BERLIN – A bridge that torpedoed Dresden’s World Heritage status because UNESCO deemed it a blot on the city’s baroque landscape was to open to traffic Monday.
The Waldschloesschenbruecke, which at 635 meters is the longest span over the Elbe River, was built to alleviate traffic in the eastern German city’s historic center.
But added to its €180 million ($240 million) price tag was the blow to the city’s prestige when UNESCO decided to drop the Dresden Elbe Valley from the World Heritage list in 2009 when the project to build the four-lane bridge got the green light. The “cultural landscape” that was designated a World Heritage site just five years earlier extends for 20 km on either side of Dresden.
UNESCO argued that the new bridge will blight the view of Dresden’s old town, home to tourist magnets such as the Semper Opera House and the Dresdner Frauenkirche, an 18th-century Lutheran church. Both were destroyed in World War II and later rebuilt.
Thomas Loeser of the Green Party lamented the “bitter loss of a one-of-a-kind landscape and the de-recognition of the UNESCO World Heritage title.”
For his part, Holger Zastrow, head of the Saxony region’s Free Democrats, urged the World Heritage Committee to come and see for itself “that the Elbe Valley is not disturbed and more than ever not destroyed.”
The project also raised concerns over its environmental impact, notably on an endangered species of bat that lives in the area, leading to a vote on the issue by Dresden residents as well as court action. The bat’s supporters won a small victory — a 2007 court decision stipulating a 30-kph speed limit on the bridge at certain times.
The capital of Saxony state sustained a massive bombing raid by Allied forces beginning on Feb. 13, 1945, sparking a firestorm that destroyed much of the historical center of the city, most of which has been restored.
The Dresden Elbe Valley was only the second World Heritage site to be struck from the prestigious list, after Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was dropped in 2007 after a sharp decline in the oryx population as a result of poaching and loss of habitat.
New Japan candidates
A government panel has selected churches and other properties related to Christianity in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015.
The selection by the Council for Cultural Affairs could compete with the possible recommendation by another government panel of industrial sites in eight prefectures and lead the government to decide on a single candidate in September. Countries can only recommend one candidate each year to UNESCO.
The 13 properties in Kyushu, including the Oura Tenshudo Church in Nagasaki, played a key role in the spread of Christianity in Japan. The church has been designated as a national treasure.