NATO Protests Stones in Strasbourg, Guitars in Baden-Baden

On the evening before the NATO summit on the German-French border, protesters in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden showed two sides: one peaceful and one violent. The situation remains volitile in the run-up to the meeting.

By in Strasbourg, France


Quiet returned to the Rue de la Ganzau as darkness fell -- quiet, at least, for a camp of about 3,000 young people in a field outside Strasbourg. A tall figure of Barack Obama, maybe six meters high, with donkey's ears and a NATO symbol on his stomach, stands near an entrance tent.

These were the activists who gathered to show resistance at the annual NATO summit, as the military alliance marks its 60th anniversary.

The spring night was warm, and from one tent came the sound of drums. But a few hours earlier, nearer to the city center, the scene was far less peaceful. There was heavy street fighting between the NATO protesters and police, with at least a hundred demonstrators having been hauled in.

One group of violent protesters reportedly tried to drive into the city center, where the police stopped them. The demonstrators then smashed the windows of a police station, set garbage cans on fire and scratched a number of cars. The police responded with teargas.

Reiner Braun, who helped organize the NATO protests, said he was shocked. "That is not at all acceptable," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Braun, who heads a group of critical lawyers, was still talking to officials late in the evening. "The situation has been brought under control," he said.

"It's a dicey situation," he said of the events that afternoon. But it could have been dicier. Braun said the security forces surrounded the camp for a while, and some demonstrators raised barricades in response. The straw bails and wooden structures used for the barricades are still standing by the entrance. Braun was ready for the camp to be stormed, he said, "but by talking we managed to avoid the worst."

On the other side of the Rhine, in Germany, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north, the scene in Baden-Baden looks completely different from Strasbourg. About 300 people have gathered in front of the city's opera house for a demonstration against the NATO summit, but about half the crowd consists of journalists and security personnel. Riot police are nowhere to be seen; the vans are parked around the corner.

Numerous and Loud

It's hard to imagine a more peaceful night than Thursday evening in Baden-Baden -- hoarse peace songs, guitars, a speech by a Left Party lawmaker, then presentations by a female Afghan politician and a former American soldier, on problems with Afghanistan and NATO, respectively. Men with close-cropped hair who watch from the terrace of a hotel on the other side of the street look amused. They're American security officials, having an evening beer.

Only Monty Schädel, a figure from the German peace-protest scene, disturbs this idyll. "I've been followed by plainclothes cops all day," he says. "When I photographed their car they got all furious."

A map of the NATO meeting locations.
SPIEGEL ONLINE

A map of the NATO meeting locations.

The police are well-prepared, and very much in evidence -- on motorbikes, in buses and police cruisers. Around 15,000 officers will report for work in Germany during the Strasbourg summit, and the refined city of Baden-Baden resembles a police state.

It irritates some of the locals. The conservative mayor, Wolfgang Gerstner, claimed to have "butterflies" over the coming visit from Barack Obama, but almost no one feels that euphoria anymore.

On Friday, when Obama and the other 26 leaders of NATO member states arrive in Baden-Baden -- along with leaders from Croatia and Albania, the alliance's newly designated members -- the time for hushed tones will come to an end. That, at least, is what Monty Schädel and his friends hope. They intend to be numerous and loud.

But the official protest route is far from the casino and the spa hotel, where the NATO leaders will meet. It seems unlikely that there will be riots in Baden-Baden like the riots in Strasbourg on Thursday. Officials have already put suspected troublemakers under house arrest, or else plan to block their entry into the city.

German police have been especially careful about security along the French border. Many people who wanted to leave the country have been detained, and summit demonstrators have objected that some detentions have seemed illegal. "It's true that we're checking people according to certain criteria right now," said Steffer Zaiser, a spokesman for the German federal police in Stuttgart. As of April 1, since the re-introduction of stricter guidelines on March 20, 46 people have been prohibited from entering the country. The prospect of that number rising in the next few days is "not to be ruled out," Zaiser told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

It's another story in France, where most of the violent fraction of protesters converged on Strasbourg from other countries. In Baden-Baden officials would be happy if they stayed there.

With wire material.

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