Hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to flock to Cologne in August to celebrate World Youth Day. But the Catholic Church event is already being overshadowed by the threat of terrorist attacks on civilians.
Cologne is preparing to lock its doors to terrorists
Dealing with the security of such events is a massive undertaking for the police, who are charged not only with the taking care of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters, but with Pope Benedict XVI and other high-profile religious figures and politicians.
The security operation is on a grand scale and will draw on resources from local and federal police and private security staff as well Portuguese, French and and Italian police and some 30 sniffer dogs.
The city will be crawling with police during the World Youth Day
Even with several thousand people working together to prevent terrorist attacks, there is no way of monitoring the moves of every one of the more than 800,000 people expected to attend the six-day event.
Hermann-Josef Johanns, managing director of the Catholic festival, said organizers are doing everything they can to ensure the safety during the gathering.
"As the event organizers, we have to work together with the relevant authorities to make sure that people can celebrate in a safe environment. We are never going to be able to ensure one hundred percent security at such a huge event, and to believe that is possible is quite simple illusionary," he said.
Too many police?
Such a mass of police and security staff could seem alienating for the young pilgrims who are coming from all corners of the world to celebrate their beliefs, sing and pray together.
In order to hear the pope speak, they will have to pass through tight security controls in a process which could take hours and, some fear, ruin the joy of the celebration. Johanns said the whole issue of security would have to be dealt with in a sensitive fashion.
Pope Benedict XVI
"Take the example of the pope surrounded by a lot of young people when he's on the boat on the Rhine River. There will be security people there who will not be recognizable as such. They'll be young and professional, but people won't notice them, which will enable us to grant the pope and the people on the ship some protection," he said. "What we don't want is a police party, but a police presence which is not too obvious. And the authorities are aware of that."
Cologne has already had two papal visits and is thus familiar with the security levels synonymous with them. But this time, the measures will be even more elaborate, with tight restrictions on roads, bridges, waterways and the airspace above the city, Dieter Klinger, head of the police operation, said.
It is a lot of effort to go to given police no reason to believe the event is indeed a target for a terrorist attack. But since the possibility can't be ruled out, neither the German authorities not the World Youth Day organizers are prepared to take any risks.
Disclaimer: Deutsche Welle is a media partner of World Youth Day 2005