Bavarian Town Under Siege as G-7 Security Trumps SerenityAlex Webb and Elisabeth Behrmann
Schloss Elmau was chosen to host the Group of Seven summit for its breathtaking views of the soaring and serene Bavarian Alps. Locals hope that’s the image the world takes away and not of a town beset by riots.
Residents in the nearby town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen are watching with trepidation as police prepare for thousands of protesters to descend on the community starting Saturday. The entire sewage system in the village of 26,700 has already been sealed off as 12,000 security personnel take over the town, which is just an 11-mile drive from Schloss Elmau.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen -- a small remote town typical nowadays for global political gatherings after the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle was hit by riots -- is making a bet it will gain from the publicity that 4,000 journalists can bring to the community. To do so, it will have to pull off the event without major altercations.
“We hope that there will be loads of photos of our beautiful landscape disseminated around the world,” said Anton Weinberger, the 55-year-old head of the local tourist board. “We’re open for business as usual, but if we see 1,000 rioters running around outside, we won’t hesitate to shut up shop.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel selected Schloss Elmau, a five-star hotel and spa retreat four miles away from the nearest main road, for its rich views of the Wetterstein mountain range close to Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze.
Since international summits have moved to towns less accessible to demonstrators, heads of state have taken to picking places which show off their countries’ most beautiful spots, like Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005 or Toyaka in Japan in 2008. The locations are usually in the mountains, by the coast or a lake, which make them easier to manage from a security perspective. The downside is they generally don’t have the necessary infrastructure.
“The effort is simply huge, and I think we really have to consider whether it’s worthwhile,” Sigrid Meierhofer, Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s mayor, said in an interview at her office in the town hall, which was built shortly before hosting Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Winter Olympics. “It’s important that global leaders meet, but big cities have the infrastructure to manage these sort of events.”
So far, the town is not feeling much joy. Local shopkeepers said business has dropped in half in the weeks before the summit as tourists stayed away and the town’s 9,000 hotel beds fill up with thrifty police and security personnel.
Germany has partially reintroduced border controls from May 26 to June 15, suspending parts of the Schengen open borders treaty ahead of the gathering, Spiegel magazine reported last month. The extent of the disruption has left locals wondering why small places are lumped with months of upheaval for a gathering lasting 36 hours.
“The impact has been far more drastic than we thought,” said Michaela Nelhiebel, an optician in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. “The effort and cost to host such an event bears no relation to the impact on our town.”
For Merkel, it’s easy to see why she chose Schloss Elmau to host U.S. President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders. Finished in 1916, the castle is nestled in the rich green meadows of a secluded valley and includes perks such as an outdoor pool heated to 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) and a Michelin-star restaurant.
A picture postcard of Bavaria with its copper-clad spire emerging from one corner, the 167-room hotel holds about 220 classical and contemporary concerts a year. Many houses in the area are decorated with murals of rural and biblical scenes, and locals still wear the traditional woolen hat with a feather as they sip the local Hacker-Pschorr wheat beer.
“You can’t help but notice Schloss Elmau’s unique location which tops anywhere else,” said Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, grandson of the philosopher and Lutheran theologian Johannes Mueller, who built the castle a century ago. “Americans, as well as Germans, love it here.”
Mayor Meierhofer is banking on the G-7 to reinforce the region’s traditional German Alpine coziness, rather than images of rioters tearing through the streets. The police are promising to keep it under control.
“All offenses around the summit, particularly acts of violence, will be preemptively nipped in the bud,” said Robert Kopp, deputy chief of Bavarian state police. “Disturbing the peace will not be tolerated.”
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