President Bush is in East Germany visiting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) ahead of the upcoming G-8 summit. I lived in East Germany for two years, including nearly a year in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where President Bush is visiting Merkel in her native region of Germany. He is visiting Rostock, Stralsund, Heiligendammer Seebad, and Trinwillershagen. I have spent considerable time in Rostock and Stralsund but have not been to Heiligendammer Seebad or Trinwillershagen.
It has been interesting to watch news coverage of this event in the German media, e.g. at Die Welt (article with more than a dozen links to other Die Welt articles about Bush’s visit in East Germany), for the superficial reason of watching the background and remembering being in some of the exact places shown. For example, in the linked German newspaper article, there are links to good video coverage of the President in the Hanseatic City of Stralsund (see here for a brief English description of the city). That is such a beautiful city, moreso now than 10 years ago when I lived in East Germany.
I was last in Stralsund four years ago, when my wife and I took a trip there for my birthday (we were living in Hamburg at the time). My wife and I are eccentrics and find it fun and exciting to spend time in East Germany, visiting crumbling towns and the coastal Hanseatic League cities and other towns on the northern lowlands, including Schwerin, where we invariably spend some time whenever we make it over to Germany.
This picture from the die Welt coverage was also amusing. These workers are hastily painting the familiar gray wall of a building near where Bush’s informal barbeque with Merkel is supposed to take place in Trinwillershagen. Anyone who has spent time in East Germay will recognize why this is amusing. In East Germany, the city centers of towns are normally beautiful and retain the medieval charm that makes this area a real attraction for romanticists. But smaller towns and the outlying neighborhoods of the cities sport tract after tract of Stalinist housing projects — prefabricated cement apartment buildings that are uniform throughout the Eastern Block. You will see the exact same apartments in East Berlin as in Trinwillershagen, or Budapest, Krakow, Vilnius, and elsewhere behind the former "Iron Curtain." Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, all of these buildings were cement gray. Since the Reunification of Germany, much work has been done to revitalize the vast expanses of these communist-created ghettos in East Berlin (where I lived for a year in the mid-1990s). But in the smaller towns and peripheries of the bigger cities, the neighborhoods remain as they were before October 3, 1990. To spice it up a bit, this particular pre-fabbed building in a small East German village is getting a hasty new coat of paint.
Also interesting from the German news coverage was the fact that anticipated large-scale protests of Bush’s visit did not pan out as expected. One of the newspaper articles provided an amusing and cynical take on this:
Rund 1000 Menschen, wohlausgesucht, dreifach sicherheitsüberprüft und in der Mehrzahl CDU-nah, haben sich an diesem Vormittag am Alten Markt, dem historischen Zentrum von Stralsund, versammelt, um der deutschen Kanzlerin und ihrem Gast, dem amerikanischen Präsidenten, beherzt zuzujubeln und, bei Bedarf, freundschaftlich die Hand zu schütteln
[About 1000 people, carefully selected, screened three times by security and the majority of which friendly to the CDU, gathered this morning on the Old Market, the historical center of Stralsund, to heartily cheer the German Chancellor and her guest, the American President, and, where needed, to give a friendly handshake.]
The paper provided the results of a poll conducted about President Bush’s visit to Germany:
Nicht jeder ist glücklich über den Besuch des US-Präsidenten. Eine Forsa-Umfrage zum Bush-Besuch ergab ein gespaltenes Bild: Nur 41 Prozent der Deutschen halten den Besuch für „gut“ (34 Prozent) bis „sehr gut“ (7 Prozent). 52 Prozent halten den Besuch indes für „weniger gut“ (24 Prozent) bis „überhaupt nicht gut“ (28 Prozent).
[Not everyone is happy about the visit of the U.S. President. A Forsa-survey about the Bush visit resulted in a divided picture: only 41% of Germans think the visit is "good" (34%) to "very good" (7%). 52% think the visit is "less good" (24%) to "absolutely not good" (28%).]