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G7 leaves people of Elmau cold: 'Never again'

Sabine Kinkartz Elmau, Germany
June 26, 2022

The G7 leaders are meeting for three days in Elmau, Germany. The summit has turned this idyllic corner of Bavaria into a high-security zone that has impacted local businesses and schools, as Sabine Kinkartz found out.

A store window featuring an anti-G7 sign
'Thanks for nothing!' Local business owners are not excited about the G7Image: Sabine Kinkartz/DW

Chocolate is everywhere you look. Different varieties are stacked on large plates in a display case. There's cranberry white next to peanut-salt-whole-milk, and dark chocolate refined with cardamom, clove and pepper.

Chocolatier Franz Kässer makes the delicacies and sells them in his store in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. But customers have been staying away for weeks. "We're losing out big time," he says, angrily.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a spa town in Upper Bavaria that lives primarily from tourism — skiers in the winter, hikers in the summer. "The tourist beds are occupied, but for the past three weeks they've been police officers, security guards and people doing the setup for the G7 summit," says Kässer. "Of course, they don't shop with us or eat with us, because their catering is taken care of."

And it's not just him, he adds. "I went out to eat last night, there were three people sitting in the restaurant, where normally everything is booming at this time of year," he says.

Franz Kässer stands in his chocolate shop
Chocolatier Franz Kässer doesn't want the G7 backImage: Sabine Kinkartz/DW

Even schools are closed

At least 18,000 police officers have been deployed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Elmau, the small village located above the resort town in a valley that is difficult to access, to provide security for the G7 summit. Police cars are lined up everywhere, and helicopters are constantly rattling through the air.

The heads of state and government are hermetically sealed off at Schloss Elmau, a remote luxury spa retreat, while in Garmisch the media center has been set up for the 3,000 or so journalists who have arrived. Hundreds of maintenance hole covers have been sealed with white stickers, trash cans have been cleared from the streets and schools are closed, with students forced to take their classes online.

Police checkpoints have been set up on all access roads within a radius of 16 kilometers (10 miles), forcing motorists to stop while officers check their personal details. The plan is to spot and filter out troublemakers and potentially violent protesters before they reach Garmisch.

Lentil stew with the chancellor

"Many activists don't come because of the checks, they don't want to be searched and are also afraid of repression," says Tatjana Söding, who together with Christopher Olk has pitched her tent in a protest camp on a meadow on the edge of the town. Söding has just completed her master's degree in human ecology, and Olk is doing a doctorate in international political economy. Both belong to the Stop G7 Elmau alliance, which plans to stage several protest rallies throughout the summit.

"Seven heads of state are pursuing their own interests and their decisions affect the world's population, which is not allowed to have a say," says Olk. "They talk about climate justice, but their very own specific, political and economic interests are in the foreground, which don't allow for real climate justice at all."

Two people stand in a green field, near a row of tents
Tatjana Söding and Christopher Olk have joined the protest campImage: Sabine Kinkartz/DW

What would the two say if they had the opportunity to speak with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in person? "I would invite him to eat a lentil stew with us and then we would talk about how we can make Germany part of a just world," Olk says, laughing incredulously. But dinner with the chancellor is not on the cards.

Instead, police have suggested that 50 of the roughly 750 authorized activists who have come to Garmisch-Partenkirchen be driven up to Elmau, where they could demonstrate out of sight of the heads of state and government, under guard. But they find that unacceptable. "Freedom of movement and assembly will be severely restricted," says Söding.

Will the protest remain peaceful?

The plan is for the demonstrators to march through the town at the bottom of Garmisch, but they also want to try to advance through the mountain forest to Elmau in a so-called "star march," in which several groups converge on an agreed point from different directions. But the police have already announced that the activists will not get far.

"There is a lot of police in Garmisch, and there is a reason for that," says Manfred Hauser, the regional police chief, speaking with the media ahead of the summit.

Business owners in Garmisch hope the protests will remain peaceful. "Many residents have gone away for a few days," says chocolatier Kässer. "But we had already planned all the vacations here in the store when we learned six months ago that a G7 summit was to be held in Elmau for the second time."

The last time, in 2015, he adds, they were informed a year-and-a-half in advance and were able to plan differently. "I can't send people on vacation now," he says.

G7 Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Some 18,000 police officers have been deployed to Elmau and Garmisch-PartenkirchenImage: Angelika Warmuth/dpa/picture alliance

G7 still up to date?

Kässer is certain there will be no third G7 summit here. "Never again G7," he says with fervor in his voice. "The people here in town wouldn't go along with that, and it's supported by some in the local council."

He criticizes that the whole effort is not even in keeping with the times. "We're supposed to heat less and shower less, and here they're burning up the energy with hundreds of police cars driving around and helicopters doing practice flights for weeks," he points out.

Kässer doesn't deny that meetings of heads of state and government are necessary. "But please not in this format," he says. "There are hundreds of people in each entourage. Why don't they meet with their closest circle of advisers, and all the other people can meet on the internet these days, can't they?"

There are also places where such meetings could be better held, he says. "At [US Air Force Base] Ramstein, a NATO summit was organized at very short notice with important people, and the US president was able to land directly on the site with his Air Force One jet. You don't have to impose all this on anyone nowadays," he says.

This article was originally published in German