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Bush Tours East Germany with Merkel

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Along with all the talk of Iraq, and Afghanistan, and herrings, Germans have one more hope as their chancellor meets with President Bush. They hope to improve the president's understanding of Germany.

NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

The last time President Bush visited Germany, he met then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in February in Mainz. The leaders' relationship was as chilly as the weather. This time he'll spend a midsummer day with Angela Merkel in Stralsund, a charming town on the Baltic Sea. German diplomat Karson Vogt(ph) says the leaders relationship is much sunnier now.

Mr. KARSON VOGT (German Diplomat): The most important fact is that you can discuss difference of opinion, which exists, without fearing that they might escalate into a type of hostility.

HARRIS: That wasn't the case with Schroeder, especially after his criticism of the Iraq War. Merkel is less critical and less confrontational. Beyond that, German government officials say President Bush is fascinated with Merkel's life story. The daughter of a Protestant pastor, she grew up in Communist East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, she entered politics. Last year, she became Germany's first female chancellor.

She invited Mr. Bush to see the former East himself, a day in 13th century Stralsund and an evening in the small farming town of Trinwillershagen.

(Soundbite of weed-scraping)

HARRIS: Yesterday in Trinwillershagen, teenagers were scraping weeds out of the cracks of a riding school the president might walk by. Police were sealing manhole covers with special purple tape.

(Soundbite of hammering)

HARRIS: Workers were adding a chain link fence to a pen holding two sheep outside the restaurant where the president will have dinner. The sheep were brought in from one town over to make the setting more pastoral. They had briefly escaped before the fence was finished. Thirty-seven-year-old Olaf Mihel(ph) owns the restaurant. He shot a wild boar to barbecue.

Mr. OLAF MIHEL (Restaurant Owner): (Through Translator) We'll grill the boar on a spit. We'll grill deer and we'll serve duck breast fillet Mecklenburg style. We'll prepare a salad buffet, a lot of different breads and sauces. Very simple, just what you'd serve at your own barbecue at home.

HARRIS: Mihel went to school here and ate a lot of lunches in the place he now owns. He was just past 20 when the Wall fell. He says life now seems pretty similar to what he knew then, and is generally good. A few blocks away, a woman a few years older isn't as optimistic. Ingrid Ruerig(ph) is up on a ladder picking ripe, sweet cherries off a tree in her front yard. She has a seasonal job with a beach hotel. She says the biggest change since Communist times is worrying about the future.

Ms. INGRID RUERIG (Resident): (Through Translator) We didn't have that. We did our jobs. Of course we worked hard. But this feeling in the back of your head. What will be happening tomorrow? We didn't have that. This is what makes people sick.

HARRIS: Weighing the former East's post-Communist freedoms versus post-Communist troubles isn't on the leaders' formal agenda today. But some German officials have suggested that if Mr. Bush realizes how much money Germany has been pouring into stabilizing the former East, he'll get a new perspective on Germany's resistance to U.S. pressure to increase military spending. Iran's nuclear program is a central point of discussion. Diplomat Carson Vogt says Germany would not support military action against Iran, but he thinks this won't rock the new close relationship between Berlin and the White House.

Mr. VOGT: I think that the American administration, which has not in principle excluded the use of military force, is not really considering it in the possible future. And - but what is obviously on the table, if Iran is not constructive in its response, is economic sanctions. Which, by the way, if we would do something, it would harm us more than the United States, because our trade is by far more intensive than your trade with Iran.

HARRIS: Protestors, unhappy with U.S. foreign policy, including toward Iran, are demonstrating today in Stralsund. But they'll be nowhere close to the president.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Stralsund.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.