Tesla is pulling out all the stops Saturday to win over opponents of the electric carmaker's controversial new "Gigafactory" near Berlin, with a big wheel, music, and an appearance by CEO Elon Musk.
Around 10 a.m., long lines of people brought by special shuttle buses began to form at the Gruenheide site of Tesla's first European factory.
"I was curious and wanted to take a look. Tesla is a fantastic, forward-thinking automobile manufacturer "Dominic, a 25-year-old local engineer, agreed.
Construction on the plant began two years ago under an exceptional procedure granted by authorities, but opposition from locals over environmental concerns has stalled final approval.
On Saturday morning, demonstrators were already on the scene, with a few people carrying signs reading "Stop Tesla" and "water and forest aren't for private profit" gathered around 100 meters from the site.
"It's unbelievable that you can build a factory like this without permission," said Gudrun Luebeck, a 69-year-old local activist.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Musk, who is scheduled to appear later at the "Giga-Fest," tweeted simply "Giga Berlin-Brandenburg fun party today" in German.
The company has organized a big wheel, electronic music, and vegetarian food trucks in the style of Berlin, Europe's party capital.
Thousands are expected to attend, with locals given first priority on Tesla's guest list, which was announced earlier this week.
Concerns about the environment
Tesla started construction at the Gruenheide site in 2019 after receiving preliminary approval through a special procedure.
Despite the fact that construction is nearly complete, local authorities are still assessing the factory's environmental impact.
The company's special treatment has enraged some residents, who are concerned about the plant's impact on the water supply and biodiversity.
Opponents have sent letters, held protests, and gone to court to try to stop the project, with the help of non-governmental organizations.
"Tesla must adhere to the same procedures as other companies," the Green League campaign group recently stated.
Last year, work at the Tesla site was temporarily halted after non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sought an injunction to protect the nearby natural habitat of endangered species of lizards and snakes during their winter hibernation.
A consultation with residents, which is part of the approval process, is set to end on October 14.
Final approval cannot be given until the survey is completed, and production at the factory cannot begin until the survey is completed.
Even so, the state environment ministry in Brandenburg, where the plant is located, told AFP that "no date has been set" for this approval.
Despite local opposition, construction was completed in record time, replacing a swath of pine forest with a massive concrete-paved expanse accessible via "Tesla Road."
The factory just outside Berlin, Tesla's first production location in Europe, is expected to produce approximately 500,000 cars per year.
Not everyone at Saturday's party was convinced the region could handle it.
"I'm a bit of a skeptic. There aren't enough roads or space for a factory-like this here "Marlen Winkler, 35, stated
Mr. Musk also intends to construct "the world's largest battery factory" on the same 300-hectare plot.
The site will also house the "world's largest die-casting machine," according to Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the German Center for Automotive Research.
According to Mr. Dudenhoeffer, the custom-built equipment should allow Tesla to "significantly reduce production costs."
If the factory is not approved, the carmaker will be forced to dismantle the entire operation at its own expense.
Such a turn of events, however, is "unlikely," according to Mr. Dudenhoeffer, because the project has significant "political support."
"Every political party is in favor," the car expert said, adding that changes to the factory facade could be requested by authorities, further delaying the start of production.
The start date, which was originally scheduled for July 2021, has already been pushed back to the end of this year due to the company's administrative issues.
Tesla was "irritated" by these setbacks, as it stated in an open letter published in March, in which it called for a "reform" of Germany's planning procedures.
Despite the country's reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are frequently hampered by excessive bureaucracy.
Berlin's new international airport will open in October 2020, eight years later than originally planned, while Stuttgart's new train station is still under construction, having begun in 2010.