Bush's 19 hour visit to Berlin is expected to be accompanied by 3 days of protests. Both the German peace movement and Berlin's leftwing radicals have found a new scapegoat - the US president.
Fortress Berlin: Germany's capital is bracing itself for protests during Bush's visit
While the president holds his speech, smoke simmers over downtown Berlin. Glass from shattered shop windows covers pavements, cars are on fire. Hooded rioters throw bricks at police. Kreuzberg is cut off from the world, trains and busses redirected around the district. In his address, the president quotes the Berlin composer Paul Lincke : "Berlin stays Berlin".
This was back in 1982, during Ronald Reagan’s visit to Berlin (photo). Almost 20 years to the day, the current US president George W. Bush is on his first trip to Germany and to Berlin, where he will make history as the first American president to speak directly to German parliament.
Bush’s stay will last, at the most, 19 hours. Protests, however, are expected to carry on for three days.
From freedom outpost to seat of government
Back in 1982, (West)-Berlin was the West's freedom outpost, a refuge point for conscientious objectors, Germany’s demonstration capital, and home to thousands of left-wing radicals.
Today, Berlin is home to Germany’s federal government. It has become a symbol for the country’s change since unification and its new-found self confidence on the international stage.
Back in 1982, German participation in military assignments abroad was unthinkable, its peace movement strong. 20 years on, with Germany a partner in the global coalition in the fight against terror, Berlin’s anti-capitalists are having to rethink their strategies.
All against Bush
In the 80s and 90s, demonstrating in Berlin was something for left-wing experts and hobby radicals. White-haired Laura von Wimersberg, co-founder of the "Marx Front", can remember when the group encompassed 350 members. Today, only five are left.
But, Bush’s visit has brought peace activists back to the streets. 150 groups are expected to take place in the protests, from the "Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Initiative Cologne", to the "Peace council Markgräfler Country", as well as the trade unions and the mainstream parties’ youth organisations. It is a remarkable and sudden outpouring of unity, despite the groups' opposing opinions and varying slogans.
And almost all have signed the movement's appeal to the president, which says "we don’t want your war, Mr. President. We don’t want any war", and "War is no solution to terrorism. War itself is terrorism".
Responsible for everything
In the appeal, only the US stands accused. No complex power struggles or dictatorships in the Middle East are mentioned, nor is the Russian president’s recent visit, who was welcomed with open arms despite his country's war in Chechnya.
The slogans of today’s protests are a reminder of the days of Reagan, the Cold War, and anti-Americanism, and they ignore September 11, and international terrorism.
Instead, George Bush (photo) has become a rallying point for the mobilisation of a dying peace movement. He has been made responsible for the power of multinationals, for the death penalty, climate change, capitalism, globalisation, and the triumph of Hollywood and Coca Cola.
For the first time, protestors have seen a chance to stage a large-scale peace protest in Berlin, similar to those in Genoa, Davos or Göteburg. And like the previous demonstrations, Berlin may be just as violent.
The anti-Bush movement "axis of peace" is due to take to the streets on Tuesday. Berlin’s left-wing radicals, estimated at some 2,500, will storm the streets on Wednesday.
But Berlin is ready. 10,000 officers – a post-war record for a state guest – are on duty in Berlin this week. "The police are ready", police spokesman Carsten Graefe said. "We will be on red alert." The government district and much of the city centre will be closed off.
"Whoever mixes up freedom to demonstrate with riots will meet with hard resistance", Gerhard Schröder announced last week, saying that Bush was a good friend and was therefore welcome.
But Schröder is having his problems getting the government together in a common welcoming stance towards the US president. Various Green factions have called for protests. And in Berlin, the PDS, junior partner in the state’s SPD-led government, is mobilising its ranks for the huge demonstration on Tuesday.
The SPD is now urging the PDS to make sure no party leader is seen, or filmed, at the protests. Berlin’s Mayor, Social Democrat Klaus Wowereit (photo), whose deputy is PDS leader Gregor Gysi, has been remarkably quiet in recent days, while criticism from the SPD government has rained down on the former communist party.
The next three days will be a hard test for both the federal, and Berlin’s state government.
If things go horribly wrong, and massive riots take place, the opposition will be sure to pounce on Germany’s current red-green government, making them responsible for all protests. Bush’s visit could then become the next item in Germany’s current election campaign.