VW's glasshouse upsets Dresden

AMID RAZZMATAZZ worthy of a space launch, Volkswagen yesterday began work on the factory it hopes will become a byword in style. The company hired satellite transponders to feed live images of the ceremony in Dresden, attended by a host of celebrities, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

Only the cheering crowds were missing from the carefully choreographed sequence. For the baroque city is less than delighted with the crystal palace which is to propel the makers of the Beetle into the luxury market. Despite Volkswagen's threat to take its business elsewhere, nearly 17,000 residents had signed petitions opposing the factory.

This was not a classic manifestation of Nimbyism. Dresdeners did want the plant in their backyard but not, as Volkswagen proposed, slap in the middle of the city. That, alas, was part of the package, as underlined again yesterday by the company's chief, Ferdinand Piech. "The beauty and history of Dresden provides the perfect frame for Volkswagen's factory," he declared.

Many people in Dresden cannot understand why all this has to take place at the edge of the city's biggest park. The Greens especially advocated a greenfield site of the traditional variety, arguing that the plant's central location would wreak havoc with city traffic: the factory is not easily approached by road or public transport and some components will be ferried to the plant's 800 employees by tram.