"Berlin is a Fortress"
Stepping out the door of my hotel places you less than 100 yards away from where the Berlin Wall once stood. In fact, my hotel would have been in Communist East Berlin, but times have changed here in the new captial of Germany, and the Cold War along with the Berlin Wall are a distant memory... almost.
You can't help but get an eerie feeling as you continue down Fredrichstrasse, the road that leads away from my hotel. There are no cars in sight. Stores are closed, restaurant patios usually filled and bustling with late-night diners now mysteriously silent.
The Polizei (German Police) are everywhere. There are roughly 10,000 of them patrolling the streets of Berlin. Some German newspapers specualte that there have never been more police in this city at one time. They say that "Berlin is a Fortress".. almost a police state.
Add another six hundred American security people, more than one thousand members of the press, and what you've got is state visit by the leader of the free world.
Hundreds of Berliners lined the streets to welcome George W. Bush to Berlin. Air Force One carrying the President and Secretary of State Colin Powell touched down at Templehof airport just after 8 pm Central European Time Wednesday evening.
It's the first visit by a US President to Berlin since it became Germany'captial after moving from Bonn in 1999. It's also less than nine months since the September 11th attacks, and Berlin is the first stop on President Bush's European tour to rally support in expanding the War on Terrorism.
Expanding the war on terrorism could include another desert battle with Iraq, a fact the German people are well aware of, and many adamantly against.
Just a few hours before the President landed, I had a chance to get out and mingle with hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the center of Berlin. They're the reason for the beefed up security around town. In fact they're the only signs of life in an otherwise deserted metropolis.
Here, the wave of post-September 11th pro-American patriotism is washed away by the scathing images of George Bush holding a hunting rifle and being labled as a war monger. These protestors, along with a number of ordinary German people, feel they have no place in a war with Iraq. They also feel left out of international diplomacy and complain that the United States too often acts on it's own in matters of war and diplomacy.
But the issue of Iraq draws strong criticism from the German people. Just 13 years ago, cracks in the Berlin Wall led to the reunification of East and West Germany and an end to more than four decades of cold war tensions. No one here is eager to get involved in another standoff with another enemy, and feel that the United States is unfairly pressuring them into a conflict with Iraq.
Thursday afternoon, President Bush enters the former Reichstag, symbol of Nazi Germany, now called the "Bundestag" There he'll address the German parliament and the German people. He's going to plead his case for expanding the war on terrorism, and calling on a Cold War ally to join the fight.
Upon landing, President Bush passed up the chance to talk more about his speech, and offered the spotlight to Secretary Powell.
Colin Powell, former Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, also served several tours as a military officer in Germany during the Cold War. He answered a reporters questions about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
"We are in constant discussion with our German friends about these nations that are pursuing these kinds of weapons and Iraq certainly is one of these foremost advocates of getting this kind of capability and they're working on it. And for that reason it is important for us to stay in close communication with the Germans as to what we might be required to do."
The President's European tour includes a stop in Russia later in the week. In St. Petersburg, the President will sign an historic nuclear arms reduction agreement that further symbolizes peace in the post cold war era.
It's a peace that many Germans lived without for decades, and won't easily trade for a war with Iraq.