Protests as Tesla receives approval for factory purchase near Berlin

Protesters gather in Grünheide with signs reading "No industry in drinking water areas" and "No factory in the forest." Photo Credit: DPA
The east German state of Brandenburg has been anxiously awaiting this moment: The US electric car maker Tesla has agreed to a state property contract. But not everyone is in agreement on the project.

The founding of a new Tesla factory in Grünheide (Oder-Spree) has come a step closer to fruition, according to the Brandenburg State Chancellery.

On Saturday, the California company's board of directors approved the purchase agreement with the state of Brandenburg to acquire the approximately 300-hectare property, according to government spokesman Florian Engels.

READ ALSO: Tesla gets green light for factory site near Berlin

Tesla plans to build its factory on the site. The finance committee of the Brandenburg state parliament has already approved the purchase contract.

Tesla's planned factory site in Grüneheide, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

The Grünheide factory, located near Berlin, aims to create 150,000 Model 3 and Y electric cars annually, beginning in the summer of 2021. 

The company has plans to expand manufacturing up to 500,000 vehicles a year. Landesbetrieb Forst, the state’s public forest agency, estimated the price of the forested land near Grünheide (Oder-Spree district) at just under €41 million, but another independent report is still pending. 

The final purchase price will be adjusted based on the results of the second appraisal. 

The area, designated as an industrial zone, is currently being examined for weapon remnants left behind by the Second World War.

According to the State Chancellery, there is a high likelihood that unexploded US explosives, like grenades or bombs, could be found there. The municipality of Grünheide has therefore prohibited anyone from entering the site.

Local controversy

Tesla’s new venture in Grünheide is controversial among citizens. According to police, around 200 people in the community demonstrated against the US company’s factory plans on Saturday – doubling expected attendance numbers.

The protest only had 100 officially registered participants, according to the police. “No large factory in the forest” and “Secretly negotiated – environmentally voided” were a few of the slogans printed on posters.

One of the main facets the citizens had issue with is the clearing of the forest to make room for the large factory. As reported by the “Märkische Oderzeitung,” another group of about 80 people demonstrated against the car manufacturer's settlement with a walk in the forest on Sunday.

Elon Musk, CEO of the electric car manufacturer Tesla, speaks at a press conference in January. Photo credit: DPA

Pro-Tesla

A pro-Tesla gathering also took place on Saturday: Around 30 people took part in the demonstration, the police reported. However, organizers estimated higher numbers with around 50 participants, including numerous families with children.

Banners read “Elon, I want a car from you” and “Innovate instead of blocking.” Some residents from the region arrived with their Tesla vehicles.

READ ALSO: What does Tesla's Berlin touchdown mean for German carmakers?

Anke Kranhold, whose family has lived in Grünheide for four generations, was also among the supporters of a Tesla settlement on Saturday.

“I have sons and two daughters-in-law who are engineers. In the future they may have the chance to cycle to work instead of commuting all the way to Berlin,” the 46-year-old told DPA. 

“Why does everything have to be so topsy-turvy?” a Tesla opponent told a DPA reporter in Grünheide, questioning how fast the process had been approved.

Another demonstrator added: “A billionaire from the USA shows up waving his banknotes, and suddenly everything is possible in Brandenburg.”

The opponents of the Tesla factory's construction fear, among other things, that the local water supply could be at risk. The building site is in a drinking water protection zone.

When a string of Tesla opponents passed the supporters, the two sides briefly traded verbal insults. The police were on site with numerous emergency services, and the situation quickly calmed down again.

Brandenburg's Minister of Economics Jörg Steinbach (SPD) expressed little sympathy towards Tesla skeptics in an article published in the “Märkische Oderzeitung.”

The community doesn't always have a willingness to support change, he told the newspaper. “We have a stubborn mentality,” he continued.

According to Steinbach, the people wanted good jobs near their homes as well as shorter commutes, but conversely oppose the new factory and don't want construction on their doorsteps.

Despite this, Steinbach said the reactions of Grünheide community were nevertheless constructive. 


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