The cement mixer, decorated with disco ball glass, shimmered in the late afternoon sunlight, rotating gently as ravers danced at the foot of a Berlin bridge.
Almost 1,000 people showed up on May 25 for what looked like an impromptu dance party, but was actually a protest designed to draw attention to a 560 million euro (US$627.1 million) German government plan to plough a motorway through three Berlin city neighborhoods.
Although German voters last week elevated the Greens to second place in the European parliamentary elections, the country’s Social Democrats and Christian Democrat politicians are moving ahead with plans to erect a six-lane highway that would require the demolition of several popular cultural spaces, nightlife venues and apartment blocks, plus part of a park.
Berliners are not taking this lying down, and a protest movement led by a trombonist aims to stop the project.
Tobias Trommer, who lives a block away from the proposed motorway, says it is not too late to convince city and federal officials that the A100 extension should not be built.
“This is a highway that the government has wanted to build since the 1950s,” Trommer told the Observer. “But in the light of the German car industry’s diesel scandal, we now know that the environmental impact assessment justifying this extension is completely false. We don’t understand how this is moving forward.”
He said the project also lacked economic sense given the housing shortage in the city with the world’s fastest-rising property prices.
“The city is losing 50 hectares of prime land to build this highway,” Trommer said. “If the city were to build affordable housing, it would actually make a profit. There’s also a major issue of the cultural loss this project would entail.”
Indeed, the impact on Berlin’s famed nightlife scene could be significant. Already, the German government has torn down several community gardens and four apartment buildings to make room for the motorway, but the next phase would bulldoze several outdoor clubs and cultural spaces, such as Wilde Renate, Else and Polygon.
Despite low public support for the project, the German car industry seemed to be pushing it forward, said Wilfried Wang, an architect and professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“They’ve been dreaming about this structure for years and the federal government is willing to provide the money,” Wang said. “There is a car lobby at the central government and Berlin-level administration government, and in politics. These people have been in control for the past 70 years, and they are the most influential in terms of planning.”
Wang compared the development to a recent German government plan to build a highway and bridge through a UNESCO world heritage site in the country’s Mosel wine-growing region.
Government officials nearing retirement and an automotive lobby sensing a change in voters’ tolerance for car pollution could be prompting officials to rush through highway building projects, he suggested.
“The fact that the Green party is in the ascendant right now makes the A100 project particularly anachronistic,” he added.
Though just one in three Berliners owns a car — low compared with the rest of Germany — car ownership is up 10 percent from 2008, according to Statista.
Even so, protesters like Trommer and his movement face an uphill battle, because the government would have to compensate contractors if the project was halted.
“It’s going to be hard to stop,” said Greens Member of the European Parliament Michael Cramer. “You’re seeing pressure from German road builders and the German car companies. They are going to keep pushing for this no matter what.”
A spokesman for the Berlin transport agency, Jan Thomsen, said the government would revise its environmental impact assessment in the wake of the German car industry diesel cheating scandal.
“While the local government does not want a new motorway in Berlin … this political attitude does not exist at the federal level,” he said.
Cramer compared Germans’ obsessions with cars to Americans’ proclivity for guns.
“For the Americans, it’s the rifle, the gun lobby,” Cramer said. “For the Germans, it’s the gas pedal, the car lobby. Both are crazy.”
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after