The 'Stuttgart 21' Revolt Protests Against Mega Project Grow
Part 2: Not Your Pauper's Protest
Stuttgarters -- who enjoy a reputation in Germany for being respectable, upright and hard-working folk -- are dead-serious about this issue. Even Walter Sittler, a Stuttgart-based actor, is setting priorities that he would have hardly thought possible in the past. He, his wife and his children had just returned from a week's vacation in Burgundy. Their suitcases were still sitting in the hallway, unpacked, when he left the house to appear on the stage at the north wing of the train station to get the protesters in the right mood for their daily protest.
Sittler is wearing a black whistle around his neck. He glances at his watch. "Only 45 seconds to go!" he says into his microphone before counting down the seconds aloud. When he reaches zero, he blows his whistle, and more than 10,000 citizens join him in banging tambourines, blowing into vuvuzelas, whistling, shouting and booing for the next minute. It's an obnoxious form of protest -- and deliberately so. It's meant to make sure that the bigwigs get an earful this evening, including: Wolfgang Drexler; Wolfgang Schuster, the city's mayor and a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU); Stefan Mappus, the governor of the surrounding state of Baden-Württemberg; and Rüdiger Grube, chairman of Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway operator.
"I want to make sure that our protest spreads throughout the country," Sittler shouts, as the crowd cheers him on. In the fight against Stuttgart 21, Sittler -- a graduate of one of Europe's most elite private boarding schools and a winner of one of Germany's top television awards -- has become the figurehead of the protest movement.
After the protest is over, Sittler sits down on a wall. A man wearing a quilted jacket shakes his hand and thanks him for his commitment. The woman at his side is wearing expensive suede pumps.
Sittler isn't surprised that people from the city's exclusive hillside neighborhoods are now taking to the streets. "Based on the results of geological studies," he explains, "many are worried that the tunnel work could damage their houses."
Ignoring the People for an Intoxicating Project
Sittler has the pleasant voice of someone who records audio books, and he stays calm while speaking. Still, he says he's growing angrier by the day. He characterizes his rage as a cold one, though, adding: "Hot rage only makes you lose your mind." He then stares off into the distance for a moment to a point where -- if the Stuttgart 21 people get their way -- a new neighborhood will be built on the site of the former track bed.
Sittler says that he was initially among those who weren't opposed to the Stuttgart 21 project. In the early 1990s, he says, the idea of having an underground train station at least sounded interesting. "But then the project bobbed along for a while," he says, "and when the Transrapid (high-speed maglev rail project) was cancelled, I was sure that it was the end of Stuttgart 21. But then, all of a sudden, everything was signed! And the 67,000 signatures that had been collected for a referendum" -- Sittler waves his hand to mimic pushing aside a stack of paper -- "were simply swept off the table."
It was then that Sittler says he began to oppose the project. By then, he had discovered his public spirit, as had many other Stuttgarters. It was the beginning of a citizens' revolt. Meanwhile, the public officials responsible for the project remained stubbornly committed to their plan. "The course has been set for Stuttgart 21," Mayor Schuster insisted. Johannes Schmalzl, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and president of Stuttgart's regional council, agreed: "The question has been asked years too late."
'They've Become Intoxicated by this Project'
"And they even stuck to this crazy project after finding out about the unbelievable cost increases," Sittler adds. The Federal Audit Office believes that Stuttgart 21, including the new stretch of track to Ulm, will cost about 8.5 billion, or almost twice as much as the original estimate. According to Federal Environment Agency, total costs could run upwards of 11 billion.
"They've become intoxicated with this project," says Sittler, who has been actively fighting Stuttgart 21 since the beginning of the year. "At a certain point," he adds, "every politically engaged citizen had to decide where he or she stood and whether he or she was prepared to stand up." Indeed, by now, many people in Stuttgart are likely to decide whether someone is a friend or foe based solely on their answer to one question: Are you for it or against it?
Sittler isn't surprised that people in higher-income groups have now joined the protest movement. "After all," he says, "they're intelligent people! They're well-informed, and they can't see the benefits of this project. Besides, they're Swabians (the name given to people from Germany's Swabia region), which makes them down-to-earth people who can do the math and who pay very close attention to how they spend their money. That also applies to those who have a lot of it."
Sittler lowers his head. "Can you imagine how humiliating it is," he says, "for an adult citizen to have to constantly witness a show of force without having any say in the matter?"
This feeling of powerlessness has driven people into the streets. And the city's mismanagement of the crisis guarantees that their numbers will only grow in the coming weeks. City officials have rejected calls for declaring a moratorium and temporarily halting construction so as to survey residents on whether they support or oppose the project, arguing that there is no political reason to do so.