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Germany

Locals Live With G8 Protests in Own Backyard

The idyllic Baltic Sea coast region near the G8 summit site has gotten lots of media attention due to anti-G8 protests, but for many locals, life pretty much goes on as normal, with a few exceptions like Rostock.

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A visit from world leaders hasn't changed much in the quiet towns surrounding the summit site

Germany's Baltic coast region is a network of pretty spa towns and remote villages scattered sparingly across wide expanses of rolling countryside. Life here is usually sedate, which is why it is an oasis of calm for retirees and young families. One gets the impression that nothing much happens here and that's the way the locals like it.

Even when there's a major international summit happening nearby, there are very few indicators which suggest anything other than idyllic normality is, as usual, in abundance. From time to time the cry of seagulls is interrupted by the dull thud of distant rotor blades as a military chopper circles overhead.

Occasionally when traveling the undulating roads the picturesque view is disturbed by random crews of armor-clad cops guarding lonely crossroads. But even then, their green overalls attempt to minimize the disruption to the surroundings by blending into the fields around them.

Deutschland G8 Rostock Demonstration Fotoreportage von Nick

If if weren't for the police vehicles, one local resident wouldn't have noticed a difference


For the residents of Heilingendamm and Kühlungsborn, the arrival of the G8 leaders and the thousands of protestors has so far barely even registered.

"If it wasn't for the police vehicles parked around town, I wouldn't even have noticed anything different," said Jörg Kessling, a retired resident of Kühlungsborn, the location of the summit's media center and a staging post for many journalists and delegates. "There seems to be more people here than usual but no more than in a busy month during the summer."

Sabina Meller, an assistant in a local bakery in the seaside resort of Heiligendamm, where the summit is being held, expected more of an impact. "There have been a few more strangers around, more young people, but the streets are just as quiet as ever," she said. "Anyway, the Kempinski Hotel is quite a way from the town center. When the protestors come, they'll probably miss us completely. I don't expect the same thing to happen here as in Rostock… Maybe at the fence but not here."

Protest town

To feel the full effects of the G8, one has to travel to Rostock. The residents of the ancient Hanseatic city have already felt the impact of the protestors after a weekend of mass demonstrations laced with violence and chaos.

Deutschland G8 Rostock Demonstration Fotoreportage von Nick

Business has been slow in the Rostock area the past few days


Jana Beger stands in the doorway of her newsagent's shop and watches with a concerned look as a group of colorful and boisterous protestors march past on their way to the main train station. Jana has lived every one of her 62 years in Rostock and says that she has never witnessed anything to compare to the events of the weekend when thousands took to the streets and a minority fought the police.

"These ones don't look so bad," she says, her eyes narrowing behind thick glasses as she scans each passing face. "It's the ones in black you have to watch out for."

Her son Christian stands protectively beside her. While there have been no reports yet of willful damage to shops, the cobbled streets of the city have already been violated and some businesses have already boarded up their windows just to be sure. Christian guards his mother and the shop's large glass façade just in case.

"I went for my usual run early on Sunday morning and the city maintenance crews were still replacing the stones," he says, in reference to the cobbles prized from the road to be used in Saturday's violence. "When there are people like that out there, who will go to such lengths, you can't help to be on your guard, even if you aren't their principle target."

Staying home

Others are not concerned about the violent "Black Block" extremists laying the city to waste. Many shops were open over the weekend even though there was a marked reduction in the number of customers, perhaps a reflection of residents' unwillingness to put themselves at potential risk.

Rostock's lively hub, the Kröpeliner-Tor-Vorstadt (KTV) area of the city, was like a ghost town on Sunday with bar and café staff twiddling their thumbs. Some even took the decision to close on Monday, much to the satisfaction of those who were open for business.

"It was dead around here at the weekend," says Timo Kastnic, a bar worker in the KTV. "I'd never seen it like that…ever. But we still opened up Monday and because the others were shut, we did a lot of business."

Deutschland G8 Rostock Demonstration Fotoreportage von Nick

Missing cobblestones were one side-effect of the nearby demonstrations


Drinkers and those wanting to eat out were not the only Rostock residents safely behind closed doors at home. According to the local Ostsee Zeitung newspaper, a number of parents are keeping their children at home during the summit. One high school had a third of its 768 students stay home Monday, although many returned on Tuesday for classes.

Will it spread?

Such disruption can be expected to spread beyond Rostock as the summit proper gets underway on Wednesday. One of the seaside sanctuaries, Warnemünde, has already had a taste of the slow creep of protests as around 10,000 demonstrators marched through the quaint port resort to the nearby military harbor on Tuesday.

As the slow, winding carnival of the anti-militarization demonstration passed through the city, the pavements either side of the crowded street were full of curious bystanders. A few, as if heeding a silent call of conscience, stepped off the curb and joined the flow, moved by the commitment of those involved or just by the current of the event itself.

"We all live in this world," said an elderly gentleman who, along with his wife, made a spontaneous decision to protest. "You can't leave it to others to save it," he added. "I would never travel to one of these things, I'm too old for that, but while it's here in my home town I can make my voice heard."

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