Monday, August 30, 2010

Stuttgart 21

"Mit einem lachenden Auge und einem weinenden Auge."
When the Germans are undecided about an issue or situation they often use the expression: with one smiling eye and one crying eye.
Well, there are not many people in Stuttgart these days who are on the theoretical fence about the multi-billion-euro project to bury the train station in the center of town and sell the expensive real estate where the tracks used to be. Continuous protests are being carried out around the clock, resulting in hundreds of Stuttgarters meeting at the very real fence at the train station to discuss their further strategy and to inform passers-by. Weekly protests have been drawing up to 50,000 citizens - even in the rain, Friday evenings, during the school holidays no less - to form human chains around the train station and parliament building. The protests have certainly brought some people together, but the issue is threatening to drive a spike through the heart of Stuttgart and many Stuttgarters.
One urgent issue is the cost of the project. It is, as this tree squatter will have us know, beyond our monetary means. We can't afford it at the cost the experts are now quoting. In Leipzig they dug a tunnel from the main train station to another one under ground this past decade and have already ended up spending twice what they had estimated. And it was not finished in the estimated seven years. It might be finished after 13 years of construction. Will it be any different here in Stuttgart? Will they finish here in Stuttgart - amid such protests - in the 10-year time-frame?

Just before
Just after
Fynn and I went on a tour of the train station before the demolition began. An architect explained to us how it had been constructed in the early 20th century and with what care many of the details had been handcrafted: the stones of the facade, the steps, the staircases, etc. I'm no particular lover of architecture, but I could certainly appreciate the highlights which he showed us. 

The day of the tour, the post office was being moved out of its offices in the north wing (first picture above). This past week, the the rooms we had been shown were no longer there (second picture above).

In the meantime, fences had been placed around the north wing because construction was to begin and equipment would be brought in which would have to be protected. In Germany you are not allowed to trespass beyond a construction fence. ("No trespassing" signs are not necessary; every German knows this rule.) However, this fence quickly became a notice board, with concerned citizens expressing their hopes and fears in delightfully artistic and clever ways. Many posters and signs also aimed below the belt.

The fence was soon compared to the Berlin Wall and probably even to the Iron Curtain. But those in charge of the construction feared it wasn't imposing or secure enough. They built it even higher so that there would be no chance of protesters getting over it. Watchmen oversaw the construction from the rooftops as protesters questioned the workers' motives and insulted their intelligence.

Some protesters did in fact get around the fence and climbed up to the roof after the demolition finally began. Calling the mayor an arsonist on their sign, they urged him to leave office. After a few hours, the brave yet sunburned seven were escorted back down by a specially trained unit of policemen. The mayor opened the wine festival in town that afternoon.
The point of these demonstrations is to get the politicians to talk to the people, to explain the real reasons why this project is being carried out. Many citizens believe that it is a matter of prestige and nothing more. In addition, the democratic process seems to be running amok here.
 The Mercedes Star on top of the tower can now be seen from the north side of the station.

Aside from the political shadiness, there is obviously big money to be made by many local companies in the areas of demolition, construction, tunnel building, etc. Taxpayers all over Germany fear that the project will divert their income tax to such "folly" instead of going into education. The poor advertising agency that has been trying to inform the public about the issues has pointed out that this allotment of money can be used only for this project. 
Now, you may be wondering how I can report on this project so neutrally. Where is my rage? Well, I've never been a fiercely political person and I'm not what most people would call a fighter. Perhaps I'm too afraid of losing. But there is another important reason why I refuse to let Stuttgart 21 upset me any more than it already has. And it has. Every time I walk past the protesters, I feel rage boil up inside of me. And I remember my first day ever in Germany back in June 1980. 
Thirty years ago, several houses in Freiburg that had been the home to squatters for months were suddenly cleared out by SWAT teams amid a sea of thousands of policemen. When my sister Susan and I arrived for a summer of fun and language learning at the Goethe Institut, what greeted us were not the idyllic pictures our German teacher had shown us during a slide show before we embarked on our trip. After a long journey, we were forced to get out of the streetcar  with our heavy suitcases that evening and walk through town out to the youth hostel because tens of thousands of students and several thousand policemen were fighting on the streets when we arrived. "Stacheldraht" (barbed wire) was one of the first new vocabulary words I learned that summer. I have never been able to forget it.
I don't want to see my present home town divided by this project. It was a bad enough thought to imagine their digging a tunnel under our house so the trains can get to Untertürkheim where they will washed (!). I tried to imagine what it would be like to have hundreds of trucks transport hundreds of tons of dirt on the already busy street near our house. I joked with friends about being able to board the ICE train from my basement office. No laughing matter: The notion of traffic chaos in town until Fiona starts college was enough to make me want to move somewhere - anywhere - else.
If you are reading this, you know I like photo opportunities. Concerts, parties, parades, sporting events: if it promises to fill my frame with interesting motifs, I'll be there. So I've walked past the station a lot recently, and not only to the camera store on the opposite side of the street! But when I was there this past week, bitter memories were revived as I observed the changing of the guard when a tired and sweaty platoon of police officers marched away from the station past the adjoining LBBW bank building.
I followed the troop as far as the interesting walkway (the yellow structure in the reflection above) and then snapped some shots from the higher vantage point. As I was coming back down, two men right behind me made a point of saying loudly, "Tear it down! Up with Stuttgart 21!" They assumed that anyone with a camera within a mile of the train station must be a protester. Their aggressive tone was aimed at my back.
As I turned around and snapped a few pictures of the talking heads, my simmering rage actually caused me to say something to them. "Say that when you get up there in the crowd," I challenged them.
"Oh, we will. We will," they promised.

As the older one made a motion that reminded me of a cowboy drawing his revolver and the younger one finished his ice cream...
 ...I worked my way into the crowd and watched to see what they would do. As they walked past me, I said, "Say it now. Say it loud." And they did. "Tear it down! Rip it down!" the cowboy said. They were then barraged by shouts of protest from several people around them.
So they quickly turned and walked away.
I don't seek confrontation. I don't need this upheaval in my life. The Taoist in me is beginning to speak a bit louder than usual. Letting go and letting God is starting to sound good right now.


  1. You'll be surprised to know that I've avoided being drawn into this as well - maybe because we are leaving, maybe because I too just can't handle any more confrontation in my life right now. I DO like that people are speaking up and protesting. I just wish it wouldn't always turn into a war. Why is working together so hard?

    The Tao has all sorts of great verses on politics and war and change but this one may help personally:

    "The Master sees things as they are,
    without trying to control them.
    She lets them go their own way,
    and resides at the center of the circle."

    Easier said than done though, ay?!


  2. Thanks, Christine! I have actually been back since I took these pictures and was witness to the demolition, which didn't make me feel any better about anything. In the meantime I've also heard some arguments for the project from a friend of mine (an architect) who firmly believes that the Deutsche Bahn would not pump billions into a project that wasn't going to pay off for them in the end. And as far as the arguments about the planning go, he said that experts have been planning this for 15 years and he thinks they know what they're doing.
    We'll see.

  3. Wow, die Bilder sind echt super!
    Danke für den lieben Kommentar, die Bilder sind übrigens noch bis März in Tübingen zu sehen!