Global Policy Forum

Big Trouble in Little Heiligendamm


By Marcel Rosenbach, Gunther Latsch and Markus Deggerich

Der Spiegel
May 9, 2007

Heiligendamm is normally a sleepy seaside resort on the Baltic. But with the G-8 coming in June, the town has been transformed into a well-fortified stronghold. And the German authorities aren't the only ones who have been preparing for confrontation.

The coastal idyll on Germany's north shore this spring ends abruptly on country road number 12, right after the little village of Hinter Bollhagen. At the outskirts of town, just at the edge of the picturesque, stunningly yellow field of rapeseed is The Fence. Intimidating. Martial. And a bit surreal. That, at least, is how the locals and curious day trippers see it. Those responsible prefer to speak of a "technical barrier." Since January, workers have been busy building an enormous enclosure around the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm -- and they are being very thorough. The fence that ploughs through the landscape for some 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) is 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) tall, affixed at the base by 4,800 concrete slabs and crowned by four rows of barbed wire. Thick rolls of sharp razor-wire are wrapped around the barbed wire, gleaming silver in the spring sun.

The protective fence is the most visible part of a unique security strategy devised for the three-day G-8 summit -- bringing together the leaders of eight of the world's most important economies -- scheduled to be held in the luxurious resort in early June. In addition, the largest police operation in the history of the German Federal Republic will transform the fenced in enclosure around Heiligendamm into the equivalent of a maximum-security prison. But this one is designed to keep people out. The authorities and protesters alike have been gearing up for the showdown for two years already. As many as 100,000 demonstrators will arrive from all over the world and take to the streets, protest organizers hope. Sixteen thousand policemen are preparing to defend the site of the summit.

A new wall

The images that will go around the world during the summit -- of a new wall raised in Germany -- won't be pretty. But that's the price the host country believes it has to pay following the battle of Genoa in 2001, during which one demonstrator was killed by the police. Ever since then, this summit of world leaders, originally introduced as cozy, fireside chats, are being organized ever more elaborately and in ever more absurd locations -- in the mountains of Canada in 2002, for example, or in the backwoods of Scotland in 2005. Heiligendamm, located in a sparsely populated area in the country's north, was chosen as the location for the summit in Germany. Nine navy vessels complete with mine detection systems will be patrolling the waters just off the coast to protect the village's Baltic Sea flank. Overall, 1,100 members of the German military will be deployed in the area, making the G-8 summit -- leaving aside natural disaster aid missions -- one of the largest ever domestic military deployments in post-war Germany.

An open provocation

But there are doubts as to whether building this protective fence in north-eastern Germany was really such a good idea. Indeed, it has already become a symbol before the summit has even gotten underway. For opponents of the G-8, who have long questioned the elitist group's democratic credentials, the fence is an open provocation -- and is seen by them as yet more proof of a divided world in which the rich and powerful separate themselves from the rest. The fence also provides plenty of motivation. The summit isn't just this year's most important political appointment in Merkel's calendar, but also in those of left-wing parties and non-governmental organizations like Attac -- not to mention militant activists from Germany and abroad. Some 5,000 of the hard-core protesters are expected to be on hand in June. Those who live in the area speak of the summit as if it were an imminent natural catastrophe, or some sort of visitation. Whether by the pier of the town of Kühlungsborn, in the Nelson Bar of Heiligendamm's Grand Hotel or along the Baltic Sea hiking route -- there is only one topic being discussed, just as there is only one judgement being uttered, usually with a sigh: "What madness, and all that for three days."

Knut Abramowski has heard those words many times recently, especially since the total cost of the summit -- about €100 million ($136 million) -- was made public. Abramowski, head of the police's "Special Construction Organization" for the summit, says he can understand the sentiment, even if he has nothing to do with the financial side. "I just say what's needed," he says between drags on his cigarette as he stands near a horse-racing track just outside the village of Bad Doberan. For Abramowski, who is also heads up the police presence for the G-8 conference, the list of needs is not short. Near the track stands one of two movable street barricades -- each of them sunk deep into the asphalt -- where those with badges will be allowed in. Residents and local business owners, in other words, have to prove they have "justified interest" in passing into the enclosure, and must have their picture taken for the little plastic ID. Inside the tents by the checkpoint -- which has already been dubbed "Checkpoint Charlie" by the locals -- the people are screened, just like at the airport.

Nordic sobriety

Prior to his current appointment, Abramowski was in charge of the police directorate in Rostock and responsible for just 1,200 people. Now he is in charge of 16,000. And what is more, he bears the double burden of having to ensure both the safety of those within the enclosure and the right to demonstrate of those outside. He talks about his task with Nordic sobriety, in clipped sentences. When it all begins, he'll be standing in his command center in Rostock, where 350 "planners and staff assistants" are already doing preliminary work for him. Then he'll have to rely on his men on the street. "They're all professionals," he says. His army of cops, recruited from several German regions, is mainly made up of officers with extensive experience at demonstrations. It's only when he's asked about his responsibilities that the police director suddenly becomes very resolute. Take all those earlier speculations about US military vessels off the coast, for example. "We alone are responsible for the aerial and coastal security of the restricted area," he says, "and I have requested nothing of the kind."

But it's not just the police who are busy preparing for the G-8 in Heiligendamm. The advance guard of the summit's opponents has set up shop in a former school among the housing projects of Rostock. The city has provided the rooms. "It's been weeks since we've been able to go anywhere unaccompanied," complains Monty Schädel, the regional coordinator of the protest alliance, which comprises about 30 groups -- from Attac and Greenpeace to Christians for Socialism. He doesn't know what's worse -- constantly being stopped and asked for identification by the police or surveillance by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The police have already begun removing people from around Heiligendamm, he says.

Like the police, the activists have been preparing for the summit since 2005. They're planning demonstrations, concerts with pop star Herbert Grí¶nemeyer and the band "Wir Sind Helden", and an alternative summit with workshops. For the left, the summit is like a gift from the class enemy. It finally restores a revolutionary feeling and provides clear dividing lines, with the good guys on one side of the fence and the bad guys on the other. The G-8 summit is mobilizing left-wing activists the world over, and the enemy's magnitude promises to increase their own significance. The attention the G-8 summit receives worldwide has anti-globalization activists licking their chops. "The summit is an opportunity to be heard by the world," says Pedram Shayar of Attac.

The expected attention also explains the intense negotiations being carried out behind the revolutionary front lines. Activist groups are haggling over who will get how much speaking time at the mega-demo on June 2 in Rostock, for example. Green Party politician Claudia Roth and Oskar Lafontaine from the Left Party both would have liked to use that demonstration to bask in the limelight of the international press. But the activists didn't want to be overshadowed -- and both were uninvited without further ado.

The summit protesters are trying to keep step with the summit hosts logistically and financially. The Rostock demonstration alone is using up about €200,000 ($271,133), according to an internal budget plan; the camp sites for an estimated 20,000 protesters will cost about €260,000 ($352,417). But as high as the price tag is, the left is hoping the intense hype generated by the G-8 might provide their causes with new sustenance. Still, just as in the G-8 itself, the debates taking place within the left are often old news -- such as the discussion over whether or not the use of violence is legitimate. The "Interventionist Left," within which many autonomous and anti-fascist groups are organized, is part of the alliance, and it openly announces: "All forms of action are legitimate." Attac and Greenpeace feel duped.

Hype of the year

The organizers are dreaming of 100,000 demonstrators -- and have perhaps raised the bar a little too high. "That requires mobilizing about 30,000 people just from the region," says Steffen Bockhahn, the deputy chairman of the Left Party in the state. Yet first attempts at making contact with the locals yielded only modest results: An information evening in Rostock's Nikolai Church in mid-April was attended by only about a dozen residents. So far, the police have had markedly more success in winning the favor and the interest of the residents and their informational events have been much better attended. Small business owners ask whether they should board up their windows and who will pay for possible damage. Mistrustful locals want to know who will prevent outsiders from urinating in their front yards.

Dinse in a wet corner

Chief Police Inspector Ingolf Dinse has been making the rounds of the local bars, with names like "The Wet Corner" -- and look the part. He speaks vaguely about colleagues "who will, in due time, become involved." Then he shows some slides. The residents are especially interested in the one on "vandalism." The possibility that demonstrators "slip through" the lines can't be ruled out, Dinse says. But he immediately adds: "We'll have more police here than you've ever seen in your life."

Christoph Kleine is one of the police's enemies. "The fence is the goal," the 40-year-old from Lübeck admits. And he has been training -- as a member of the "Block G-8" movement -- to achieve that goal. He also organizes blockade trainings across the country, including a recent one in April in Rostock attended by 150 people. At least one protestor is to make it across the fence -- as a symbol. If that doesn't work, Kleine and his friends want to block the access roads to Heiligendamm and around Laage airport, where the state visitors will land and transfer to helicopters for the final leg of the journey.

Demo tourists are already arriving from as far away as London. A bus carts Sandra and Ken from Rostock to the fence around Heiligendamm. While still in the car, the young Britons are slipped a phone number where they can request legal help in case things should get serious. Following a secret training session the day before, they now want to test their tactics in public. It's a bizarre spectacle, right under the eyes of the police.

Talking to the lawyers

Lawyers, of course, have also not been left out of this arms race. The interior minister of the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lorenz Caffier of the conservative Christian Democrat Party (CDU), wants to arrange for rapid trials and mobile detention centers. Parts of nearby Bützow prison are being emptied on the orders of the Ministry of Justice, in order to make room for militant protesters. Judges are to issue arrest warrants immediately, on location. The authorities are betting on a proven strategy from the Cold War: deterrence.

But not everybody is dwelling on the potential negatives. Public relations man Stephan Bunge is using 42 school presentations to try and convince more than 5,000 youth of the potential benefits the G-8 meeting can bring. "The whole world is looking at Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania," is his message. Bunge is certain that the media will praise the charms of the region. He self-confidently projects a collage onto the wall full of made up headlines. If things go according to his plan, the New York Times will write about "enthusiastic reports in the world's media about the Baltic Sea coast." Bunge considers the G-8 summit a promotion event for an economically underdeveloped area. No revolution, no riots. For him, the summit means a little more attention, a little more money and a few jobs.

Hartmut Polzin has been the mayor of Bad Doberan including Heiligendamm since 1998, and he too is betting on the marketing effect for the region. He already has proof: last Easter in Heiligendamm, the new beach stairway was completed, the promenade was newly paved and the town thoroughfare prettied up. Just to be safe, Polzin has also acquired a permit card in order to get into "his" Heiligendamm once Bush and Blair have arrived there. And yet he does not feature on the official program of the summit, as he learned after asking. Maybe, the mayor hopes, there is still a slot for him in the supplementary cultural program.

Thomas B. is another one of those locals who are preparing for the grand event. His brick house in Vorder Bollhagen is the last one on his street, and from his garden he looks directly at the fence. He's taken a close look at the roughly 150 activists participating in the blockade training -- and he's been uneasy ever since. Like his neighbors, Thomas B. is afraid there will be trouble in Vorder Bollhagen -- big trouble.

"We're the last town before the fence, and they've announced they want to cross the fence," he says. The residents of the little town have been promised 1,500 policemen, he reports. That would be five policemen for each resident. B. now wants to begin stockpiling supplies. You never know. Nearby, in the Reddelich business park, some have already raised extra-high fences around their property, because a camp site for demonstrators is being set up there.

Like many people here, Thomas B. would have preferred to be fenced in as well. He would have liked to be on the safe inner side of the fence, instead of living in the last house on the outside. But in some ways the fence has also been a boon for the 43-year-old. As a building contractor, he has set out the roughly 12 kilometer (7.5 mile) sentry trail along the fence. Right after the summit, he will remove most of it. Oh yes, and the protesters have just asked him whether he would be prepared to level the ground on their camp site in Reddelich. He's making them an offer too now. Indeed, he's one of the people who profit from the summit -- one of the few.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Heiligendamm, Germany
More Information on the Group of Seven/Group of Eight
More Information on the G8 Protest: Heiligendamm
More Information on NGOs and Social & Economic Justice


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