Last week, the Pope landed in Deutschland for a quick tour. When I heard about plans for this back in April, I didn’t think anything of it. French President Sarkozy visited our city in the past year, and I barely noticed. Well, apparently the Pope is a way bigger deal than any president.
Anyone who wanted to get anywhere near the Catholic leader had to register for a (free) ticket. The ticket specified not only time, date, and location, but also how the holder planned to arrive (foot, bike, or bus).
Anyone who did not have a ticket was not allowed in the vicinity. And by vicinity, I mean the entire city center. For two whole days, no one was allowed anywhere near town without a valid ticket or official documents proving residency inside the restricted zone.
All bikes left in the city center were confiscated by the police. Those who weren’t privy to such information faced a 35 euro fine to reclaim the bike. Additionally, residents of the city center were advised not to open their windows during the Pope’s visit. Many business/commercial buildings anywhere near the route had to be vacated prior to the weekend’s events., and some apartment buildings along his scheduled route had their windows sealed by police.
Speaking of police, I have never seen so many of them. Ever. Perhaps I just don’t find myself in the same city as a major terrorist targets often enough. But wow, I felt like I was watching a movie seeing the force roll out. I didn’t even know that many Polizeicars or people existed here. One third of Germany’s police force must have been in each city the Pope visited.
Fortunately, I don’t live downtown, so I thought I’d be able to avoid the headaches of such high security. Wrong! I ran my final taper run on Saturday morning and saw police officers just hanging around intersections in far flung suburbs. On my way home, I was not allowed to cross over the highway on a pedestrian bridge. Luckily, marathon training has taught me my way around this city, and I was able to find another bridge to get back to my flat.
The commercialization of the Pope’s visit is something I just can’t get my head around. A new road was built just for the occasion as were benches, a stage, etc. Though the new asphalt won’t be sold, the benches will as well as the fabric surrounding the stage where the leader performed mass. I even found ceramic “to go” coffee cups for sale in the department stores and was solicited by mail to buy coins commemorating the visit. Seriously?! Is this a celebrity or a church leader?
Other than my eyes bugging out at the over-the-top nature of the weekend, I didn’t really have an opinion about the Pope coming to Germany. I’m not Catholic, but neither am I offended by his presence. Upon attending my monthly book group last Friday night, I found that stance was quite the opposite of many Germans.
Though many of the women had their own beef with the man’s teachings, the overwhelming majority wanted to know why they weren’t given a choice about the visit considering how many tax dollars were used to pay for it. Curious about the spectacle as they may have been, most of these women were boycotting all festivities on principle. I just couldn’t believe it was such a bit to-do personally and socially.
I, for one, am just glad it is over, and life can go on. Note to self: the next time someone super famous comes in to the city, get yourself out!