Burning bridges: Dresden rejects UNESCO ultimatum over Elbe construction
Dresden officials have rejected an ultimatum from UNESCO, which threatens to remove an Elbe valley's "heritage" status if a bridge is built there
Dresden -- Senior officials in Dresden rejected a deadline from UNESCO on Friday to halt construction work on a steel highway bridge across the Elbe Valley.
On Thursday, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Quebec, Canada, gave Germany one more year to reconsider, or else a park-like, 20-kilometre-long stretch of the valley would lose its heritage status. Piers for the bridge are being built now.
Through a spokesman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced relief that a new grace period had been allowed by UNESCO.
Dresden, occupying both banks of the Elbe river, is the expanding capital of the state of Saxony. Both the state and the city government insist on the suburban road link to end city centre traffic jams. Germany's government says it has no power to interfere.
Helma Orosz, who is set to take office soon as mayor of Dresden, said, "from Dresden's point of view, the resolution is wrong, does not make sense and is unfair." Orosz said UNESCO should see the finished bridge before deciding if it is ugly or beautiful.
Peter Zimmermann, a spokesman for the state government, said "if UNESCO had been sure of itself, it would have either removed the status now or waited till the bridge was finished. I don't think it's very likely Dresden will dismantle the bridge now."
City officials have rejected UNESCO's urging to build a tunnel under the river instead, saying it is too late and would cost far more.
The stretch of valley, lined with gardens, meadows and palaces, became a UNESCO site in 2004 and was put on the "red," at-risk list two years later. Dresden residents voted in 2005 to build the Waldschloesschen bridge, which will cross a meadow area.
Merkel's spokesman Thomas Steg said the year of grace ensured time to review the opposing needs and reach a consensus. He said Berlin was willing to mediate, but the ultimate decision was up to Dresden.
Germany's Foreign Ministry offered on Friday "to assist the city of Dresden in the search for a consensus" with UNESCO.
"The opportunity to establish a consensus between the protective ideals of the World Heritage Centre and the desires of the people of Dresden remains in place for another year," said a junior minister at the ministry, Guenter Gloser.
If the valley loses UNESCO support it would be the first of 32 sites in Germany to be de-listed after gaining world heritage status. There are 851 UNESCO heritage sites around the world.