The Fight to Save Fehmarn Island from Progress

Fehmarn Bridge side view new

Co-produced with sister column The Flensburg Files

FEHMARN, GERMANY-   Last fall, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a segment on the preservation of the Fehmarn Bridge, the first bridge in the world that carries the now popular basket-handle tied arch bridge span. The battle is part of the series where residents of Fehmarn Island are fighting with both the German and Danish governments to stop a project where the Migratory Bird Route, connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen, would be widened- both the highway and the railway. This includes new bridges to replace the Fehmarn Bridge and a tunnel on the opposite end connecting Puttgarden (D) and Rodby (DK). And lastly an industrial areal was planned for the island.  Unfortunately, despite the Areal being blocked earlier this year, the European Union, according to reports from the BBC, has given Denmark the green light to start the construction of the tunnel, by providing 589 million Euros in the next four years for the project.

Yet while the Danes are prepared to start work beginning this fall, residents of the island and the surrounding area along the Baltic Sea coast are up in arms against the project and have started their own initiative to stop the project.

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Tourists and locals have seen the blue X’es popping up in neighborhoods, along highways and beaches and even in the skies between Hamburg and Lübeck and the island itself. The Blue-X Initiative was adopted by the group Beltretter, with the purpose of showing support for preserving the island and stopping the project from taking place. Almost one in every three households have this on their lawns as a way of demonstrating solidarity against the project. And there are many reasons for this initiative:

1. The construction of the tunnel would coincide with the expansion of the highway and rail line going through the island as well as the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, resulting in the island becoming a construction site. As small as the island is, and with the economy being dependent almost solely on tourism, analysts predict a loss of up to 800 million Euros (or close to $1 billion) in revenue during the time of the construction because of loss of tourism and commerce, plus additional money to improve the island’s imagery once the project was completed, which could take years to complete.

2. The project would involve a loss of sensitive vegetation and marine life that would be immense and possible irreplaceable. This includes the plan to scrap the underground tunnel similar to the Euro-Tunnel connecting France and Great Britain in favor of one above the sea floor, similar to the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden), which could be devastating to marine life alone. The width of the construction area between Puttgarden and Fehmarn Bridge would average approximately five kilometers. The maximum width of the island is only 21.8 kilometers- and this given the size of the land to be 185 squared kilometers!

3. Some discreptancies in the environmental and economic impact surveys conducted by Denmark have resulted in rechecking the figures. Alone with the economic impact survey released in January 2015 led to a debate on the credibility of both the Danish government, the conglomerate spearheading the tunnel initiative Fehmarn A/S, and even the European Union. While both Denmark and the EU claim that the new crossings would produce a revenue of 4-5% of the gross domestic product in the region or approximately 3.48 billion Euros ($5.5 billion), other surveys indicate that the loss of revenue through construction combined with years of recovery, the new crossing would net an annual loss of 6.7 billion Euros ($8.2 billion). For the residents on the island, the risk would be too high to take.

4. While there is a one-track rail line that is suitable for transport between Hamburg and Copenhagen including the time needed to cross via ferry, there is another border crossing at Flensburg and Padborg, where they feature a freeway and a two-track rail line connecting Hamburg with Aarhus with a arm going to Copenhagen via Odense. At the present time, improvements are being made in the Flensburg area to make the crossing more attractive. While the logic behind expanding the line through Fehmarn is there, little do government authorities realize that Fehmarn is a vacation and natural area whose need for a freeway/ two-track crossing on both ends of the island would devastate the natural habitat and impact tourism negatively. In other words, better to go through Flensburg if you wish to stay on the freeway going to Denmark and not stop to go swimming.

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While officials in Denmark are preparing to start building the tunnel from the Rodby end, officials in Germany are in the process of discussing the project with many parties involved. This after the application for the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, new freeway and tunnel was submitted to the state ministry of transport. The communities affected will have a meeting in September, followed by the environmental groups, including BeltRetter in November and residents affected by the construction afterwards. The ministry will then review the opinions and information provided by those affected before making their decision- a process that could take up to a year.  Proponents of the project have already received a backing from The German Railways (The Bahn) and German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt, the former wanting to expand and electrify its rail line to run more ICE-Trains on there.

But with the opposition towards the project crystalizing and spreading beyond the region, problems will most likely excaberbate over the course of two years, especially when the blue X’es sprout up everywhere making the area as blue as possible. Since blue is the sign of clear water, the water people deserve to swim in and marine life to inhabit, it also is a sign of preserving things as they are. With more initiatives coming up and more support pouring in, there is a chance that the project could be stalled further or even scrapped. If this is the case, then there will still be some work to be done with its current infrastructure to keep it up to date, but residents will breathe a sign of relief, for having a mega-highway for the sake of expanding commerce is not necessarily what they want. In fact with all of information on the negative impacts, combined with questions involving the credibility of the sources, this project in the end will do more harm to the region than good. This is something no one is willing to gamble on.

The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are proud to support the initiative to preserve Fehmarn Island and its places of interest. Both columns will provide you with further updates on the latest involving the project. If you wish to take part in the initiative and want to donate for the right cause, please click on the following links. There you have information on how you can help.

Beltretter

Bewahrt Fehmarn (Preserve Fehmarn)

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Special thanks to Mirko Kaminski for the use of the photos, as well as Karin Neumann and Hendrick Kerlen for their help in contributing some valuable information for this story.   

Fehmarn Bridge Spared/ Industrial Areal Rejected

Fehmarn Bridge in Germany. Used as the new logo for the Bridgehunter's Chronicles. Photo taken in September 2014
Fehmarn Bridge in Germany. Used as the new logo for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Photo taken in September 2014

Co-produced with sister column:

FF new logo

 

 

 

Burg (Fehmarn)-  In the last 20 years, attempts have been made to turn the largest island in Germany, located northeast of Oldenburg in Schleswig-Holstein at the border to Denmark, into an industrial area, especially in the northern half of the island. And since last summer, a petition was made to put the proposal up to vote, which was granted on March 8. The question was whether profits from the new industrial area would make sense or whether it is best to keep the island as is and feed its profits from tourism and environmentalism. In other words, do they want the industry or not.

The majority spoke for the latter- and by an enormous number of votes!

Voters on the 8th voted unanimously to reject the proposal by the conglomerate Baltic FS to establish an industrial area in the northern part of the island with an average vote of two thirds favoring the annullment of the agreement with the firm and less than a third for the agreement. The plan would have allowed companies to establish their facilities on 15 acres of land between Puttgarden and Marienleuchte, which would have resulted in the widening of the Migratory Route (Vogellinie) between Hamburg and Lübeck to the south and Copenhagen in the north.  The majority that voted against the proposal were concerned about the increase in air and noise pollution caused by the establishment of several small firms as well as the subsequential increase in traffic, and that the environmentally sensitive region would sustain significant damage as a result.

Proponents of the proposal wanted additional revenue to that coming from the tourism section, which is the main source of income. Yet because of the haste in planning by Baltic FS combined with questions about the affects of the Areal being answered vaguely or even left out, the majority of the residents of Fehmarn voted to cut the cord on the deal. The proposal, according to the news source Fehmarn Heiligenhafen is now on ice for at least two years, but attempts are being made by the Initiative Bewahrt Fehmarn (Preserve Fehmarn) to ensure that the Areal plan is off the table for good, together with the widening of the Vogellinie route and with that, a new bridge over the Fehmarn Sound to the south west of Burgstaaken and a new tunnel to the north at Puttgarden. Should this plan be successful, it is most likely that the Areal may be scrapped or even relocated. The Danish town of Rodby in Lolland may be the best place for the district, if the latter is proposed, given its strategic location.

 

Fehmarn Tunnel and Bridge on Ice?

In addition to the good news regarding the Areal, work on the Fehmarn Tunnel between Puttgarden and Rodby (Denmark) as well as the proposal for building a new Fehmarn Bridge between Burgstaaken and mainland Germany has been stalled for political reasons. According to sources from the Lübecker Nachricht newspaper as well as from the Initiative Bewarht Fehmarn, work on the new 18-kilometer long tunnel will most likely start in 2018 with the completion being in 2024. This will be three years later than scheduled. Reason for the delay is the debate on the future of the Fehmarn Bridge on the south end. According to an article produced in December, the 1963 basket-weave tied arch bridge was the very first bridge of its kind built, setting the stage for several more similar structures that have been built since then and three more to be built in the next five years; one of which is the Levansau Bridge west of Kiel.

The German Railways (Die Bahn), owners of the bridge, wants two new bridges- one for railway traffic and one for the motorway and relieve its duties in maintaining the bridge- possibly even tearing it down. Residents are against the proposal for the bridge as it is one of the main icons of the island, plus it would mean residents losing acres of land and pollution setting in from an increase in traffic. While the tunnel proposal is on the table, it has not been etched in stone due to opposition and costs for the project, which politicians in Berlin are debating. While the bridge is expected to handle traffic for another 30 years at the most, according to sources, work is underway to determine what needs to be done with the bridge to prolong its life further, while at the same time ensure that the island does not witness an increase in volume of traffic through the tunnel or three-bridge solution and with that, the conversion of the two-lane road into a motorway, something the majority of residents are opposed to.

More on the Fehmarn Bridge you’ll find via Bridgehunter’s Chronicles by clicking on the logo below:

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The Flensburg Files and its sister column will keep you informed on the developments in the Fehmarn Region. Yet the Initiative Bewahrt Fehmarn needs your help and support. For more on how to help, please go to their facebook page and contact the people involved to see how you can help.

 

Fehmarn Bridge in Germany: At the Crossroads between Preservation and Progress

FEHMARN ISLAND, GERMANY-  Connecting Fehmarn Island with mainland Germany in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Fehmarn Bridge is unique in three different ways: its historic value, its touristic value to the region and lastly, its infrastructural value.

The bridge was built in 1963, using the very first bridge design conceptualized by an engineering firm in Oberhausen, in North Rhine-Westphalia: the basket-weave tied arch bridge. The arch design features two arches that meet at the center of the span above the roadway, with a network of diagonal beams supporting the arches. The concept of connecting Fehmarn Island with the rest of Germany was introduced in 1912, yet the plan was first realized when the Organization Todt began construction on a combination roadway/railway crossing in 1941, shortly after the Nazis had occupied Denmark thus enlarging its empire. The cost for the investment was 8 million Reichsmarks. The project was halted in 1942 and would not be continued until 1960, when the construction firm of C.H. Jucho, Felten & Guilleaume und Flender, restarted the project with G. Fischer, T. Jahnke und P. Stein of the company Gutehoffnungshütte Sterkrade AG of  Oberhausen-Sterkrade designing the blueprint of the bridge, and Gerd Hofmann masterminding the architectural aspect. It took three years to complete the project. Originally scheduled to open on 30 April, 1963, it had to be open to restricted traffic in January for ferry service was suspended due to a harsh winter. Crossing the bridge required a special permit for construction was not yet completed. This was lifted when the bridge opened to traffic at the end of April. The bridge has a double function of being a highway bridge and a railway bridge all in one, both serving the purpose of connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen.  The total length of the bridge is 1400 meters. 900 meters consisted of the bridge itself with the basket-handle tied arch span having a length of 350 meters. The rest of the length consists of approach spans, including an arch span over a road connecting Avendorf with Strukkamp.

Since its inception, many engineers have looked to the Fehmarn Bridge as reference, giving them some ideas on how to construct similar spans. Already planned are the new Bettendorf spans over the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities (replacing the twin suspension spans) as well as the Levansau Bridge over the Baltic-North Sea Canal near Kiel, using the basket-handle spans similar to the one at Fehmarn. The Fehmarn Bridge is one of the main attractions for tourists and one can see the bridge on any souvenir item available. Even the streets of Burg and its boroughs have houses decorated with the lighted Fehmarn Bridge emblem.  And most recently, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles introduced the bridge as part of its new logo, a measure well-received by residents of Fehmarn Island as well as in the bridge and preservation communities.

Despite this, the future of the 51-year old bridge is up in the air. Plans are in the making to widen the roadway and upgrade it to motorway status. This is part of the plan to create an industrial area on the island, the proposal that has been met with opposition from residents and people associated with the island alike. According to Karin Neumann, spokesperson for the initiative “Bewahrt Fehmarn” (English: Preserve Fehmarn), the industrial group Baltic FS, a German-based group, wants to create an industrial Areal where warehouses, a industrial storage facility and factories would be created on 15 hectares of land on the island. In addition, the motorway will feature a new tunnel connecting Fehmarn with Denmark, thus eliminating the need for ferry service between Rodby (Denmark) and Puttgarden. And finally, the German Railways (Die Bahn), with support from the German Ministry of Transportation in Berlin is working together to construct a replacement for the Fehmarn Bridge. Proposals include:

  1. Three bridges while keeping the Fehmarn Bridge- one for rail traffic, one for the motorway and one for local traffic,
  2. A tunnel for motorway and rail traffic while keeping the bridge
  3. Two bridges for rail and motorway traffic but the Fehmarn Bridge would be removed.

The options were presented in August with meetings taking place in Berlin and Oldenburg (the administrative district where Fehmarn Island belong to) in September. Despite claims by die Bahn that no one would want the bridge after it is replaced, thus justifying the need to demolish the bridge, the proposal to tear down the Fehmarn Bridge was met with a protest similar to Hurricane Katrin slamming New Orleans in 2005. Local authorities and people associated with the bridge objected to the demolition proposals forcefully, claiming that Die Bahn was short-sighted and as inconsiderate as a bully in kindergarten.  Apart from wanting to keep the bridge as a tourist attraction and key bicycle and pedestrian crossing between Fehmarn and Grossenbrode, the bridge is protected by the state preservation laws of Schleswig-Holstein as it is considered a technical historic landmark. In addition, an agreement between the states of Germany and Denmark signed at the time of the bridge’s construction stated that the connection between mainland Germany and Denmark via Fehmarn Island is to remain two lanes for automobile traffic and one track for railroad traffic. According to Neumann and other sources, the agreement would need to be replaced should both Germany and Denmark want a motorway connection. But most importantly, as Neumann stated in an interview with the Chronicles, having three bridges as well as the Areal would degrade the natural and tourist value of the island, which according to latest figures, 2.5 million tourists from Germany, Denmark and elsewhere take their vacation on the island annually, and even though the total population of the inhabitants is roughly 30,000 year round, at least triple the number are on the island in the summer time, mostly for the purpose of camping, biking, swimming and visiting the villages and historic places that have existed for over 400 years.

Given the lack of experience of Baltic FS with its plan of constructing the Areal combined with the hastiness of  Die Bahn and the German and Danish governments, the idea of the Areal, combined with the idea of additional bridges at the site of the Fehmarn Bridge has been seen in the eyes of the preservation group and the locals as poorly timed, poorly thought out and most importantly, poorly communicated between the planners and the residents, most of whom are against any proposal dealing with the Areal project as well as the replacement of the Fehmarn Bridge unless there is a tunnel variant and the historic bridge is saved. This according to sources from Bewahrt Fehmarn and other locals with knowledge of the project.

The current situation is as follows: A petition drive started this summer to halt plans for the Areal project as well as the replacement of the Fehmarn Bridge. With as many as 1800 signatures, the district of Oldenburg and the state of Schleswig-Holstein have approved a referendum, scheduled for 8 March of next year, where people will have an opportunity to vote on the Areal project. Politicians in Berlin and Kiel are working together on a solution where a tunnel would be built instead of two additional bridges and the Fehmarn Bridge would be handed over to the state or Oldenburg district, which governs Fehmarn.  Given the support for their beloved island, a vast majority of the people will most likely vote against the Areal, citing the need to preserve the island as  a place of natural interest and the fact that tourism has been the locomotive of the island’s economy. Even the majority of local businesses are against the Areal project as well, for only two have favored the district, according to Neumann. In addition, although the trend is leaning toward the tunnel solution, chances are very likely that the Fehmarn Bridge will remain in service, even beyond 2020, as many politicians are claiming that its lifespan will end.

But even if residents on Fehmarn have it their way, it will not stop the project of constructing a tunnel between Puttgarden and Rodby from getting underway at the earliest, next year, replacing the ferry service. This has put pressure on the parties involved regarding how to find a solution to the problem with the Fehmarn Bridge. Yet chances are likely that if all is approved in favor of the locals, then the Fehmarn Bridge will have new life as a local and bike crossing, with the tunnel variant taking over main traffic. That would be a blessing for many who cherish their beloved structure, whose history dates far back, and whose design is the pioneer of the bridge type that is still being used to this day.

Check out the photos of the Fehmarn Bridge on the Chronicles’ facebook page, which you can find here.

If you want to know more about how you can help save the Fehmarn Bridge and stop the Areal Project, check out the Bewahrt Fehmarn page, which you can click on here for more details. Special thanks to Karin Neumann for providing some useful information for this write-up.