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Germany

Troubled Dresden hopes for peaceful Day of German Unity

Anxiety is rife in the capital of the state of Saxony. Worries and all, Dresden is expecting several hundred thousand visitors for Day of German Unity celebrations.

Two of Dresden's most attractive buildings will take Germany's center stage on Monday, when the nation celebrates the 26th anniversary of its peaceful reunification. An ecumenical service is being held in the Frauenkirche, the city's symbolic landmark, which was rebuilt with the support of various citizens' initiatives after being destroyed in an Allied firebombing during World War II. And the main ceremony will be held in the world-famous Semperoper. German President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert top the guest list.

According to tradition, all 16 federal states are showcasing themselves on the Day of German Unity. Given the lavish program of cultural events and the noted excellence of Saxon cuisine, Dresden can be sure that visitors will get their money's worth.

Dresden is expecting several hundred thousand visitors for the Day of German Unity celebrations. Hotel bookings are looking good, though there have reportedly been a few isolated cancellations.

Mayor Dirk Hilbert has called on locals and visitors to celebrate and have fun. Otherwise, he fears, the "agitators and rabble-rousers" will feel emboldened.

Massive anti-migrant protests

Dresden has acquired a bad image throughout Germany and internationally because of its weekly xenophobic marches. A group calling itself Patriotic Europeans Against the "Islamization" of the West has mobilized there every Monday for almost two years now. Sometimes the protests have numbered thousands of people. The group intends to march this week, too, and, like every Monday, on the Day of German Unity.

Last Monday's bomb attacks in Dresden made clear just how explosive the situation has become. The targets were a mosque and the convention center . The perpetrators and their motives are still unknown, but xenophobia has not been ruled out.

More than 2,000 police will be on duty to provide security. Concrete blocks have been placed around the extensive festival grounds in the center of Dresden to ward off the possibility of attackers using vehicles to break through. The organizers have taken France's Bastille Day attack in Nice as a warning.

The xenophobia that has repeatedly been displayed in Saxony was a topic of discussion in the Bundestag on Friday, when parliamentarians commented on the recent annual report on the state of German unity. Iris Gleicke, the federal commissioner for eastern German Affairs, said far-right extremism, racism and xenophobia were, of course, phenomena that affect the entire nation. However, she said, far more right-motivated crimes were taking place in eastern Germany per capita. "Are we supposed to act as if this finding did not exist?" the Social Democrat asked.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the parliamentary chairwoman of the opposition Greens, expressed horror at recent events in Dresden, particularly in light of the Day of German Unity. She said that what could have been a celebration of the unification of an open, free and tolerant Germany would be overshadowed by the bomb attacks. "If we're serious about German unity, the key issues are coexistence and maintaining solidarity in our country," Göring-Eckardt said. She added that it was also a question of standing alongside those who had recently arrived in Germany to take action against xenophobes and make clear that "this is our country, this is our democracy, and we will defend it."

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