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Not With a Bang But a Whimper: McDonald's Opens in Kreuzberg

By Josh Ward in Berlin

When McDonald's announced plans last May to open a franchise in Berlin's alternative neighborhood of Kreuzberg, some people thought the world was ending. But the streets were quiet for the restaurant's grand opening.

It looks like any of Germany's nearly 1,300 other McDonald's franchises. Colorful glossy plastic and shiny stainless steel, bright lights, smiling counter people, a playground, a grasshopper-green manicured lawn, a McCafé and a McDrive. Everything McNormal.

Take a closer look, though, and you see something strange. Hidden in a parking lot around the corner are three police paddy wagons with wire-mesh-protected windows, full of bored police officers in riot gear waiting for a smoke break. Security cameras hang in bunches on light poles like coconuts. Almost everyone outside has a long-lensed camera, video recorder or reporter's spiral notepad.

This is the first McDonald's in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood, and expectations were high that the denizens of the famously left-wing district would act to resist the incursion of the Golden Arches. There was a time here when protesters would throw excrement-filled care packages and plastic bags of paint into fine-dining establishments in the neighborhood, until someone decided to outdo the others by lobbing a hand grenade into one expensive restaurant in the early 1990s.

But that wasn't the scene Friday -- far from it. There were reportedly a few protesters in attendance in the morning, but by noon they were gone.

Just A Matter Of Time?

When the general public learned last May that a McDonald's would go up on a centrally located plot of land in Kreuzberg, purchased from the German postal service in 2002, a community group called "McWiderstand" ("McResistance") formed. The group hung banners in the neighborhood with mottos like, "Drive In -- Puke Out," and started a website called KeinMcDoofInKreuzberg.de ("NoMcStupidInKreuzberg").

A posting on the site Friday, the first since early June, restates the group's opposition to the company, but a spokesman named Philip Raschdorf told the Associated Press there was a reason for the lack of organized protest. "If we'd started a big protest today," he said, "we just would have brought more attention to McDonald's."

Alexander Schramm, director of corporate affairs for McDonald's Deutschland, oversaw today's opening with a calm, satisfied expression. "I wasn't really worried about protesters," he said. "We kept in contact with the police, and they told us there were no signs that anything significant would happen."

Nadine R., a 23-year-old student running to get to class, admitted between slurps of her beverage that she was happy to have a fast-food place across from her school. "I usually like to eat something healthier," she said. "But you get so little time in your break. It's just so much easier to come here," she added, as a friend dragged her away.

Satisfied customers aside, though, the store will remain under 24-hour observation for an indefinite period to prevent anything untoward from happening, the company said.

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