Thousands of Dresdeners cocked a collective snook at Unesco today and held a party on the Elbe city’s “ugly” new road bridge, which opens to traffic tomorrow despite furious objections from the UN heritage body, which stripped Dresden of its world heritage status in protest against the structure.
The new €182m (£156m) four-lane “Walschlösschenbrücke” is designed to ease traffic congestion at crossing points over the Elbe. But it took more than seven years to build and faced massive legal and public protests despite being approved by two-thirds of the city’s voters.
The project became steeped in controversy almost from the word go. Unesco dubbed the bridge a “national disgrace”.
A powerful anti-bridge movement, which accused Dresden of “capitulating to the car industry”, formed and demanded that a tunnel be built instead. It organised protest rallies attended by leading figures, including the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Günter Grass.
Stanislaw Tillich, the conservative Prime Minister of the east German state of Saxony, of which Dresden is the capital, applauded the city’s residents for giving their continued “courageous backing” to the bridge despite international and domestic protest.
Unesco put the Dresden on its list of 981 World Heritage sites in 2004 after millions of euros were spent on reconstructing the city – once dubbed “Florence on the Elbe” – from the rubble heap it was reduced to in a single night during the Allied air raid of 13 February 1945.
The UN body was particularly impressed by the view of Dresden’s restored 18th-century skyline, which can now be seen again from upriver. The panorama includes the city’s rebuilt baroque “Church of our Lady” completed in 2005. Unesco said that the new bridge wrecked the view.
However the arguments of the anti-bridge protesters and the UN were defeated by a German appeals court in 2007. Judges upheld the result of a 2005 Dresden referendum which found that 68 per cent of voters were in favour of the bridge. They said the result had to be respected as a product of “direct democracy” and ruled that the protesters were in no position to oppose the bridge.
Unesco responded in 2009 by taking the unprecedented decision to “de-list” Dresden from its World Heritage line-up.
But a spot poll in which 500 Dresdeners took part at the weekend found that the overwhelming majority felt that: “The bridge is not as bad as it’s made out to be”.