By Producer
NBC News
updated 2/17/2005 9:51:00 AM ET 2005-02-17T14:51:00

For most of the 200,000 proud residents of this small city on the Rhine River, the immediate reaction to the news that the world's most powerful man was going to visit their home city was, "Why Mainz of all places?"

Until now, this historic German city has been best known for its more than 1,000-year-old cathedral and as the place where the famous Gutenberg Bible was printed.

But that may change Wednesday, when President Bush visits Mainz, located just 30 miles from the international banking center of Frankfurt.

But while the meeting between Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will put this provincial city on the international map, it also has locals worried that there will be an adverse impact on business and social life in the region because of the massive security involved in the visit.

Roads, bridges and waterways will be closed, while up to 10,000 German security forces will be in place.

Total congestion
Police officials admit the visit will cause severe traffic problems, but have deliberately avoided using the term "traffic collapse” — despite the fact that Bush will land at Frankfurt International Airport at the peak of morning rush hour, plunging right into the center of the highly populated Rhein-Main area.

Hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks pass through this congested area on a daily basis.

And while rubber-necking delays are common along Germany's autobahns, the security measures Wednesday could tie up traffic for miles between the cities of Mainz, Wiesbaden and Frankfurt.

Residents have been asked to leave their cars at home on the day of Bush’s visit and use public transportation instead.

But commuter trains and buses will also be affected by the security measures. Trains that link the business center Frankfurt with the greater suburban area will be stopped off and on. Nearly 160,000 commuters use these train lines every day.

"If only one full train, with 1,000 passengers gets cancelled or delayed, we will not be able to make up for the delay," said Peter Vollmer, spokesman for the local RMV train operator.

And the Rhine River, one of Germany's main transportation routes for heavy cargo, will also be blocked for any ship traffic during business hours Wednesday. On any given day, around 200 ships pass Mainz, transporting commodities across Germany and other European countries.

Day off for businesses
Several schools and kindergartens, especially the ones close to the location where the two leaders will meet, have been asked to stay shut for the visit.

But students will not be the only ones looking forward to an unexpected vacation day. Several stores in the historic city center have decided not to open next Wednesday.

"We are constantly receiving situation reports, but I think we will close our store next Wednesday," Ansgar Loibl from the clothing chain Peek & Cloppenburg told NBC News. "We have two problems: getting our employees to the store and finding customers," Loibl added.

The department store has 150 employees. It is located in the pedestrian shopping mile, which will be blocked off as part of the inner security zone.

"I cannot estimate how much money we will loose, but losses can be severe on a regular work day," Loibl said.

Shop owners also fear that many of the regular commuters from the southern Pfalz region and the neighboring city of Wiesbaden will not be able to come to Mainz for shopping during Bush's visit.

"A lot of people will have difficulties getting to Mainz, but there are still more than 200,000 people who live in the inner city circle, and they will be able to spend their money," said Markus Biagioni, a spokesman for the city of Mainz.

An anti-Bush demonstration, which is scheduled to take place in the city center around mid-day, could present another problem. Officials expect up to 6,000 protestors, with the small chance of violent activists.

Access to the city center will be mostly denied to demonstrators traveling in from other cities in Germany. Mainz is a university city, however, and several local student organizations have already called for protests under the motto "Not Welcome Mr. President.”

Complaints, but could end up as a boon
Local citizens are still worried that the security level and precautionary measures will exceed anything they have previously experienced. A hotline which was installed by police and local authorities for questions from the public, has been receiving more than 20,000 calls per day.

"The local newspapers have also received several angry letters to the editor in the past weeks," Biagioni said.

But town hall officials also say the extreme media attention is priceless advertisement for Mainz and that it will boost its image as a small, but friendly city, with a good share of "Gemuetlichkeit" — a special German word for coziness and hospitality.

"Typically, a lot of people complain about the measures ahead of such visits," Biagioni said.  "But when they see their city on the news in the evening, they are usually very proud."

Andy Eckardt is an NBC News producer based in Mainz, Germany, and will be covering the Bush visit.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments