Tight security measures are being put into place for George W. Bush's stop in the city of Mainz next week during his European tour. Highways will be sealed off, schools closed, and river and air traffic suspended.
Mainz will basically shut down on Feb. 23
The US president's visit to Germany is meant to help patch up his relationship between Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which was strained to the breaking point over the Iraq war. But the one-day stopover likely won't do much for residents of the Mainz region, since much of their city will be sealed off on Feb. 23, the day of Bush's visit.
The mirror hall at the Krufürstliches Schloss. George W. Bush and Gerhard Schroeder are expected to meet in the Renaissance building.
Portions of four highways will be closed from Frankfurt International Airport, where Bush arrives, past the city of Mainz, where he is meeting with the German leader in the city's Kurfürstliches Schloss (photo), a castle along the Rhine River. Portions of the Rhine, Europe's busiest waterway, as well as the nearby Main River will be closed throughout the day.
Air space in a 60 kilometer (37 mile) radius around Mainz will be closed for all non-commercial aircraft, according to police. Several area schools will be shuttered.
"We have had Clinton, Gorbachev, the pope, Reagan and Chirac in Mainz. But this visit is the biggest challenge we've ever had," Wolfgang Lembach, an official in the region government, told Reuters.
Less than a hearty welcome
Bush remains very unpopular in Germany, despite recent efforts by Washington to get relations back on track and put differences over the Iraq war behind them. Police say they expect between 5,000 and 6,000 demonstrators on Wednesday to attend at least six protests against Bush's foreign policy.
Bush will likely not hear their message directly; a "red zone" has been set up in Mainz where only authorized people will be allowed.
German officials said they believed that Bush would visit American troops at nearby bases in Wiesbaden, but did not have specific information.
Plans for a short walk through Mainz's historic city center appear to have been cancelled, although Laura Bush might visit the city's Gutenberg Museum.
Initial plans for a "town hall" style meeting between the president and local students, businessmen and Americans in the area have also been scrapped, out of fears that such a public forum could backfire.
Like father, unlike son
Bush's itinerary in Germany stands in sharp contrast to a visit his father made to Chancellor Helmut Kohl in May 1989, when the elder Bush took a boat ride down the Rhine with the then-German leader and addressed more than 3,000 Germans and Americans in a speech, during which he was warmly received.
"The relationship between the US and the Federal Republic of Germany has never been better," George H.W. Bush said at the time.
Today, that relationship has been turned on its head and the bond between the two allies is probably more strained than at any time since World War II. In a BBC survey, 77 percent of Germans said they believed Bush's re-election had made the world more dangerous.