Germany's Moselle Valley produces some of the world's best Rieslings. But now this pristine winemaking region is threatened by a bridge that is to span the valley, against the wishes of many locals and winemakers.
The Moselle Valley in western Germany is known for its picturesque views and world-famous Moselle Riesling wine. The region thrives on the wine industry and the tourism that it brings. In an effort to boost access to the valley, the national and state government have launched a project to build a bridge across the Moselle Valley.
Supporters of the project say it will boost tourism in the region by shortening the travel time between neighboring Belgium and Luxembourg. They say traffic congestion will be relieved for locals, and commercial connections to nearby airports will be improved.
But not everyone in the valley is convinced that building the bridge is worth it. They're afraid the damage to the landscape and the environment will outweigh the benefits.
Pictures from Pro-Moselle showing the Valley as it is and what will change with the bridge
A group of citizens in the valley have formed a group called Pro-Moselle. They are against the construction of the bridge, and have started a number of initiatives to try to stop construction. Last spring the group stopped tractors from digging at the official groundbreaking ceremony of the bridge, and a petition against the bridge can be signed on the group's Web site or at one of their regularly scheduled Sunday demonstrations.
On Sundays, members of the group meet in the town of Bernkastel to gather signatures. They hold two panoramic photographs: One shows how the valley looks now, while the other shows the same image but with the proposed bridge added in.
"These pictures alone say it all," a woman visiting from Moenchengladbach who signed the petition told Deutsche Welle. "We're enjoying the landscape here as tourists, without a bridge. With a bridge, it is unthinkable."
Plans for the bridge have been on the books since the late 1960s, but it wasn't until late 2008 that the project was given the green light. Most of the 270 million euros ($366 million) budgeted for the project is coming from the federal government, with the government of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate chipping in 20 million euros.
Wine expert Hugh Johnson says Moselle Riesling is one of a kind
The Pro-Moselle group has gained support from German politicians and leaders in the wine world. Former foreign minister Joschka Fisher and the co-leader of the Greens' parliamentary party, Renate Kuenast, are on board, as is Hugh Johnson, a world-renowned wine writer from Britain.
Johnson calls the planned bridge a 'road on stilts.' In a video posted on the Pro-Moselle website, he calls on the citizens of the area to stand up and fight for the Moselle Valley and its one-of-a-kind wine.
"I can tell you that the whole world has nothing comparable to a Moselle Riesling. You can imitate the wine of Bordeaux in the Napa Valley," Johnson said. "You can even imitate the wine of Burgundy in certain places. But there is nothing that even starts to imitate great Moselle Riesling."
A long tradition
Markus Berres runs the C.H. Berres winery in Uerzig, a town that will basically fall under the shadow of the bridge once it is completed. His family has been in the business for 500 years, and the 31-year-old winemaker is part of the 21st generation to run the family business in the Moselle Valley. He fears that tourists will be driven away once the bridge is built.
"This region lives from tourism and winemaking," Berres said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, "but who wants to take their holiday under a bridge? Nobody. So I don't see any advantage to building the bridge."
The state's transportation minister, Hendrik Hering, announced that 35 million euros would be reinvested in the environment as a measure of compensation. However, winemakers are still worried about the bridge's effect on the water supply for the grapes growing on the slopes of the valley, or how the grapes will react to the additional car exhaust.
Although it is years from completion, signs of the bridge are apparent
"The vines will be growing with the bridge or without the bridge," said Markus Berres. "The question is, how high will the quality be?"
Too late to be stopped?
Preparation work is already underway on the bridge. A receding tree line and dirt access roads are starting to give an indication of what the area will look like once the bridge is complete. Pro-Moselle insists that as long as construction has not started, the bridge can still be stopped.
Markus Berres predicts that many people will move away from the valley if the bridge is completed. In either case, Berres says he'll stay. His family has made its living in the Moselle Valley for centuries, and Berres plans to keep the tradition alive. But for him, making Germany's famous Moselle Riesling wine just won't be the same in the shadow of a bridge.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Chuck Penfold