Bush's German tour to recall life behind the Iron Curtain

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The Independent Online

Barring distant protests, George Bush will experience the nearest thing to a former Communist state turned Disneyland when he visits Chancellor Angela Merkel's home constituency on Germany's Baltic coast today.

The US President begins his two-day tour in the ancient Hanseatic port of Stralsund, where arrangements for his arrival were being compared to a state visit during the former East Germany's Communist era. All cars have been banned from the city's centre, every manhole cover has been welded shut, all shops will be closed and several hundred inhabitants along the route have been ordered to leave their homes for the duration of the President's stopover.

More than 12,000 officers have been drafted in to police Mr Bush's tour. Fears of a possible terrorist attack have led the Stralsund authorities to hand-pick the 1,000 guests who will attend a reception for the President on the city's 14th-century market square. Three hundred of them will be soldiers in civilian clothes. "It's uncannily like the old Communist East Germany," remarked Harald Wilde, a local technical college professor, who is organising a series of "Not Welcome Mr President" demonstrations during the tour.

The region's ruling Social Democrats have protested against the visit and the local radical Left Party has said it will boycott the event and join demonstrations against it. However the expected 5,000 anti-Bush protesters will be kept well out of sight and earshot.

Mr Bush will spend the night at the élite Baltic resort town of Heiligendamm. A US warship will patrol the waters outside his hotel and a 1,300 metre triple-fenced barricade will secure the rear of the building.

Mr Bush's visit is seen by some as an attempt by the White House to groom the conservative German leader as America's next chief European ally to replace Tony Blair.

Ms Merkel has visited Washington twice since being elected Chancellor and Mr Bush has made it clear that he sees the former East German's political success as living proof of the West's victory over Communism.

The President, who has specifically asked his host for a chance to experience what life was like for "folks who grew up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain", is unlikely to be disappointed. This evening he will attend an informal barbecue at the former Red Banner state collective farm in the village of Trinwillershagen - a name which has been giving White House officials headaches for weeks.

In keeping with socialist traditions, a locally shot 30kg wild boar will be grilled on a spit over an open fire and consumed by President Bush and his wife, Laura, and a gathering of local conservatives selected from Ms Merkel's constituency.

Klaus-Dieter Than, Trinwillershagen's mayor, has pledged to give a full account of the collective's Communist past. But he is also likely to be the only east German to provide publicly an inkling of the local population's opposition to the President's presence.

Some have described the event as the "worst catastrophe since bird flu", which struck the region at the beginning of the year. "I shall be making it clear to Mr Bush that one simply cannot solve the problems of this world by waging war," Mr Than said yesterday.

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