Marina Manoukian looks at the social impact of the protested A100 motorway project…
The plans for Berlin’s Bundesautobahn 100, also known as the A100 city motorway, were drawn up in the late 1940s and finalized in the General Traffic Plan of 1958. But the original plans date back to 1935, with Albert Speer’s projected plan for Berlin, known as Germania, during the Third Reich. Initially, Speer planned for two Autobahnringe (motorway rings) that would go around Berlin, but later increased the number to four rings encircling the city in gradually expanding loops. As the wonderful book Metropolis Berlin points out, these four rings were also planned to intersect with two axes, running north-south and east-west.
The construction of the A100 ultimately ended up mirroring the second ring Speer designed for the city, and was slowly constructed in 15 stages between 1958 and 2004—although it never managed to run full circle. Passing through Mitte, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Tempelhof-Schoeneberg, and Neukölln until it merges with the A113, the highway goes around Berlin in an unfinished semi-circle, oftentimes running parallel to the Ringbahn.
Planned and largely constructed in West Berlin, the A100 was intended to be completed after German reunification, but plans stalled due to the financial impact it would’ve had on other urban development projects, and the A100’s southern section was barely completed by the 21st century. Construction on the 16th stage, which spans Neukölln and Treptower Park and brings the A100’s ring back towards the north, began in 2013. By 2017, each meter of the expansion was already costing over 145,000 euros; according to RBB, that cost has more recently increased to at least 220,000 euros per meter, making it “the most expensive road in Germany”. The total cost of the 16th expansion is estimated to be around 700 million euros.
In March 2022, as protests and debates over the A100’s continuation slowly seemed to subside, the Bundesverkehrsministerium (Traffic Ministry) announced that the building of the A100 extension was to continue between Treptower Park and Storkowerstraße, known as the 17th stage of construction. This proposed section is to run across the Elsenbrücke over the Spree River, follow the Bundesstraße 96a, and up to Ostkreuz where a tunnel will lead traffic underground to Frankfurter Allee.
The two-tier tunnel, with both levels carrying three lanes of traffic running in both directions, will pass underneath Neue Bahnhofstrasse and Gurtelstraße, following the path of the Ringbahn track, and resurfacing at Frankfurter Allee and Möllendorfstraße. It will then cross Frankfurter Allee over the Ringcenter 2 and continue over the Theatre an der Parkaeu and the Carl-von-Linné-School, before connecting to Storkowerstraße.
Although the exact route and planned demolitions remain up in the air, the recent construction of the 16th stage of the motorway offers a small glimpse into what life in Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg might look like if the 17th extension becomes a reality. In 2015, two residential buildings with up to 100 apartments on Beermannstr. were expropriated and demolished to make way for the behemoth. Six tenants refused to leave and after being forced out, they sued; but although they were promised compensation payments, which in one case amounted to a maximum of €26,000, the Bundesstraßenverwaltung (Federal Road Administration) refused to pay. Berliner Morgenpost reports that the government spent at least six years fighting against the compensation payments.
In addition, hundreds of community allotment gardens in Neukölln were also destroyed. Considering that it’s been known as the most expensive road in Germany for years now, the money that the motorway has gobbled up could have easily been invested into the public transportation system in order to make travel accessible while still maintaining the communities in the area. Instead, the 16th stage of the A100 extension involves a plan to turn the bus lane in Elsenstraße into a general lane, forcing the 104, 167, and 194 bus lines into the traffic of the A100.
If you take a walk past Treptower Park and over the Elsenbrücke, the continuous construction on the bridge gives a hint of what’s to come. This is where the highway will continue, and it’s likely that much of it will be destroyed and recreated to allow for the increased traffic. It’s possible that the incline leading up to the bridge will be paved over entirely in preparation for the impending wave of automobiles, and there are already rumours that popular city club spaces like Else, ://about blank and Wilde Renate will fall victim to the plan.
Even with the current state of traffic, it’s rare to find a moment around here without sound of cars rushing by. Only as the bridge meets land again on the corner of Alt-Stralau and Markrgafendamm, do the automobiles finally start to peel away and traces of a community start to surface once more. Past the Krass Böser Wolf bar and the artist-run Wilde Renate, the street currently offers a mix of residential, retail, and community spaces, including the area formerly rented by Fips e.V., a non-profit association that assists people with mental illnesses, at Markgrafendamm 14. The yard houses caravans and constructions trailers, which many use as workshops for their crafts and for hosting community events.
As Markgrafendamm turns into Hauptstraße, ://about blank comes into view. Founded in 2010, ://about blank also quickly became a staple of the Berlin nightlife since its opening. But in order to make room for the entrance of the double-decker multi lane tunnel, the venue is expected to lose its home. The tunnel entrance is likely to cause issues for people commuting by public transportation as well, since many passengers exit Ostkreuz onto the street to either walk home or take the bus. As it stands, the corner already prioritises car traffic, but if the A100’s extension comes to fruition, just walking to Rummelsburg from Ostkreuz might become a hazard.
A little farther on, the small green patch on Gürtelstraße will also likely disappear to make way for the tunnel’s exit. Between Frankfurter Allee and the Storkowerstr. S-Bahn, where the planned extension will theoretically terminate, Berliner Zeitung writes that because there is such little space in the area, the route is expected to go past the Ring Center on the east side of the S-bahn. As a result, the historic Theater an der Parkaue and Carl von Linné school are likely to be destroyed or forced to relocate their operations.
These two venues are both excellent examples of local history. The theatre, quietly nestled amidst the residential section behind Ring Center 2 and 3, was built around 1910/1911 as the Realgymnasium Lichtenberg. In 1934, the school was renamed the Joseph-Goebbels-Schule and, despite the toxic title, managed to survive the Second World War virtually unscathed. During the DDR, it was turned into a young pioneer’s house and operated as the children’s branch of the House of Culture of the Soviet Union. After reunification, the building was turned into a children’s and youth theatre and is currently the largest children’s and youth theatre in Germany.
The Carl von Linné School, ffounded in 1977, is the largest school for children with physical disabilities in Europe. It offers grades one to six with a comprehensive education, as welll as a vocational school that gives the possibility of obtaining a secondary school certificate, even if a student has a learning disability. The school takes up most of Paul-Junis-Straße, a popular route for pedestrians and cyclists as they make their way through Lichtenberg. It’s also difficult to imagine a route that the A100 could take without cutting through at least some portion of the Stadtpark Lichtenberg, too.
To be clear, it’s not official that any buildings in Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg will be demolished. Die Autobahn, the official organisation for motorways in Germany, can’t confirm what will be affected by the yet-to-be-completed underground tunnel, nor can they give any estimates regarding how much it will all cost in the end. But it’s a given the areas will be heavily affected in some way, and in the meantime all the uncertainty impacts on residents living and working here too. Many have already noted that there is already a lack of space in these neighbourhoods for community institutions such as schools, apartments, and daycare centres, and ask, reasonably, why space should be allocated for a motorway under such circumstances.
Daniela Kluckert, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Bundesverkehrsministerium, said in an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost that the 16th construction stage of the A100 is scheduled to be completed and in use by 2024, with the 17th stage following soon after, though the exact route of the latter stage won’t be known until 2025. The Bundesverkehrswegeplan 2030 (Federal Transport Routes Plan 2030) states that both 16th and 17th construction phases are listed at the highest priority level, despite the planning approval process, and expected to begin by 2027 at the earliest; this time frame allegedly allows for the districts and their residents to voice their opinions, along with an environmental impact assessment.
At the time of writing, the construction has already been described as “environmentally fatal,“, and is facing a significant amount of pushback, especially as the project is being forced through by the federal government rather than the city’s government, due to 2021 reforms. Berlin’s Mayor Franziska Giffey maintains that not only was the state of Berlin left in the dark about the plans of the Bundesverkehrsministerium, but that they found out about the decision through the media. In response, she has demanded the plan be paused, and has called for talks.
In Berlin, Der Linke, the Greens, and parts of the SPD are all opposed to the expansion of the A100. Clara Herrmann, the district mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, has also spoken out repeatedly against the expansion. Local resident groups like A100 Stoppen! have been holding demonstrations against the A100 expansions since 2009. In 2021 at least 4,000 people participated in a bicycle demo against the planned construction of the A100, and in the summer of 2022, A100 Stoppen held numerous protests that ranged from a protest concert on the A103 to an action blockade by the Treptower S-bahn station.
Berlin already has a traffic problem and neither the construction nor its resulting A100 extension are going to make the area any less congested. If anything, it’s likely to increase the traffic in Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg while simultaneously destroying community areas that are currently accessible to pedestrians. It’s also a terrible look for Berlin, as so many cities in Europe shift away from car-centric urban planning. There are numerous logical reasons why the A100 extension is unnecessary, ranging from its outdated plans to its exorbitant monetary cost. But the social and environmental cost are valid reasons to oppose the plan at all costs too.