While I was watching the 5:30 a.m. broadcast of CNN's "American Edition", an armada of what turned out to be German paddy wagons started to block off Seifengasse as it ends in Beethoven Platz. Huh? I relish my attic in a just renovated 1784 villa, not just because it's two minutes by foot to the Anna Amalia Library where I read the international press every morning on the Internet, but because it's usually absolutely bucolic.
So, the President of Iran was ending three day state visit which began and ended in Berlin, where he got a promise of half a billion investment dollars. Bild, the saucy tab, headlined its Thuringen page, "Three Thousand Officers Keep the President of Iran from the People: Chatami's Picture of Weimar: Scharpshooters and Museums."
The SWAT-like-looking marksmen were stationed on the top floor of a popular bar overlooking Goethe's House on the Frauenplan. When a couple of young idealists draped a banner reading "Where are the imprisoned students?", stormish troopers stomped up to their eeyrie and confiscated their banners and leaflets. (Chatami snuck in the secret back door of Goethe's house!)
The occasion for Chatami's visit was the dedication of a monument to Hafez, the fourteenth century Persian poet who so influenced Goethe, he wrote one of his most popular books, The East-West Divan, about Iran's national poet. One of the merely 300 protesters (in five different approved groups) sneered that Hafez would have been with them on Theatre Platz (in front of the Goethe-Schiller Denkmal). Hafez, after all, was a persona non grata in Persia for criticizing the mediocrity and pretense of his overlords. He got back in their good graces just as he was about to die.
Bernd Kauffman, who was the leader of last year's Cultural Capital events, before returning to his regular job as head of the Weimar Classical Foundation, sniffed that Goethe would have led a movement for police reform! 3000 policemen to control 300 protesters, who were limited to TheatrePlatz, a safe ten minute walk from where the action was. Locals grumbled that even in 1984 (before the DDR folded) the Chinese president was heckled face to face on Market Square. Others grumbled,"Are we back in Stasiland?" True, on the last state visit of an Iranian bigwig--in 1967, for God's sake, one person died in a riot.
When I tried to go to the Library, with my girlfriend and her passport to get me safe passage to the Place of Democracy,one officer said NO! and another accompanied us back to our flat. It was unreal. Until a Puma helicopter whisked Chatami back to Berlin at 4:58 p.m., the city (pop. 60,000) came to a halt. Even the police were pissed at the overkill. 200 officers trucked in from Hamburg (six hours to the North)had to put up with sleeping in the classrooms of a gymnasium, with no toilets and no showers. They marched to their duties in high dudgeon.
After an elegant lunch at the leading hotel, facing on Beethoven Platz, Chatami went to the Castle and talked about cultural exchange. He urged his listeners to be patient as his country tried to forge a democratic civil society on an Islamic base. Bild captured the common spirit--with a photo feature on the miniguillotine Iranian authorities use to hack off the hands of thieves! I have rarely seen the media so outraged in my two years of living here. Thirteen of the 300 were arrested and then released.
One happy note. Edward Said, Daniel Barenboim, and Bernd Kauffman came up last year with the fresh idea of inviting promising young musicians from Germany, Israel, and several Arab nations to rehearse under Barenboim for a concert tomorrow night. But last year's great idea almost collapsed for lack of funds. Bild pitched in by selling a CD of DB's favorites. The director's enthusiastic, ecumenical humanism really connects with the young performer--who make friends no political settlements could ever encourage. Weimar remains a little schizzy, one foot in its troubled past, another timidly figuring out how to follow Barenboim's example.
The cops are gone today, and I see out my window that tourists are now gawking at the new statue (although a paddy wagon starts guard to forestall grafitti). Seifengasse is once again the sleepy street on the rich end of which Goethe lived. But it is scary to see just how close to the surface the old habits of control remain.