Like many of the activists involved in protesting this year’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Felix Grimm likes to imagine the view from Donald Trump’s helicopter when it flies over the city on Friday and Saturday. Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to throng this German port on the river Elbe, turning it into a living symbol of Europe’s growing distaste for the U.S. President, who symbolizes, in Grimm’s words, “the ugly face of capitalism.”
In a typical year, such protests would be a routine part of the G20, an annual confab of statesman from the world’s richest countries whose closed-door talks about the global economy always attract opponents of globalization from around the world. But this year is different. Trump’s perceived disregard for the rights of women, migrants and the poor has helped mobilize a massive protest movement. The choice of venue has made the activists’ work much easier.
Though Hamburg has long been a powerhouse of German trade and industry, it is also known for its vibrant communities of leftists, anarchists and other assorted enemies of the ruthless capitalism that Trump represents. This being Germany, such groups are also highly organized. Months before the start of the summit, when the White House was still far from announcing its G20 agenda, activists in Hamburg began to organize their media headquarters inside the St. Pauli stadium, the home of a football club known for its leftist politics and rowdy, black-clad fans. (Massive banners in support of open borders and against the right wing dominate the stadium’s bleachers. “No football for fascists,” says one.)
For Grimm, a tall and gangly 43-year-old, the German government was asking for trouble when it decided to host the G20 in his hometown. “We saw this as a provocation,” he told TIME at the stadium on Wednesday, an earpiece attached to a walkie-talkie dangling over his shoulder and periodically chirping with reports from his fellow organizers. “We had to react.”
And the public reaction has not only come from the local anarchists. Posters denouncing Trump and the G20 are plastered in shop windows and hanging from balconies around the city. On Wednesday morning, the front page of a popular local newspaper, the Hamburger Morgenpost, referred to Trump as a “horror clown,” a nickname indicative of how many Europeans feel about the U.S. President.
In a Pew survey of people in 37 countries around the world published at the end of June, the most popular terms used to describe Trump were “arrogant,” “intolerant” and “dangerous.” On average, only 22% of respondents expressed confidence in his ability to lead. Across Europe, the survey found some of his lowest ratings, especially among nations that have traditionally been staunch American allies.
The antipathy toward Trump, and the growing movement in Europe against his plan to put “America first,” comes down to his seeming indifference to issues of international development and human rights, says Barbara Unmüssig, the president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a political institute affiliated with the German Green Party. Less than six months into his presidency, “Trump has clearly shown that he doesn’t give a shit about human rights,” she says. “The U.S. is no longer an ally on these issues.”
The rhetoric coming from the host of this year’s G20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has not been too much milder. During a speech in May, she suggested that the U.S. is no longer a reliable partner to Germany, and that Europeans now need to “take our destiny into our own hands.”
As the summit approached, Merkel did try to put on a welcoming face for all the delegations, including those from lapsed democracies or authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. When the White House had trouble finding a hotel willing to host Trump’s delegation in Hamburg, the German government offered him a guesthouse near the center of the city.
But avoiding the unrulier parts of town has proved impossible, says Kirsten Knight, who has been in charge of housing the thousands of G20 delegates coming to Hamburg this week. “I hope the guests aren’t coming away with the image of people in black clothes setting cars on fire,” she says, referring to the anarchists’ dress code. “I hope that’s not the Hamburg they see.”
According to local law enforcement, this type of violence may be unavoidable. During a press conference on Wednesday, police in Hamburg presented a stash of crude weapons they claimed to have seized from protestors; they included knives, slingshots, baseball bats and canisters of flammable liquid. The city’s police chief, Ralf Martin Mayer, predicted “massive assaults” from several thousand violent demonstrators.
Asked about this prospect, Grimm admits with a smile that the protests “will try to put some sand in the machine” of the G20. But he says the predictions of violence are mostly a scare tactic that the police have used to keep moderate protestors off the streets. Apart from some relatively minor clashes on Tuesday night, when police were forced to use water cannons to clear an encampment of activists from a Hamburg park, the demonstrations have been largely peaceful so far.
The Women’s March through the city attracted a few thousand people on Wednesday afternoon, and it ended with an outdoor rave near the harbour and the local fish market. Raffaelle Cazzato, a 32-year-old native of Hamburg, wore a green cape to the rally inscribed with the words, Girl power against Trump. “He scares the hell out of me,” she says of the U.S. President, shouting over the dance music that was belting from a truck-mounted sound system. But she did see a silver lining to his arrival this weekend. “He brought us out. He brought us together,” she says. “That’s the only good thing about Trump.”
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