Putting democracy into practice is not easy. Parent evenings, office community meetings, partner talks, arguments with the kids … I thought I had exhausted every opportunity to practice the difficult art of self-control and constructive dialogue.
But that was before the hearing of residents, citizen groups and environmental associations against the construction of the Gigafactory Tesla outside Berlin, which I attended on Wednesday. The French reacted like offended children last year when Elon Musk decided to establish his European headquarters in Germany. Why a forest in Grünheide when there is a decommissioned nuclear power plant with a large area in Fessenheim?
I admire the commitment, determination and expertise of all these people who wait patiently in front of the town hall in Erkner early in the morning to attend the hearing. We journalists follow the debate on large screens in a tent set up in the blazing sun. Then a whole armada of men in gray suits sitting on a stage at tables decorated with small beige curtains. You could almost think that you are at a wedding banquet in the 1960s.
On the left are experts from the most diverse authorities with thick files. On the right a dozen young hipsters, the Tesla boys, boisterous and taciturn. Elon Musk himself is not present. But its demonic shadow hovers over the overheated room.
As if talking about a new dictionary entry
For me, the hero of the day is without a doubt the leader of the gathering. If you close your eyes, the head of the Environmental Protection Department 1 of the State Environment Agency looks like a relaxed Buddha. He is round and in a good mood and announces that 114 objections have 414 written objections. A discussion about the difference between objectors and objections is already flaring up.
I am dizzy. If I weren’t in a press tent on the outskirts of Berlin, I would think I was at a meeting of the Academie Française discussing a new dictionary.
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A particularly angry plaintiff demands that verbatim protocol be observed. “This is completely irrelevant to the approval process,” the meeting leader tries to counter the deluge of words and boldly adds, “Who should read all this?” in the room. “Some of these objections are 80 pages long,” the chairman replied, already somewhat exhausted. I’d rather not even imagine this indigestible prose.
The chairman of the meeting remembers the lunch break in vain
“Do we not want to continue with the procedure?”, The chairman pleads. He takes the opportunity to remind everyone that it will soon be time for lunch. Bratwursts are already sizzling in the van in front of the town hall and Hackepeter sweats in the sun. ‘Who else has a point?’ Asks the chairman of the meeting in the hall. Countless fingers shoot up. “Oh God,” exclaims the visibly battered man.
Lunch is far away. The stomach growls. I feel a migraine coming up in me. We’ve been waiting four hours for the hearing to begin. I capitulate, put my notebook away, go. From a distance I can still hear: “I would really appreciate it if we could continue”. I later learned that it was already getting dark by the time the session ended. Despite Hackepeter’s stomach, they got no further than procedural questions. Heroic German Democracy.
Translation from French: Odile Kennel