Forest near occupied Berlin Tesla faces growing protests

Forest near occupied Berlin: Tesla faces growing protests

The community of Grünheide in Brandenburg is in itself a pure idyll: the name says it all, large areas of forest are lined up next to a lake district, including a nature reserve. But since 2022, there is also a concrete desert of around 300 hectares in Grünheide, around 30 kilometers as the crow flies from the center of Berlin: the European Tesla Gigafactory, one of Germany's largest electric car factories and the first and so so far only the Tesla factory in Europe.

Now Tesla wants to expand the site, which would require cutting down 100 hectares of forest. They want to build a charging station, warehouses and a corporate kindergarten.

Treehouse protest

There have already been violent protests by environmental protection organizations against the construction that began in 2020, and residents have never really liked their new big neighbor. Tesla's new expansion plans were recently rejected by the majority in a referendum. The local council is now expected to decide on the development plan in May.

Tesla is also criticized because, according to official measurements, some wastewater values ​​in Grünheide were exceeded. The people of Grünheide fear for their groundwater. The association responsible for water Strausberg-Erkner therefore met for a special meeting on Friday. The result: Tesla currently does not have to wait for a halt in wastewater disposal.

However, the association meeting failed to reach an agreement and the draft resolution to prevent the elimination was postponed. Tesla had previously warned the water association: “You are aware that stopping the discharge of wastewater from the Gigafactory would lead to the interruption of production at the Gigafactory. This decision causes millions of dollars in losses every day,” the company said in a letter.

Photo series with 5 photos

New protests against the expansion were therefore expected – but this time the activists came not only with a demonstration and banners, but also with tree houses and provisions. A camp had been set up in the forest near the factory site since Thursday night, and around 80 to 100 activists were there at the start of the weekend. They built tree houses several meters high, stretched ropes between the pines and pitched tents.

The police are letting things slide for now

The police let the activists do what they did and watched what was happening. The police decided that the protest could continue until March 15. As the meeting was not registered, criminal proceedings were initiated for violating the assembly law, a spokesperson said on Friday.

But the campers want to protest as long as they consider it necessary: ​​“The longer the occupation lasts, the better,” said a spokeswoman for the “Stop Tesla” initiative. She called on other supporters to visit the camp and bring materials such as wood, saws, climbing equipment and hammocks. “We hope more people stop by.” People are open to conversation, but “don’t let yourself be pushed out of the woods.” A few more forest protest events were planned throughout the weekend.

“What else needs to happen for politicians to react and finally put human well-being ahead of profit interests,” said Lou Winters of the “Turn Off the Tap for Tesla” alliance on Saturday. “Our protest has just begun and will only grow,” Winters announced. A protest rally against Tesla is scheduled for March 10. There should be new actions in May. “Electric mobility currently enjoys a green appearance, but it is not a solution to the climate crisis,” argued Winters. She called for expanded and free public transport.

Silence in Tesla

Tesla did not comment on the protest camp near the factory – just as the company's entire communication strategy surprised some. The business associations Berlin-Brandenburg (UVB) have now publicly advised Tesla to adopt a more open information policy. “It is a somewhat unusual strategy not to speak to anyone except the responsible authorities,” UVB managing director Alexander Schirp said on RBB Inradio on Friday.

“There is a lot of room for improvement because it is possible to send messages that have the power to convince,” said Schirp. It is hardly known that Tesla did not receive “a single euro of funding” for the factory. 1,200 of the 12,000 employees – a tenth – were hired because of unemployment.

Resistance elsewhere too

Protests against Tesla have been going on for a long time and very consistently in Scandinavia: a strike by the IF Metall union has been spreading increasingly widely for almost four months. Initially, around 130 Tesla employees stopped working to force the company to enter into a collective agreement. Gradually, other industries and unions joined the strike, from dock workers who stopped loading cars to cleaning staff at Tesla's offices.

However, even the services and communications union Seko expressed solidarity with the Tesla strikers. This means that no new charging stations will be connected or planned for Tesla. Unions in Denmark, Norway and Finland also support industrial action.

IF Metall recently announced that it would again allow individual repairs on Tesla vehicles. The anticipated exemption is intended to help Tesla owners “who are hardest hit by the conflict” – but not in purely Tesla workshops, but only in those that deal with brands from different manufacturers. So far, Tesla boss Elon Musk, considered an opponent of unions, has not budged and a deal seems a long way off. It is unclear whether he wants to accommodate the activists in Grünheide.