G7 Looms No Peace in the Valley

Global leaders will meet for the annual G7 summit in June at the breathtaking Schloss Elmau in Bavaria. Locals fear it will turn the area into a battle ground between police and protesters.
The castle in the Elmau valley is preparing to host the G7 summit in June.

Nearly every day for 40 years, now-retired forester Axel Doering has stopped at the top of a hill overlooking the Elmau valley, and watched the seasons change.

“It was a beautiful valley,” said Mr. Doering, from his home in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district of Upper Bavaria. “But Mr. Müller-Elmau took away all that was heavenly from it.”

Dietmar Müller-Elmau owns the castle in the valley, Schloss Elmau, now a five-star hotel.

On June 7-8, the castle will host the G7 summit of the world’s most powerful nations, minus Russia.

Mr. Doering is organizing opposition to the summit. He believes the millions spent on security for world leaders is a complete waste of taxpayer money. He is also worried about the potential disruption and damage to his beloved valley.

In all, the summit will cost the federal government and free state of Bavaria more than €210 million, or about $235 million. Security at the global conference includes 17,000 police officers, who will completely seal off the valley, and secure the prominent guests. Furthermore, 5,000 journalists are expected.

Schloss Elmau is a political project for me, and the G7 is certainly a high point in its history. Dietmar Müller-Elmau, Owner, Schloss Elmau

The hotel is also adding water, electricity and Internet connections, that too from taxpayer money.

“This summit is taking place at the completely wrong time at the completely wrong place,” said Mr. Doering. “I say that as a nature preservationist and as a democrat."

Elmau is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bavaria and only reachable by forest road. It is the best possible backdrop for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's 48-hour meeting on climate protection.

Lodging in the surrounding communities of Garmisch, Krün and Mittenwald has been fully booked for months. Their town halls and squares are being beautified. Fire departments will get new vehicles, and train stations will get new platforms and tracks – even though no trains will be allowed during the summit for security reasons.

For Thomas Schwarzenberger, the mayor of Krün, the G7 is a “lottery win.” Over €10 million has been invested in his 1,900-strong town.

Quelle: Pressebild
Protest leader Axel Doering wants global leaders off the local land.
(Source: Pressebild)


But to opponents like Mr. Doering, the summit is an “assault on citizens’ rights.” Protests are being organized by locals worried about the influx of so many outsiders. Store owners are concerned about their properties, environmentalists about the local flora.

Over the years, Mr. Doering has seen tens of thousands of people come for big Alpine events such as World Cup slaloms, Four Hills ski jumping and motorcycle days.

In 1983, Garmisch wanted to apply for the 1992 Olympic Games. Mr. Doering was against it and ran for local council. He was elected and the games were averted. He has since been involved in nature conservation and led the “Nolympia” effort that helped scuttle Munich’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

This time, his battle against the G7 Summit seems hopeless. “I have the feeling that we are all becoming smaller,” he said. “And the processes are always less transparent.”

Mr. Müller-Elmau, owner of Schloss Elmau, is dismissive of opponents like Mr. Doering. “How can someone be against democratic institutions talking with one another?,” he asked.

After a devastating fire in 2005, he renovated the old castle hotel, originally built in 1914, turning it into the luxury destination it is today. “Schloss Elmau is a political project for me, and the G7 is certainly a high point in its history,” he said.

“The valley can be completely sealed off,” he said. “The primary goal of Ms. Merkel was not, after all, to find the ideal place for demonstrators.”

People still remember the violent anarchist protests and police action at Heiligendamm, when Germany last hosted a high-scale summit in 2007, a G8 summit as Russia was still included. Back then, authorities issued a ban on assembly and built a fence to control demonstrators. Courts later criticized the move and said the planned march should never have been prohibited.

The mayor of Krün said Bavarian police would be ready to enforce order with “full strength” in June.

“In constitutional laws, there is not only the right to free expression of opinion, but also the right to protect property,” said Mr. Schwarzenberger.

Local leaders fear protesters could rampage through their communities if they aren’t allowed into Elmau valley.

In Garmisch, businesses are meeting to discuss how to protect store windows and shops. The local district administrator is already negotiating with Munich on a state guarantee for G7 damages.

Another worry is protester camps. After Heiligendamm, police identified the tent camps as “legal vacuum” areas where demonstrators “radicalize” themselves. Planners have advised Bavaria to prohibit protesters from setting up any kind of camps, so they would have to arrive by train or bus – effectively as day demonstrators.


Simon Book is an investigative reporter for Handelsblatt. To contact: [email protected]