Controversial Neuhauser Tunnel
Yes or No for the proposed tunnel -- photo: Michael V. Owens

MUNICH — (MunichNOW Commentary) — By nearly any measurement, Munich is one of the world’s most liveable cities. It is near the top of numerous rankings, from its birth rate to work rate or airport to the opera house. Munich often finishes in the top five. A few times it has even come in at number one. And yet, despite Munich’s lofty perch, there are major cracks beginning to show between the people who call this heavenly city home and their divergent views of how Munich should look and be in the future, and those differences can be seen in one tunnel. Munich’s politicians have aligned themselves with the different solutions and the public will vote on them March 20th.

The grassy area above the current tunnel -- Photo: Michael V. Owens
The grassy area above the current tunnel — Photo: Michael V. Owens

The tunnel is not there, yet, or at least the extension of the short existing tunnel hasn’t been begun. The plan is to extend a short tunnel on the west side of Munich, in Neuhausen, to help raise the quality of life for those who call Landshuter Allee home, like me. The area above the tunnel could be used as a park and bike lanes. The goal for completion is 6-7 years, but the other 3 tunnels’ in Munich timeframe ran well over and took a full decade to complete.

Why build a tunnel?

Outside of my building and down about 250 meters on Landshuter Allee is a measuring device that consistently concludes that that spot has the most polluted air in all of Germany, mostly from automobile diesel engines. Everyone in the EU knows this, they are the testers, so there can be no fudging the numbers like Volkswagen so (in)famously did.

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There is constant traffic on all of Munich's ring road -- photo: Michael V. Owens
There is constant traffic on all of Munich’s ring road — photo: Michael V. Owens

The politics

The tunnel will reduce emissions in that area by burying them and filtering most of them as they leave the tunnel. Perhaps a 4th lane would be added. The political party behind the tunnel is spearheaded by the most popular conservative party in Bavaria, the CSU, which has governed (some would say ruled) Bavaria without interruption since 1957. The party’s support is with the older people of Munich, the persons who are from small towns who moved to Munich and with the big industries like BMW, Siemens and MAN Truck & Bus. By many accounts, the tunnel would be a very desirable solution for the world of today, and key auto makers, and reflect precisely the CSU’s campaign slogan for Munich which is “Wieder München werden” (Become Munich Again).

Munich has always been a red island of the SPD in a sea of CSU black. Except for a short six-year hiccup in 1978, the left-leaning SPD has had the keys to the town hall since 1948. The SPD has benefitted in Munich from numerous things, namely an economy which has grown considerably and consistently since the 1960s, as Munich began preparations to build and host the 1972 Summer Olympics. It was, until recently, the party of professors, museum curators and the everyday man of the assembly line at BMW on the north side of Munich. Their slogan, typical for their typical voters, is “Munich Loves. Munich Thinks. Munich Does.”. The SPD in Bavaria remains more conservative than that found in Hamburg or Berlin, however. It is, after all, still the capital of Bavaria.

Recently, the SPD has allied themselves with the Green Party. The Greens have grown across Germany and are the second largest party. They were for a short time tied with the CDU/CSU at 26%.

The Greens have pulled the SPD to a different idea in Munich because they fear a longer, larger and better tunnel will simply encourage and attract more traffic. The Greens want to reduce the number of cars on the roads by making driving on the roads so unbearable, borderline impossible, with long delays daily. This would force many people and companies to find solutions, like home office, pay while commuting or extra money monthly for taking trains or bikes to work. The Greens would like to eliminate most traffic from the city, build a cycling autobahn and other, almost futuristic, ideas. This is for them, the absolute best solution for the future, not now. The Green’s slogan is “The Future Needs Courage”, and they often refer to a Munich in 2050. The SPD would prefer to ‘phase in’ such ideas at a slower pace than the Greens.

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Certainly there are other issues Munich voters consider. However, for the last 50 years, the economy has never been one of them. What else could there have been? Refugees? They are never heard from nor seen in Munich. Many have jobs.

This year there is a difference between what to do about a tunnel, a half mile west of Central Station, itself being currently built anew. It is a divide between people and philosophies. The choice is stark, and could determine Munich’s possible path for the foreseeable future.

All about voting in Munich – in English!

Al About voting in Munich
All about voting in Munich — in English!