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Bridging discord in the Mosel Valley

David Wroe · 13 May 2010, 15:06

Published: 13 May 2010 15:06 GMT+02:00

In an unflattering parable about folks from the Mosel Valley, a man is given one wish. Naturally his first thought is to ask for a pile of gold. But there’s a caveat: his neighbour will get double whatever he gets.

Without hesitation, the Mosel man wishes for his arm to be cut off.

“It’s true!” said winemaker Ernst Loosen, slapping his thigh in hilarity when he heard the story during a recent interview The Local conducted with opponents of a planned autobahn bridge over the Moselle Valley. “It’s so true!”

Mosel Valley residents, in other words, lack solidarity and far-sightedness – which Loosen says helps explain why resistance to the planned 160 metre-tall bridge on the B50 motorway has been piecemeal. The so-called Hochmoselbrücke would link the Benelux countries to Germany’s Rhine-Main region, but some fear it will damage the wine-making and tourism industries on which the Mosel Valley survives.

Lately the €280 million project has made international headlines and appalled wine-lovers around the world. Loosen, whose family has been growing grapes in the region for 200 years, and musician Sarah Washington, a English-born Mosel resident have, along with other opponents including famous British wine critics and former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, helped drive a slick anti-bridge campaign.

The story was as easy to swallow as a mouthful of the region’s superb Rieslings: the massive bridge threatened several unique Mosel vineyards, whose steep incline and slate-rich soil produced grapes that could not be grown anywhere else in the world to the same standard.

An eyesore or economically vital?

But a trip through the winding Mosel Valley reveals a more complicated picture marked by sharp divisions – typified by the arm-chopping parable – about what’s best for the region and the people who live there.

The first thing that becomes clear when talking to locals is that many, indeed probably a majority, support the bridge construction.

“I am absolutely for it,” said wine-maker Werner Schmitz, who lives in Ürzig, a town that will be in the shadow of the new bridge. “We need this bridge to bring in more tourists. I’d say 90 percent of people here are in favour of it and only a handful are against it – the environmentalists and the left.”

Matthias Grommes, owner of the Moselleblüchen Hotel in Bernkastel, was similarly enthusiastic, saying the bridge will ease traffic congestion along the main road that runs through his town.

“It’s only the greenies that oppose it. For the winemakers it’s no problem – maybe for a hectare or two of vineyards. But this is a good thing for us – we need the bridge to improve the infrastructure here.”

Nor do those opposing the bridge necessarily cite the vineyards or the aesthetic damage as their main concerns. Oliver Probst, owner of the Ringhotel Weinhaus Moselleschild in Ürzig, said his principal worry was the disruption to the area while construction was going on.

“We’ve been told nothing at all about how long it will take and what the disruptions will be. I’m going to have to warn my guests when they book that there could be traffic delays and noise from the building. I might have people booked for lunch and dinner calling and cancelling because they can’t get here.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the Mosel Valley.

Campaigners Loosen and Washington, along with Washington’s partner Knut Aufermann, say supporters of the bridge project – many of whom have lived their whole lives in the valley – don’t understand the premium that 21st-century tourists put on unspoilt scenery.

“The view here is completely different from the view from outside,” Aufermann said. “I hear people in the valley saying, ‘But it’s modern; we’ll be part of modernity, as if they’re still living in the 1960s.’

“We fear for the valley. It is going to be dead in 10 years’ time.”

Amid low wine prices and the global financial crisis’ effect on tourism, valley residents are sufficiently desperate to believe the bridge is a lifeline for the area, according to Washington.

“There’s some typical Mosel thinking in all this,” said another bridge opponent, Michael Willkomm, who runs the massive Peter Mertes Winery and whose family have been winemakers in the region for 160 years. “People think, “If the bridge ruins tourism for the towns directly around the bridge, the tourists will come to my town further along the valley instead, so I’ll be better off.”

No one in their right mind could argue the B50 bridge is a masterpiece of infrastructure planning. It is no Millau Viaduct, the beautiful French bridge designed by British architect Norman Foster. Rather, it’s a 40-year-old, Cold War-era plan that was partly driven by NATO logistical needs but whose usefulness today has been questioned by a wide range of commentators, not just the active bridge opponents.

Tapping stimulus money

Story continues below…

According to Heiner Monheim, a professor of planning and development at the University of Trier who opposes the B50 project, the whole thing is “development for the sake of development.”

The Rhineland-Palatinate state government saw a chance in 2008, when economic stimulus money was being thrown about, to revive the B50 plan that had all but stalled, he said. The federal government is paying the vast majority of the bridge’s €280 million cost.

Under Germany’s complex planning bureaucracy, coming up with a new design would mean years, maybe decades of studies, reviews and consultations.

Yet the economic boost of the construction is unlikely to help the valley much, because most of the construction work will be done by big firms from other states or other countries, Monheim adds.

The anti-bridge group, meanwhile, claims the state government has published misleading figures to show the bridge will boost tourism. (The state’s transport ministry did not respond to a request for comment.)

Both sides of the debate have their data and their projections. But in the end, Ernst Loosen insists, it’s a matter of common sense.

“My common sense tells me that I’m not going to stay in a hotel where I have to look out of the window at a huge, ugly bridge,” Loosen said. “Why would I want to look at that?”

Related links:

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

15:52 May 13, 2010 by Fruitkok
Normally I would support the plan. I'm Dutch and I love to go on holidays to this region. And it would probably give me better accessibility. However, the design is just awful. Germany should do better than this.
18:55 May 13, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, I'm sure that everyone agrees that the bridge will negatively alter the scenery. And since structure is already in place to access Mosel Valley, therefore there is no need for a bridge that will surely effect tourism.

The problem with greedy people is that they only care about themselves. They may tell you that their idea benefits all,

but in reality, it's all about how much money they can make.

There is a very simple solution: Come voting time, elect people who share the same view as you.
12:13 May 14, 2010 by Sarah Washington
I must clarify this statement: "The anti-bridge group, meanwhile, claims the state government has published misleading figures to show the bridge will boost tourism."

What we claim is that tourism figures for the town of Winningen (who have a large bridge) have been presented in a condensed way which hides their true significance: Winningen, although not directly in view of its smaller bridge (half the length), and with less significant impact on vineyards than the Hochmoselbrücke (because the motorway does not run along the top of them for 9km), has been hindered in tourism development by 50%.

We additionally contend that the projected traffic figures for the new road are completely out of step with observable traffic on local motorways, and we have have proven that instead of time savings from North sea ports to the Rhine-Main area journeys are instead increased by up to one hour from existing routes. Even local journey times demonstrate very minimal benefit. The Middle Mosel is situated no more than 10 minutes away from an empty motorway serving our Benelux visitors.
00:31 May 15, 2010 by hanskarl
Interesting. Winningen is about 70 km from Ürzig, where the bridge is to be built. I have difficulty comparing, for the sake of argument, the similarity of very rural Ürzig versus nearly suburban Winningen that is so very close to Koblenz.

My understanding is that the construction project has already begun. For an issue that has been in discussion for more than 20 years and was decided upon and agreed to by all the German courts, including the German Supreme court 10 years ago, it seems you are late into the game.
04:24 May 15, 2010 by proclusian
First off, thanks to the Local for finally bringing their coverage to this story, which has been somewhat neglected over the past months.

I think, to reply to some of what has been said above, while it may be difficult to make any precise comparisons between Ürzig and Winningen, this is not the main issue. The primary criticisms are threefold:

1.) First and foremost is that the raison d'etre of the bridge in the first place (for the Amis and NATO-Truppen to have speedy transport) is no longer there. In fact, the bridge does not even provide speedier transport for civilians. There is, in fact, no reason to build the bridge, other than for the local politicians to see money flowing into the coffers of Rheinland-Pfalz.

2.) Second, and of nearly equal importance, the damage which will occur to the vineyards of the region is immense. As Dr. Loosen has stressed, the drilling which will occur for the base of the bridge presents a high risk of disturbing the water table in the middle Mosel, and this in turn affects the wine. Can one imagine such a thing being done in Bordeaux or in Napa? It is absurd to risk this cultural patrimony -- the patrimony being the main reason people (i.e., tourists) come to the Mosel.

3.) Lastly, even if one were to maintain that the bridge does have a purpose, and even if one were to maintain that the risks to the wine-growers and their product is minimal, this bridge is quite simply the ugliest thing one can imagine. At least, if one must build it, one could have a contest for an architect of note to design something stunning. This bridge, as currently planned, will deface and disfigure the other reason (besides its top-notch wine) that people come to the Mosel, which is the beautiful nature.

Perhaps, as 'hanskarl' notes, the opposition is "late to the game," but I think that, when one sees an advancing evil, one must do what one can, even if one has arrived a bit late.

--D.P. O'Connell

Twitter: @moselmensch
10:23 May 16, 2010 by Shiny Flu
So long as the bridge is as beautiful as the one in Milau, France I think it's fine. but that thing of 'pragmatic' boredom in the picture is an eyesore even as an 'artist's impression.'
13:29 May 17, 2010 by mehta_p
Well designed bridge with brilliant aesthetic look can add beauty at Mosel Valley.

Germans are good in design and are capable of delivering high quality product.

Hopefully they won't damage beauty of the valley.

15:28 May 20, 2010 by Mosel Mac
Another thought to add to proclusians list, above.

Does this undeniably ugly bridge really provide any sort of "value for money" to German tax payers? I think not. With 280 million euros they could do much more to keep through traffic away from the roads in the Mosel valley floor, this road will not do it, and its a real threat to the areas best assets - the wine and the scenery. It's a real cop out to implement a plan thats so old - what they need to know is how much traffic is through traffic, how much is associated with the tourist trade (they need trucks to deliver all that stuff consumed by the tourists) then work out how to separate different types of traffic. At the moment there is a lot of mixed traffic along the valley floor, and the plan should be to keep as much of this as possible away from the most popular scenic areas, population centres, etc - as was done successfully with Whelen a few years ago. This money could be much better spent and provide real lasting benefit to the area. German govt is doing what the British did - last 10 years spent money like a crew of drunken sailors, no thought of value for money. End result is Brits are broke, have nothing to show for their splurge and the hangover has just kicked in. Merkel must think about value for money.
04:31 May 25, 2010 by mike short
A bridge will not help tourism. It will hurt. IT WILL LINE THE POCKERS OF A LOT OF politicans and many other, but not the locals. This is an American talking, Take a close look at this and investigate "The Whole Works" with this bridge. Is tourism going down? Where will your hotels be built for the "hordes of new tourist" How much of the country side will be unearthed for buildings,, new roads, etc. Remember one thing, In America we now know that when any one in elected office or hired by Politics open ones mouth It is a simple LIE.
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