Police and protesters at the G7 summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Photograph: Action Press/Rex Shutterstock
The Japanese have a saying,” said Willi Hartenstein, pausing for a reflective puff on a cheroot. “A snail may climb Kilimanjaro, but slowly. Very slowly.” We were taking a shady break, halfway up a sunbaked alp, on a protest hike to the gates of Hotel Schloss Elmau.
When it comes to climbing mountains, snails have one distinct advantage over Hartenstein. They don’t tend to set off wearing thick black leather motorcycle trousers. I don’t know what the temperature was inside Willi’s trousers, but a helicopter came and hovered directly over us for about five minutes, presumably because they thought someone on the march had brought along a thermonuclear device.
It was too loud to speak, so Willi reached down, plucked a yellow alpine flower, and chewed it up, stalk and all. “Arnica,” he shouted, over the roar. There are so many helicopters hovering over Garmisch right now, I keep expecting to hear the Ride of the Valkyries. I don’t exactly know what they’re all doing up there. Trying to avoid each other, I hope.
“It’s the largest police operation in the history of Bavaria,” said Martin Jäschke, a journalist from Der Spiegel. “Such a huge display of power like this, I’m afraid people feel it’s a provocation.”
At the very least, it feels a bit weird. There could not actually be any more police in Garmisch than there are right now. There wouldn’t be room. There are traffic jams of police vehicles. Every spare inch of tarmac has been commandeered for police coaches, riot vans and operations trucks. The only cars on the road that aren’t police cars are being driven by plainclothes policemen.
This is the kind of response you might expect. “The massive police presence is extremely intimidating,” said Lukas Müller, a 16-year-old student from Innsbruck. “It is a show of political power, but also a suppression of political protest. People have been stopped at checkpoints for so long, for hours at a time, that it’s really difficult simply to show up here. But that’s all we can do in this situation. Show up.”
What had made Lukas show up today? “For me, at this instant, there is one issue. It is TTIP.” This was the word on everyone’s lips and placards, young and old. The hikers were from across the political spectrum, from anarcho-syndicalists and libertarians, through greens to communists, but the TTIP trade deal seemed to be the one issue that gave focus to their ideological sprawl. Matthias Kolb, a journalist from Munich, agreed. “The march is super diverse, super colourful, but it seems everybody agrees that TTIP is bad.”
Hartenstein is 61, a veteran of the anti-globalization marches of the 1990s. He talked at length about the power Monsanto and Bayer had over the development of environmental regulation. “They are global companies, with global power. But today we are told, over and over, that globalism is good. Good for a few, yes, very good.” He chuckled. “To call yourself a globalist? You would have to be very stupid. Or very, very rich.”
I walked for a time alongside Hannes Halles, a mathematician from Munich. For Halles, “it is all a question of legitimacy. If laws and regulations are made in private, it limits the possibility of overseeing what the politicians do. It seems the only people overseeing are those who stand to gain by the process: big business.
“The process is not legitimate. That is why I am here, because the job of politicians is to represent the people who elected them.” He gestured up the mountain. “And those politicians are not doing their job.”
The Bavarian sun beat down as we puffed our way up the blisteringly beautiful alp. Halles said nothing for a time. “What do you think?” he asked, as we approached a trestle table of water bottles, laid on by mountain rescue. “Do you think they will listen to us?” We’d gone too far up the alp for me to tell the truth, so I swallowed a litre of water in eight seconds, lied and said yes, they might.