Showdown at Fehmarn

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

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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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Celebrating the Night of Atlantis in Handewitt

Sunset in Handewitt; photo taken in April 2011

There are many places in the world where different landscapes meet in one spot, and one can take advantage of what it has to offer. Flensburg and the surrounding area is one of them. You have the city that is located on a body of water known as the Fjorde, which leads to the Baltic Sea. About 5km to the north, there are rolling hills and forest. And to the west you have flat farmland surrounded by forests. Coming in from Denmark through the village of Ellund, I biked through one kilometer of forest followed by another kilometer of farmland until I stumbled into a quiet town of Handewitt, located roughly seven kilometers west of Flensburg. The town itself is surrounded by vast amounts of farmland, yet going through the city center by bike, it resembled a city that has long since been modernized, thanks to rows upon rows of red-brick houses lining the streets no matter where you go and upper class families owning high class German cars, like Audi and BMW- not the household name of Volkswagon and Opel, which most middle and lower class families own.

Coming in at sundown, Handewitt was totally asleep. Nobody was on the streets. Even the church located on the hill and providing a blick of the town of probably 4000 stood empty even though the lights were on. And even when the soft white fluorescent street lamps flamed on to provide safety on the streets, no one was driving around on the streets. The only sounds I could carry in were that of the herd of cattle on the west end of town, settling down with its calves for the night and cars traveling along the main highway going to Flensburg, which makes a tangent over the north end of Flensburg. What a good way to describe a town, which can pride itself in partnering with neighboring Flensburg to form the handball powerhouse SG Flensburg-Handewitt.

The church on the hill in Handewitt; photo taken in April, 2011

But silence can be its only beauty. Sometimes towns that are that quiet can also present its true colors which one can enjoy. Many of the towns have suffered from scars as a result of traffic congestion, noise and people who sometimes disregard the wishes of the town’s inhabitants to respect its environment and significance. Tourism has taken its toll on many places to a point where they do not look nice anymore, thanks to too much development and degradation, and too little nature and to a certain degree lack of natural sounds which make them special- not just the voices of the town’s past inhabitants let alone the flora and fauna that exist, but the silence that calms the nerves and makes the places much more comfortable to visit. All one needs is silence, listening to just the wind rustling the trees, the wild animals wandering the streets, and maybe a couple people talking about the past-or the future. This is what made the visit to Handewitt very surreal.

Leving the town for the route back to the hotel, 10 km away to the east, I happened to bike past a couple of restaurants and had an opportunity to eavesdrop on the topic of Atlantis and the end of an era. People were discussing the good times of the past and worrying about what the future holds. The year 2011 was to become the year to end all eras and the start of new ones. Atlantis was the reference to the Space Shuttle program by NASA, which has come to a successful end. With each quote from those talking about it brought back memories of growing up with the Space Shuttle program, how some watched the launch of a Shuttle live in Florida and lit the sky in the wee hours of the morning, how they watched from their tellies how the Shuttles contributed to the development of the International Space Station, which still encircles the Earth and watches over us day in, day out, and how two Shuttle disasters (1986 with Challenger and 2001 with Columbia) raised concerns regarding costs to maintain these vessels and make them safe for travel. The one from 1986 I watched live from the resource center of the elementary school I was attending in MN, but watching the live launch of Discovery at the beginning of 1988 for the first time since the disaster showed the willingness of the US to pick up the pieces and move on, looking ahead to the future. This was the next question that was posed by the group discussing it over Aquavit (a typical local liquor), Pott Rum, and Flensburger beer. Some say the Europeans will take over and NASA will cease to exist. Others say the opposite will be the case. In either case, once the Space Shuttle program is finished, the remaining three shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavor) will become part of American history and a plan has to be made to continue flying into outer space, even if the US is hampered by an enormous deficit.

Heading home in the dark; photo taken in April 2011

It is almost like biking without headlights, which I discovered while leaving the conversation and the quiet town of Handewitt for the robust town of Flensburg. Going without headlights can be a dangerous tact, but there was no choice. One has to do it even if it meant following the bright fiery yellow sodium street lamps lining the main highway to achieve that task. Sometimes one has to think about the future and battle through the handicaps in life to achieve the goals, taking advantage of the whatever opportunity that lies ahead. NASA is working on that with hopes to have another person in outer space in 3-4 years, and when that happens, a new era will start and the past will be laid to rest, leaving its legacy that the next generation is expected to follow. And when I head to my destination at the hotel on the east end of Flensburg, I will remember my visit to Handewitt, the Night of Atlantis, and how I managed to make it back in one piece, preparing for the next day of adventures ahead of me.