This Saturday, I rode my bike on the freeway. That might sound insane — but the A100 had been blocked off for a demonstration. It was a surreal and empowering feeling. Several thousand of us took the onramp into the Britzer Tunnel in Neukölln, and then emerged onto the highway above Tempfelhofer Feld.
I felt relaxed and free. It made me realise how much space in this crowded city is reserved for cars. Only half of all households in the inner city own a car — yet the car-driving minority seems to control everything.
The demonstration was not about bike lanes in Berlin, though. It was about a totally different freeway, the A49 in the state of Hesse. Right at this moment, the state government is cutting down the Dannenrod Forest, a 300-year-old forest, to extend the A49.
Under the mottos #DanniBleibt (Danni stays) and #WaldStattAsphalt (forest instead of asphalt), activists have been occupying the forest for the last year. They live in tree houses high above the ground to prevent trees from being cut down. For the last month, thousands of police from across Germany have been trying to remove the occupiers. A 20-year-old activist fell three or four meters and was seriously injured after police cut through a safety rope.
Particularly irking: the Green Party is in the Hessian government. In fact, Tarek Al-Wazir of the Green Party is the state’s transportation minister. The party gets support from lots of young climate activists. And yet they are building a freeway at a time when we need to be drastically cutting the use of fossil fuels. Al-Wazir claims his hands are tied, because he is required to implement decisions made at a national level. But activists, environmental groups, Die Linke (the Left Party) and even the national Green party are convinced he could stop construction. Instead, the Greens have unleashed a massive police operation that “looks like a scene from an apocalyptic film.”
This isn’t a Hessian problem, either. Berlin’s A100 highway is a work in progress. It began in 1958 with a plan to create a Stadtring (city ring). It currently goes around the western half of the city, ending in Neukölln. But a huge scar through Treptow is extending the freeway. Many houses were demolished to make room for construction. Plans call for the A100 to extend to Friedrichshain and even Lichtenberg.
In Berlin, we have the same thing as in Hesse: both the Greens and the Left, who govern together with the SPD, say they are opposed. But they assure us that their hands, too, are tied. This is their M.O.: over the summer, Greens and Left had the anarchist bar Syndikat evicted, and then put out press releases saying how upset they are. Why do these parties want so desperately to get ministerial posts if, as soon as they arrive, they tell us they have no influence over public policy?
Each meter of new Autobahn costs €150,000! Extending the A100 costs billions. Some might say: we need to ease traffic jams in Berlin. But as the old saying goes: he who sows freeways will reap cars. In other words, the more roads that are built, the more people will buy cars. To break this cycle, we need to invest in public transport and bike lanes.
I am amazed how much we subsidise cars. If you are a human being in Berlin, you will probably not find 10 square meters for yourself for less than 400€ a month. But if you own a car, you can have 10 square meters for free. Car drivers who park illegally might can pay as little as 10€ — the same for drivers who go too fast. But people who get on the train without a ticket are supposed to pay €60. And a person who is caught three times without a ticket can go to prison — but a person can speed as often as you like and never lose their freedom. Poor people are paying higher fines than rich people.
Germany is a country run by the automobile industry. But this has to stop. Climate change is setting the skies on fire. We need to get rid of fossil fuels right now. And the absurdity of electric cars is no alternative. We already have efficient and sustainable modes of transportation: trains and bicycles. All we need is a government that is willing to stop subsidising the minority of car-drivers.