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Germany

Marches in favor of Stuttgart 21 rail project gain support

Opposition to the Stuttgart 21 rail project has overtaken German media. But while the supporters of the project may be in the minority, they've also been holding protests which are growing in numbers.

Balloon reading I love S21

Public support has been drowned out by the opposition

In the public debate over the controversial Stuttgart 21 rail station renovation, a growing number of people are gathering to counter the massive opposition and show their support for the project.

Christian List, organizer of the weekly pro-Stuttgart 21 marches, said he thought the opposition had gotten out of hand.

"My beginning as a political activist was when I saw the people yelling and crying "Liars!" to the politicians in Stuttgart," he told Deutsche Welle. "It all went a little bit too far. So that was the moment when I said now is the point when I have to do something."

Marchers wear jerseys reading S21 makes sense

The supporters march to city hall every Thursday

Growing in numbers

Every Thursday, List gets together with a number of people and marches along a four-kilometer route to the city hall, where the crowd hears speeches to rally support. He said the first march brought about 100 people, but that they have grown every week since, and that the most recent march drew 4,000 people.

That is still just a small fraction of the 60,000 to 100,000 people who showed up for the most recent protest against the project last Saturday. But List said the reasons why so many people have mobilized in opposition are not all based on fact.

"The politicians made big mistakes in the communication of this project," he said. "My opinion is that the people have too much information and they are overwhelmed by it. So they just don't know what is right and what is wrong."

List said he supports the project because while it may be expensive, the economic benefits of connecting Stuttgart to a broader high-speed rail network will eventually bring in even more money. And although about 280 trees in the palace gardens have to be cut down, the project moves the train station underground, freeing up 100 hectares of land for public space where even more trees will be planted.

Arbitration meetings

There is little doubt that Stuttgart 21 opponents have the loudest voice in the media. Their main complaints are that the renovation cost of 7 billion euros is far too high, and that the construction will damage the environment.

Heiner Geissler at press conference

Geissler, left, said he is optimistic the arbitration will continue

And they earned some vindication in their first meetings with state-appointed arbitrator Heiner Geissler on Tuesday night, when Geissler appeared to chastise state authorities for not being sufficiently transparent.

"All facts, all numbers, and all assessments have to be laid out on the table," he told reporters. "That's the only way the lost trust and credibility can be won back. And that's an extremely important goal that we're working toward in these talks."

Geissler added that he was optimistic that the discussions could continue and eventually reach a solution.

Accusations of conflicting interests

List runs his own communications firm, and he said working professionally in that field helped him in getting his message out. But it has also led some people to claim he is not just a regular citizen voicing his opinion.

Christian List

List said he hopes for a quick solution to the controversy

"There are accusations that I work for (state rail company) Deutsche Bahn, or that I work for the city, that I'm paid for doing this," he said. "And that's not true. My agency is working for different customers, but we don't have Deutsche Bahn as a customer."

Despite his views on the project, List says his greatest hope is that the arbitration with opponents of Stuttgart 21 will quickly lead to a resolution of the controversy.

"This divides the city right now," he said. "I have the hope that one day, very soon, this all calms down."

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Rob Turner

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