Budget woes cut metro line through Berlin's historic heart

7th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Under plans approved in 1994 -- five years after the Berlin Wall fell -- the line was to stretch to the Alexanderplatz commercial centre, a showcase of communist-era prefab architecture just over a kilometre (mile) away, under the Unter den Linden boulevard running through the east of the city.

Berlin -- A new metro line will open Saturday in the heart of Berlin, but its planned route was cut in half as building costs exploded, underlining the poor financial state of affairs in the German capital.

Thousands of Berliners are expected to attend the inauguration of U-Bahn Line 55 linking the landmark Brandenburg Gate, Chancellor Angela Merkel's imposing offices and the city's ultramodern main train station.

But soaring costs and doubts about the necessity of the line in the cash-strapped city are overshadowing the party.

Local media have dubbed the link "The Chancellor Line" or less flatteringly, "The Stump" because of its curtailed route and lack of connections to other metro trains.

The route takes three minutes to ride but cost 320 million euros (460 million dollars) to build -- 25 percent more than earmarked for that part of the planned route.

Meanwhile Berlin is about 60 billion euros in debt -- more than 17,000 euros for each citizen of the reunited city -- due in part to the end of lavish federal subsidies for its western half while it was still a divided Cold War outpost.

Under plans approved in 1994 -- five years after the Berlin Wall fell -- the line was to stretch to the Alexanderplatz commercial centre, a showcase of communist-era prefab architecture just over a kilometre (mile) away, under the Unter den Linden boulevard running through the east of the city.

But Mayor Klaus Wowereit pulled the plug soon after his election in 2001, saying the city could not afford the luxury of a route which is already well-served by buses and commuter trains.

However existing contracts prevented the plans from being scrapped entirely, leading to the construction of the abbreviated Line 55.

"This is a typical case of Berlin's delusions of grandeur ending up a flop," said Jens Wieseke from an association public transport users in Berlin.

"A (wealthy) city like Zurich might be able to pay for it but not Berlin which is broke."

The BVG metropolitan transport service estimates that only about 6,400 people a day will use Line 55, versus an average of about 135,000 for each of the nine existing lines in Berlin's sprawling underground network.

The extension of the new line to Alexanderplatz, which binding construction contracts stipulate must begin by next year, is expected to cost another 400 million euros.

AFP/Expatica

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