets are lined by Gothic buildings with high gables, built by medieval merchants to serve as warehouses in the city now listed a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Not just the old world

But Stralsund's mayor, Harald Lastovka, stressed in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur, that the city did not signify merely the old world.

"Stralsund is both old Europe and new Europe," said a grinning Lastovka in a play on remarks by Bush's Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, who once divided the continent into what he perceived as the positive "new Europe" and the bad "old Europe".

Lastovka said he would ask Bush to take a close look the medieval town hall restored two years ago. The exterior was, well, old. But the interior included a splendid mix of restored old elements and Teutonic high-tech architecture mixing glass, stone, steel and wood.

Good advertising

Stralsund is part of Merkel's home constituency

The mayor said the Baltic Coast lived from tourism and his big hope was that more Americans and foreigners would come to the region graced with sweeping white beaches, rolling countryside and ancient pine and beech forests.

Mainly visited by Germans, the area is similar to New England's vacation areas such as Cape Cod and the Maine coast where George Bush senior lives.

"We couldn't ask for better advertising than having the American president come here," said Lastovka twirling a white beard which makes him look more like a ship's captain rather than the software engineer he used to be before becoming mayor.

A not-so-warm welcome

But not everybody is happy about Bush's upcoming visit.

Peace activists and leftists are planning protests aimed at Bush and have dubbed the US leader a "warmonger" on their websites.

Up to 5,000 anti-Bush demonstrators are expected to take part in protests while the US leader is in Germany. The far-right NPD party is also said to be planning protests.

A staggering 12,000 German police are being mobilised to protect Bush, who arrives late July 12 and is scheduled to meet with Merkel on July 13.

No protests

 *quote2*Officials are sufficiently worried to have banned all protests from Stralsund's old city, which is actually an island connected by five causeways to the mainland.

Mayor Lastovka, a member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, expressed anger at the leftist regional government of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state, which has largely given the Bush visit a cold shoulder.

"The behaviour of the state government ... is a joke," said Lastovka, adding he could not understand how three cabinet members of the former East German communist party could be planning to take part in the protests against Bush.

Lastovka insisted there would be no prominent protesters from his city.

Silent disapproval

But a leader of the 13th century church of St Nicholas, which Bush is due to visit, is taking a silent stance against the US leader.

Pastor Dietmar Prophet spoke of his opposition to the Bush visit after holding a weekday service at St Nicholas with sun streaming through soaring clerestory windows.

"I disapprove of Bush's policies," said Prophet, who was dressed in a traditional northern German Lutheran pastor's black gown with a white-fringed dog collar.

Asked if he would be showing Bush the church, Pastor Prophet said he would make a point of not attending the Bush visit.

"Thank God I was not asked to play any part," he said with a smile.

Time for boar

Following Bush's tour of Stralsund, the US president is due to visit the nearby village Trinwillershagen, once home to the model communist collective farm "LPG Red Banner."

Merkel, Bush and Mayor Lastovka are set to attend a German-Texas barbecue featuring wild boar and venison.

Another communist-era legacy in Stralsund is apparently not on the Bush agenda.

At the city's New Market Square is a marble monument to Red Army soldiers who captured the city in 1945 after Nazi Germany's defeat.

Symbolizing the Soviet Union's demise, the memorial is slowly rotting away and trees are growing from its top. Poorly tended gravestones of Red Army soldiers surround its base with beer bottles smashed on the Cyrillic inscription of some of the flat stones.

12 July 2006

Copyright DPA with Expatica 2006

Subject: German news, George W Bush, Stralsund, Angela Merkel

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