For the past 10 months, Silas Heineken has flown a drone over one of Germany’s largest construction sites and posted the footage to YouTube.
The self-proclaimed 14-year-old ” Tesla KidHas attracted a large following, as tens of thousands tune in weekly to see the latest developments at Elon Musk’s GigaFactory as it rushes out of the sandy soil of Brandenburg, south-east of Berlin.
“He’s a huge visionary who has big ideas, which he managed to achieve,” Heineken said in an interview.
After hanging out on his bike to see Musk on his recent visit, the schoolboy sees an electric car factory near his home in the sleepy town of Grünheide as a huge opportunity for the region.
It is by far the largest industrial colony in the region for a century and Brandenburg’s Minister of Economics Jörg Steinbach called it a chance for the region “to become a site of leading energy revolution in Germany and Europe ”. Musk has pledged to create 10,000 jobs and produce around 500,000 cars a year, starting with his Model Y, and to build the world’s largest battery plant on the site. His vision will put the region on the map.
Politicians are unofficially talking about their debt to Musk, who they say could easily have gone to Asia instead, where labor costs are lower and environmental controls and building standards less stringent.
But while landowners are among those rubbing their hands with joy, having seen land prices increase tenfold since Musk made his intentions public in November 2019, there are many opponents. Most of them say they love the Grünheide backwater precisely because it is not on the map and are horrified when they see it – especially on Heineken videos, illustrating the emergence of the foundry, the pressing plant, paint shop and assembly plant. – the speed of progress of the project and the extent of the forest it has already swallowed up.
“Grünheide is just a small place of 9,000 people, on the edge of a conservation area. Musk’s plans will make it a city of 40,000 – it will become like Wolfsburg, ”says Werner Klink, referring to the purpose-built town west of Berlin in the 1930s around automobile production. VW.
Klink is a member of the Grünheide Citizens’ Initiative, a group of residents campaigning to stop the project. Construction projects in Germany, he says, usually take time “because of all the permits you need and the regulations you have to meet before you even put a shovel in the ground.” Instead, Musk took the very un-German route of starting the work and then getting the permits.
“Even if they told him he wouldn’t be allowed to continue, he will have already caused so much damage that there is no way he can bring the site back to its original state,” Klink says. “Huge and irreversible damage has been done to nature, potentially to groundwater, forest, flora, fauna.”
Around 100 hectares of pine trees (the equivalent of about 26 football pitches) have already been felled, and another 86 hectares are expected to follow, after a court ruling last month.
The barriers to Tesla come in the form of the sand lizard and European smooth snake, species that live in the woods, the German Union for the Protection of Nature (NABU) pointed out, and are at the heart of the battle. legal to stop the project.
There is also the issue of an outstanding deposit to be paid to the local environment agency of 100 million euros to cover possible remediation costs, which a court also ruled on December 18. as a reason to suspend the project. Tesla’s lawyers have asked for an extension of the payment deadline, German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported.
Despite 360 objections to the project, authorities effectively allowed him to go ahead by telling Musk that he was doing it at his own risk. The practice is not so unusual in Germany, although on this scale it is unprecedented.
“Musk is a risk taker, he does, and he relies on the fact that they will never tell him to demolish his building, especially when so many jobs are on the line,” Klink says, retired geophysicist.
He says the speed with which the site came into being did not allow time to properly inspect the site. “There is a considerable risk that digging will contaminate groundwater. Just a meter below the surface there is salt water and there are signs that it is rising. If it mixes with fresh water, we will have a huge problem on our hands.
A demonstration in December in front of the Axel Springer House in Berlin against the German publisher’s homage to “Musk’s ambition to make the world a better place” with his eponymous award drew climate and environmental activists, including the NABU, the Society for Species Protection and the Grüne Liga (green league).
Norbert Heß, the Brandenburg spokesperson for the Ecological Democrats (ÖDP), a small political party, accused the larger Green party of “violating their oath of office” by helping to speed up the project.
Heß says that many aspects of the project were poorly thought out. Why was the Lausitz lignite mining area in southern Brandenburg not considered, in search of a new raison d’être after the planned phase-out of German lignite, he asks. “The land where the surface mines are located is already stripped of nature,” Heß says.
The Greens in the Brandenburg government say they are in favor of the project because it offers a viable alternative to the diesel engine, as well as the creation of vital local jobs.
Tesla avoids talking to the media. He tried to express his good intention in the form of projects such as pledging to plant three times as many trees as he fell and building fences to protect lizards and snakes.
He also set up an information kiosk in the city, but it was poorly staffed. The coronavirus has further reduced communication.
Most of the statements come in the form of succinct tweets from Musk himself, like the one before Christmas, which simply read: “Thank you Brandenburg and Grünheide” after the mayor doubled down on his commitment to the project by signing plans to create a transport system around the factory, which should also include a park and ride to transfer workers to and from the factory.
Klink said he has yet to meet Musk, who sometimes shows up to see his project progress.
“I neither need nor desire to meet him,” he says. But he has a nickname for Musk’s sycophants and flunkeys: “’SchließMuskelkriecher’, a play on the name of Musk, mixed with German for sphincter and brown-noser. “At least that’s how our initiative sees it, although I admit it’s pretty rude,” he said.