Showdown at Fehmarn

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The Beltretter Petition Drive at the Burg Market Square. Photo taken in August 2016

FlFi Newsflyer Logo new   Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.

BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.

Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process.  The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….

…..and for a good reason!

Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built.  At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.

 

The current situation during the visit:

The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.

Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.

Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit.  While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.

And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.

Do you want to stop the project, click here to read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly.  If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the wordpress version of the Flensburg Files. There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.

Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.

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The Fight to Save Fehmarn Island from Progress

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Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

FEHMARN, GERMANY-   Last fall, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a segment on the preservation of the Fehmarn Bridge, the first bridge in the world that carries the now popular basket-handle tied arch bridge span. The battle is part of the series where residents of Fehmarn Island are fighting with both the German and Danish governments to stop a project where the Migratory Bird Route, connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen, would be widened- both the highway and the railway. This includes new bridges to replace the Fehmarn Bridge and a tunnel on the opposite end connecting Puttgarden (D) and Rodby (DK). And lastly an industrial areal was planned for the island.  Unfortunately, despite the Areal being blocked earlier this year, the European Union, according to reports from the BBC, has given Denmark the green light to start the construction of the tunnel, by providing 589 million Euros in the next four years for the project.

Yet while the Danes are prepared to start work beginning this fall, residents of the island and the surrounding area along the Baltic Sea coast are up in arms against the project and have started their own initiative to stop the project.

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Tourists and locals have seen the blue X’es popping up in neighborhoods, along highways and beaches and even in the skies between Hamburg and Lübeck and the island itself. The Blue-X Initiative was adopted by the group Beltretter, with the purpose of showing support for preserving the island and stopping the project from taking place. Almost one in every three households have this on their lawns as a way of demonstrating solidarity against the project. And there are many reasons for this initiative:

  1. The construction of the tunnel would coincide with the expansion of the highway and rail line going through the island as well as the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, resulting in the island becoming a construction site. As small as the island is, and with the economy being dependent almost solely on tourism, analysts predict a loss of up to 800 million Euros (or close to $1 billion) in revenue during the time of the construction because of loss of tourism and commerce, plus additional money to improve the island’s imagery once the project was completed, which could take years to complete.

  2. The project would involve a loss of sensitive vegetation and marine life that would be immense and possible irreplaceable. This includes the plan to scrap the underground tunnel similar to the Euro-Tunnel connecting France and Great Britain in favor of one above the sea floor, similar to the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden), which could be devastating to marine life alone. The width of the construction area between Puttgarden and Fehmarn Bridge would average approximately five kilometers. The maximum width of the island is only 21.8 kilometers- and this given the size of the land to be 185 squared kilometers!

  3. Some discreptancies in the environmental and economic impact surveys conducted by Denmark have resulted in rechecking the figures. Alone with the economic impact survey released in January 2015 led to a debate on the credibility of both the Danish government, the conglomerate spearheading the tunnel initiative Fehmarn A/S, and even the European Union. While both Denmark and the EU claim that the new crossings would produce a revenue of 4-5% of the gross domestic product in the region or approximately 3.48 billion Euros ($5.5 billion), other surveys indicate that the loss of revenue through construction combined with years of recovery, the new crossing would net an annual loss of 6.7 billion Euros ($8.2 billion). For the residents on the island, the risk would be too high to take.

  4. While there is a one-track rail line that is suitable for transport between Hamburg and Copenhagen including the time needed to cross via ferry, there is another border crossing at Flensburg and Padborg, where they feature a freeway and a two-track rail line connecting Hamburg with Aarhus with a arm going to Copenhagen via Odense. At the present time, improvements are being made in the Flensburg area to make the crossing more attractive. While the logic behind expanding the line through Fehmarn is there, little do government authorities realize that Fehmarn is a vacation and natural area whose need for a freeway/ two-track crossing on both ends of the island would devastate the natural habitat and impact tourism negatively. In other words, better to go through Flensburg if you wish to stay on the freeway going to Denmark and not stop to go swimming.

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While officials in Denmark are preparing to start building the tunnel from the Rodby end, officials in Germany are in the process of discussing the project with many parties involved. This after the application for the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, new freeway and tunnel was submitted to the state ministry of transport. The communities affected will have a meeting in September, followed by the environmental groups, including BeltRetter in November and residents affected by the construction afterwards. The ministry will then review the opinions and information provided by those affected before making their decision- a process that could take up to a year.  Proponents of the project have already received a backing from The German Railways (The Bahn) and German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt, the former wanting to expand and electrify its rail line to run more ICE-Trains on there.

But with the opposition towards the project crystalizing and spreading beyond the region, problems will most likely excaberbate over the course of two years, especially when the blue X’es sprout up everywhere making the area as blue as possible. Since blue is the sign of clear water, the water people deserve to swim in and marine life to inhabit, it also is a sign of preserving things as they are. With more initiatives coming up and more support pouring in, there is a chance that the project could be stalled further or even scrapped. If this is the case, then there will still be some work to be done with its current infrastructure to keep it up to date, but residents will breathe a sign of relief, for having a mega-highway for the sake of expanding commerce is not necessarily what they want. In fact with all of information on the negative impacts, combined with questions involving the credibility of the sources, this project in the end will do more harm to the region than good. This is something no one is willing to gamble on.

The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are proud to support the initiative to preserve Fehmarn Island and its places of interest. Both columns will provide you with further updates on the latest involving the project. If you wish to take part in the initiative and want to donate for the right cause, please click on the following links. There you have information on how you can help.

Beltretter

Bewahrt Fehmarn (Preserve Fehmarn)

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FF new logo1  &  bhc new logo jpeg

Special thanks to Mirko Kaminski for the use of the photos, as well as Karin Neumann and Hendrick Kerlen for their help in contributing some valuable information for this story.   

A Valentine for Two

Flensburger Fjorde: Where lovers meet Photo taken in June 2010

One can never ask for a more perfect day than this: when two lovers meet by boat out at sea.  It was a lovely sunny day out in Flensburg Fjorde when two yachts encountered each other. Each were heading in the same direction- to a place far away from any form of civilization, be it a city like Flensburg or Sonderburg or a small farm located along the shores in Denmark. All they both wanted was some time to make sense out of what was going on in their lives. Both the man and the woman were victims of a break-up with their partners. The woman caught her husband of 17 years in bed with a 24 year old blond, whom he met at a restaurant in Nordermarkt along the pedestrian district Roter Strasse in Flensburg. And this on the worst day of her entire life as she was sacked from her post as a Danish lecturer at the university after 13 years on the job- a victim of budget cuts that the state government in Kiel had insisted on doing, just to balance the budget.  All she had wanted was the comforts of the man whom she thought she had loved, but realized that this blond waitress got to him first before she could slam the brakes on her Audi A4 to avoid hitting a photographer on the bike as he was taking pictures of the city landscape for a book he was writing. It did not take her long until she threw her husband and the blond out of the house in Twedt they had owned together since the day they got married. And it didn’t take long until she realized that she had destroyed all the ceramic tea pots she inherited from her grandmother when she passed on 10 years ago- all 230 pieces used as weapons of rage to destroy a machine full of lies and deception, 17 years of unknown dissatisfaction between the two, which was revealed as she saw him and her embracing themselves by the flesh and soul under the blanket.

The man was also the victim of cruel circumstances. After being married for 13 years and having a child together, he received a rude awakening one night as he was coming home from working in Bavaria after  a long week and wanting a nice quiet peaceful weekend together with his family, only to find that his apartment in Harrislee had been emptied! All the boxes of his personal belongings had been packed and stowed away in the basement, waiting for him to pick it up. The grand piano that he and his wife had owned together was sitting on the front lawn of the apartment complex and had been used and abused by a bunch of teenagers who wanted to make an open air concert out of the 45,000 Euro Yamaha whose purpose in life was to be used for Debussy and Bach, not Marilyn Manson and Disturbed!  But that’s not all. There were two notes for him: One from the landlord telling him to vacate by the next morning or risk having his belongings- including his 200+ musical pieces- be hauled away to a nearby landfill south of Handewit. The other note was from his wife telling him enough was enough and she was leaving him for another guy. He realized later that her new lover was an American who lived on a farm just outside Windom, Minnesota! When he tried to talk her into coming back to Flensburg, the response was “Not a chance! This guy is great! I’m glad this phenomenon happened and you will find someone someday.” To summarize the events on his end, he lost everything including his wife, his son of 4 years, his piano, his belongings, his appartment, and lastly, his job as Vice President of Marketing at a BMW company in Nuremberg.

Fortunately, for both the man and the woman, of all the personal tragedies and losses they had accumulated, they both had one thing that could save their lives and help them start over, even if it was from scratch, and that was their own yachts. The woman had learned the sport yachting from her father, who had a yachting business near the naval academy. He bought her yacht when she graduated from Duborg Gymnasium (High School), named it the Anne Morrow, after the wife of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh (believe it or not, also a Minnesotan), and went out and about at her own convenience, both on her own as well as with her husband when they were together. She sailed up and down the Baltic Coast going as far north as Malmö in Sweden and far south and east to Wismar and Schwerin, while enduring the hardships that came her way, both through the wrath of mother nature as well as her own trials and tribulations. Since the break-up two months earlier, she had been yachting everyday while trying to piece her life back together. The man had started learning to yacht when he was 5 years old and would go out to sea every weekend with his grandfather and father until he was old enough to have a yacht of his own, which he received when he was 20. Although he spent less time with it when he was married- probably once a month at the most, he was now finding himself living in the yacht bearing the name Tommy John after his son, cruising along both the North and Baltic Coasts, as far west as Sylt, as far east as the Fehmarn Island and even slicing through the canal connecting the two seas, despite having encounters with every bridge and passenger ship that came his way, regardless of which direction he was going.

Both persons may have passed each other from time to time without ever noticing one another. However, this day was totally different. Whatever pessimism that had plagued them for many months had suddenly been replaced with a ray of hope. Don’t ask how that was the case, but the clouds of doom, which required the guidance of the lighthouse to lead the ships to the harbor was replaced with the sun’s beautiful rays which had set the stage for any romantic encounters that could occur out in the Fjorde.  Instead of eating and drinking for themselves, they now ended up having some extras to share with whoever wanted to join them, regardless of who. Instead of being anti-social and drowning themselves in hard liquor (like the famous Pott Rum and the Aquavit) and beer (like the famous Flensburger Pilsner), they suddenly had coffee, ginger ale, and water on board their yachts. And finally, as they encountered each other again, instead of looking away, they were looking at each other. The man saw the beauty of a  well-built brunette with green eyes, who looked as old as he was but yet saw the youth and beauty of her from the inside. The woman saw through his bald headed, blue eyed and somewhat fat figure and saw a guy who was tough and muscular on the inside; especially after the rough ride he had gone through.

Egeskov Lighthouse near Garsten (Denmark) Photo taken in June, 2010

The two yachts would meet in the middle of the Fjorde. The man and the woman would open the gates and allow themselves in. After a few brief minutes of exchanges which was seen by many passersby in their yachts, the two turned their yachts into one direction and ventured off together into the unknown, going past the red clipper that was occupied by Cupid, who had been busy making new arrows for shooting- after using the ones he had for the two. As they were travelling along the shores on the Danish side, they would eventually come to a spot that was out of the way (peaceful and isolated), where they could spend the afternoon together, under the blue sky, enjoying the first day of what would become the rest of their lives.

Cupid's Clipper Photo taken in June, 2010

Valentine’s Day does not necessarily mean that you have to make it extra special for the person you love, nor is it the day where you have to curse it because you don’t have a partner to share your love with. It is actually a day of remembering what you have for your true love and a day where love eventually walks in without notice. And even if you suffer from heartbreak, it is a day where you can take pride in yourself and show your true caring side, which can and will eventually bring you what you are looking for all along. So enjoy it with yourself, your loved ones, your friends and your family and leave all the consumption and greed behind, as you don’t need it anyway.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! 🙂