Rail plan could be terminal for Merkel's coalition

A €7bn scheme to rebuild Stuttgart station has turned deeply political, says Tony Paterson

It is one of the most ambitious construction projects in Europe yet it is fast turning into a worrisome political obstacle that threatens to hasten the demise of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ailing coalition. Sixteen thousand demonstrators turned out to protest against it at the weekend, death threats have been issued against its promoters and the building site at the centre of the scheme, in the middle of downtown Stuttgart, is policed round the clock to guard against saboteurs.

The deepening row is about a hotly disputed plan to completely rebuild Stuttgart's main station at the staggering cost of €7bn (£5.8bn). The hugely ambitious scheme involves bulldozing most of an early 20th century railway terminal acclaimed as a monument to early Modernism. It will be replaced by a mammoth underground station that will turn one of Germany's least attractive provincial capitals into an international rail hub.

Christoph Ingenhoven, the chief architect behind the scheme dubbed "Stuttgart 21", is adamant that his project will put the south-western provincial capital on a critical rail crossroads at the centre of Europe. "As an architectural statement, it will have the force to redefine the future of Stuttgart," he claims.

However, the project's growing array of critics argue that the scheme is the sort of grandiose and financially bloated undertaking that belongs to an earlier and greedier pre-crisis era. They claim that a mega project cannot be justified in a Germany currently suffering €80bn-worth of public spending cuts. They say it will rid the city of its prized Paul Bonatz designed Modernist station building and with huge state-owned concerns like Germany's main rail operator Deutsche Bahn at its centre, they claim the development smacks of the kind of cronyism that has become the hallmark of countries like Silvio Berlusconi's Italy. "There is simply the feeling that something is deeply wrong about this project," says the actor Walter Sittler, who is one of the leaders of the stop-Stuttgart 21 campaign, "It is a bottomless pit. Its value will be minimal but the destruction it will cause will be immense."

Yet by any standards the scale of the Stuttgart 21 scheme is breathtaking and not only in terms of cost. Stuttgart's current station is a dead end. Trains that arrive have to shunt backwards to leave. Stuttgart 21 will end the inconvenience by swinging all of the station's rails through a 90 degree arc and turning what is now a terminus into a vast underground railway station which high-speed trains will simply pass through on their way eastwards from Paris to Vienna or southwards from Hamburg to Rome. Pierced by deep eye-shaped light wells, the new subterranean terminal will also give Stuttgart a direct rail link to the city's airport taking eight minutes, cutting 20 minutes off the current rail connection to the airport.

Yet achieving such ambitious transport goals in Stuttgart – a city renowned for its hills and serpentine-like access roads – will not be easy. The Stuttgart 21 team plans to do it by blasting a total of 26 tunnels into the hillsides, laying some 70 miles of new over and underground railway line and constructing dozens of new rail and road bridges throughout the region. Architect Mr Ingenhoven says that by putting Stuttgart's main railway station underground, the city will be "handed back" a new recreational green space right in its centre.

Mr Ingehoven and his team, Stefan Mappus the region's conservative Christian Democrat Prime Minister and Deutsche Bahn chief Rudiger Grube all point out that Stuttgart 21 – a scheme first put forward in the 1980s – has been subject to years of public consultation and seen off dozens of attempts to get it stopped in the courts. "People have got to accept this and allow work to begin," says Mr Ingenhoven.

Yet ranged against the promoters is a growing, vociferous and militant protest movement which embraces ordinary city folk, disaffected architects, conservationists, women's groups, leftists, breakaway Social Democrats and perhaps most significantly, the region's increasingly powerful Green party.

Opinion polls show that 58 per cent of Stuttgart's population is opposed to the project. Last week, as the station site was fenced in preparation for building, the stop Stuttgart 21 campaign began the first of a series of protests aimed at halting the project.

For the architects and conservationists among the protesters, the demolition of the prized Bonatz station is another humiliation for a city that was badly damaged by Royal Air Force bombing in 1944 and then mutilated by post-war planners intent on building a "car friendly city of the future". Writing in The New York Times, the architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff described the Stuttgart station as Bonatz's "most masterly balancing act" and as being "as haunting as an early De Chirico painting". The plans to demolish most of the station left the city's planners open to charges of "facadism" – the practice of bulldozing everything but a few relics of an architectural gem, he claimed.

But for many people it is the sheer cost of the project that is so off-putting. Initially earmarked at €2.6bn, the total price currently stands at almost €7bn and is likely to rise even higher by the projected completion date in 2021. The disruption it will cause in the city will also be considerable: "It is going to be the biggest building site in Europe and it will last for 10 years," complained one angry protester to Germany's SWF television channel. The protesters want Stuttgart 21 scrapped and replaced with a more modest project that will retain all of Bonatz's original station.

For Ms Merkel however, the most troubling aspect is that it is vehemently opposed by the Greens. Cem Ozdemir, the party's ethnic Turkish leader, has promised his party will do all it can to stop Stuttgart 21.

The Greens are making sweeping gains in the region as a result and have upped their vote share to an impressive 20 per cent over the last 12 months. The party is now on course to oust the region's ruling conservative-liberal coalition in key state elections next March by forming a coalition with the Social Democrats. Such an outcome would be a disaster for Ms Merkel. It would not only mean her party's defeat in one of Germany's strongest conservative bastions. It would signal the beginning of the end of her coalition in Berlin. Opinion polls have already given the Greens and the Social Democrats combined a clear majority at national level.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform