Schroder shielded from skinheads and pitbulls on tour of 'real' East

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The Independent Online

It has become painfully clear in the decade since reunification that there are in fact two Germanys, linked by language and currency but with precious little mutual goodwill. Now, however, Gerhard Schröder'simage makers have discovered that there are two East Germanys as well.

It has become painfully clear in the decade since reunification that there are in fact two Germanys, linked by language and currency but with precious little mutual goodwill. Now, however, Gerhard Schröder'simage makers have discovered that there are two East Germanys as well.

Yesterday the Chancellor set off from the pretty spa town of Bad Elster in the southern state of Saxony towards the beaches of the Baltic coast. For 12 days he will be on the road, touring one prosperous pocket after another. He wants to find out what conditions in the East are really like, say the spin-doctors.

The map showing his planned stopovers has little relevance to average German newspaper readers. They are more familiar with the place names that figure in the daily dispatches, such as Potsdam, Magdeburg or Eberswalde. These are the cities and towns where foreigners are regularly beaten up or killed, and where blackshirts with pit bulls patrol the drab concrete housing estates. These are towns that Mr Schröder will not see.

In his defence, the Chancellor might say that the tour was drawn up long before the latest far-right violence flared up. He will certainly be calling in Dessau, the town where a Mozambican man, Alberto Adriano, was kicked to death by neo-Nazis two months ago.

And he has not shirked from addressing the issue. "We will not allow rightist thugs to destroy the reconstruction [of the East]," Mr Schröder said yesterday at his first port of call.

Repeating his intention to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), the Chancellor threatened neo-Nazis with the "force of the state" and promised more help for the region's disadvantaged youth. But in the setting of the splendid gardens surrounding Bad Elster's bath house, such pronouncements seemed a little surreal.

Things are not likely to get much better. Critics say the Chancellor's entourage will get the same treatment accorded to previous visiting dignitaries - right down to the villages being given a swift makeover in their honour. Whenever Erich Honecker, the last East German leader with truly regal powers, was scheduled to visit, local officials would temporarily fill the potholes in the streets and the empty shelves in the shops. The same trick was played on Helmut Kohl, who was so moved, that he promised a "flourishing landscape" within a few years. This is the landscape Mr Schröder will now behold.

He will be taken to Wolfen, for instance, a town whosepopulation of 43,000 has shrunk by a quarter in the past decade. Or, to be precise, he will visit a modern photographic laboratory in Wolfen employing 56 people.

More characteristic of Wolfen, where one in four people is out of work, are the empty warehouses and abandoned factories. About 40,000 jobs have disappeared in the region since reunification. The Chancellor will not see the wreckage of this, nor will he travel to the housing estates in the northern half of Wolfen, where nearly one in five voted for neo-Nazis in the last elections. Two of Mr Adriano's killers came from Wolfen.

Right at the end of the tour is the intriguing village of Eggesin, close to the Polish border. Unlike all the "success stories" Mr Schröder will be hearing along the journey, Eggesin has little to boast of and much to be ashamed of.

Two Vietnamese inhabitants were severely beaten up there last summer by skinheads, with the locals looking on. Even today the people of Eggesin are adamant that the Vietnamese had been in the wrong, because they had no place at a "German" fête.

The Chancellor, however, will not be going into the village. He will merely be visiting the Bundeswehr barracks 10 kilometres outside Eggesin, where no Vietnamese in his right mind would venture.

Still, the trip, which at its conception had looked like an easy public relations jaunt, threatens to turn into a nightmare. After his tax-cutting budget and the suicidal antics of the opposition, the Chancellor and his party are riding high in the polls. But all this could be lost if he is seen to be spending too much time on photo opportunities, and not enough fixing the country's problems.

Another flare-up of violence in one of the places left off Mr Schröder's itinerary might give the impression that he is touring the wrong country.

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