Battling over Dresden's bridge: Will it spoil view?

7th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

Dresden's gorgeous river landscape, with palaces dotted along the banks of the Elbe and meadows running down to the water's edge, will never be quite the same if a new bridge is built over the river, many say.

 A bitter debate has shaken the eastern German city for years, pitting conservationists against business and political leaders who say an answer has to be found to traffic congestion in the city, which is capital of Saxon state.

In a 2005 referendum, a majority of residents voted to build a steel bridge east of the city centre, near the old Waldschloesschen brewery.

But opponents, who are demanding either a much more expensive tunnel or no crossing at all, have not given up.

They are predicting that the UNESCO world heritage committee, which is meeting for all of June and July in Christchurch, New Zealand, will punish Germany by stripping the Dresden Valley of its recognition as one of humankind's great achievements.

The valley, one of 30 heritage sites in Germany and more than 800 worldwide, is a 19.5-kilometre accumulation of three centuries of stately homes, other public buildings, gardens and woods.

Some of Dresden's greatest monuments, such as the Frauenkirche church, had to be rebuilt after being destroyed by bombing in the World War II. The valley forms a belt through Dresden's urban sprawl.

Tourist attractions

While the bridges of Paris or Rome are tourist attractions in their own right, Dresden conservationists say the existing six road bridges connecting the two halves of the city across the Elbe River are sufficient.

The Elbe, which rises in the Czech Republic, often floods. So it has broad, grassy overspill areas on both banks.

The approaches to the new bridge would cross these meadows on trestles, with the roadway of the actual bridge suspended from an arch, well clear of flooding like that which invaded Dresden in 2002.

The vacant land below and vistas from the brewery to the city centre three kilometres away would lose some of their charm. But advocates of the bridge, led by Georg Milbradt, premier of the state of Saxony, insist the environmental impact will be minimized.

Inspired by Venice

For three centuries the valley has been shaped and constantly improved by the hand of man, starting with King August the Strong (1694-1733) of Saxony, who was inspired by the magical architecture of Venice. Later generations compared Dresden to Florence.

After a campaign by Germany, the valley received world-heritage status in 2004. UNESCO was told at the time that one more bridge, which had first been discussed in 1876, would soon be built, and everyone seemed happy. 

 *quote1* However, opponents of the bridge discovered a new soft spot to attack: the possibility that UNESCO would be affronted by the location and design, and cancel the valley's heritage status. This, they argued, would disgrace the nation.

Last July, UNESCO officials came to their aid, putting the Dresden Valley on a "red list" of endangered world-heritage sites.

Both sides have passionately argued the aesthetics of the bridge in the German media, accusing one another of exaggeration, stubbornness and deceit.

One faction considers the 160-million-euro ($210 million) design elegant, the other a squat monstrosity.

Battle has been lost

This year, an administrative tribunal directed the city to carry out the will of Dresden voters and proceed with construction. The 1976 UNESCO World Heritage convention cannot block the project.

Acting mayor Lutz Vogel said the fight to stop the bridge had been lost, but opponents of the bridge, who form a majority in the city assembly, then directed city officials to appeal to the German constitutional courts.

The cases are pending.

Senior Berlin officials have voiced concern in recent weeks that Germany may suffer international embarrasment.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee was reported this month to have threatened to withhold a federal road-building subsidy if the city did not seek a compromise with UNESCO on the br

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