Wednesday, August 18, 2010 Euro

(click pictures for larger size)

i went there today. to the place that will be Europe's largest and most expensive building site in the next 10 years. budget: Euros. (i might go and check how many countries run on such a budget, but this might get even more bizarre).

the starting point of the mega-project is the building in the first picture: the train station of Stuttgart. which happens to be, well, not untypical for train stations, in the middle of the city. on upper ground. with railways ending there. now some clever minds had the idea about 15 years ago to move the whole thing underground: train station, and rails. and while at it, turn it into a go-through-connection. that way, you get a huge space in the middle of the city, where you can build all the things this city doesn't have enough of yet: luxury hotels, luxury shops, and some nice luxury appartment towers.

Stuttgart wasn't the only European city that had this idea at that time. all other cities calculated the plan, then let it sink into a drawer. not so Stuttgart. despite the fact that the economy is bumpy, and that the main reason for a go-through-connection back then was the fact that only a couple of trains could move in both directions - which has changed since then.

but somehow, with all the money involved, the project moved on in Stuttgart. and on. and on. and grew from to now (which includes a high-speed-connection to Munich.). it’s a giant expensive project, and now it turns out, it would create a lot of difficulties, as the underground station would only have 6 or 8 platforms, and regional trains + long distance trains + local s-trains would share platforms. any delay in regional s-trains would cause long distance delays. there is an analysis paper on this, by a recommended swiss train agency, warning against the project – the job to analyze this project was given to the agency by the project managers, and after they received the results, they locked up the study and went ahead.

people started to demonstrate in spring, every monday, first a few, then more and more. there were first news reportages. now someone leaked the file. the project managers (mayor included + head of train department germany) still try to push the project through, argumenting that there is no turning back now. now they started to tear down a wing of the old train station, and there are continuing protests – peaceful weekly demonstrations with people from all areas of the city, all ages, all backgrounds. and the construction fence has gradually been turned into a giant demonstration board, with hundreds of personal notes, and with quotes. words. and word. and words. written in the hope that someone hears them. it's moving. one quote that got to me was the one from Gandhi:

"First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win."

added to that, there is a constant guard there, people camping out, as witnesses of happenings. it's pretty impressive. and it’s all over the news here, there are lots of youtube-clips, too. Stuttgart never was known for demonstrations, and now there are evening demonstrations + railway station flashmobs.

the unintentional almost funny side of all this is that Stuttgart tried for ages to get some more national and international recognition, especially from a cultural / touristic point of view. one argument of the train project pushers in fact is to make Stuttgart a “heart of Europe”. now the city is all over the news, finally, but not in the way hoped for.

there was an article in The Independent about the situation this monday, here the link: Rail plan could be terminal for Merkel's coalition - A €7bn scheme to rebuild Stuttgart station has turned deeply political, says Tony Paterson.

update, October 2:
despite all protests, the construction works began in September, first with the removal of a part of the train station. now the situation turned violent - the construction plans also include the cutting down of more than 100 old trees in the city park - some of the trees survived both world wars. now, just at the day when teenagers organized a demonstration, they tree cutters moved in, guarded by heavy police forces. there were thousands of citizens demonstrating, families and retired persons included, who basically were there to guard and protect the trees. the police told them to leave. people stayed wih the trees. so the police used water cannons, pepper stray, beating sticks - and started to physically push and remove the tree guards. more than 100 persons got injured.

this now lead to some political turmoil, especially as the whole project now also turned into a symbol. all national and local newspapers here have front page articles on the protests, Spiegel (a leading German newspaper) now has an English version of their main article with images: "Merkel's Water Cannon Politics".


Jessie Carty said...

yikes! sounds like a nightmare in the making. i bet it'll get cut back even before they get started. they are trying to do a light rail extension here in Charlotte, NC and already they are rethinking the northern end and how far it will go.

Dorothee Lang said...

that's what a lot of people hope for here: that someone up there in the town hall starts rethinking. so far, it's all still go.
yesterday, they brought a big caterpillar to the place in the night (guarded by police).

the green party suggested a table-talk with all interest groups involved, but the mayor/city department + train company + construction company declined, saying that things are decided, and that there’s nothing to talk about.