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A bridge too far?

*UPDATE: Bridge-building is back in action, as the Green Party is forced to acknowledge it will cost more to stop than to proceed.

*UPDATE: following regional elections at the beginning of April, the newly-empowered Green Party has called a halt to the building of the bridge described in the blog below, so the Moselle is reprieved for a couple of years at least. But the access roads are completed, so locals believe the bridge will come. It’s just a question of when.

The Moselle in pictures is a prettier, cosier version of the Rhine. Not so many barges, and fewer castles, but dreamier, more flower-strewn and with more village life. Wonky half-timbered houses teeter along the riverbanks like old ladies who still insist on wearing their stilettos, rouged up with geranium windowboxes. Meanwhile their washing lines run up and down the adjacent hills supporting ancient vineyards, frilly with blossom early in the year, and then curtained in green as the summer progresses.

It’s a traditional landscape, and it has featured in poetry, prose and painting, but now it is at the centre of a row about progress not unlike the one that’s already simmering in the UK over the new London to Birmingham rail link. For there’s a new motorway bridge being built across the river valley at Ürzig, a small village just upriver from the tourist honeypot of Bernkastel-Kues, only about 20km west of Frankfurt’s Hahn airport.

The idea of this Hochmoselbrücke is to connect Frankfurt and Frankfurt Hahn with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The bridge itself will be 480ft high and a mile long, and plans show it to be of no particular architectural distinction, unlike the motorway-bearing Millau Viaduct in France, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster and has become something of a tourist attraction in itself.

In fact on this occasion the British have been wheeled out to criticise the bridge’s construction, most noticeably in the shape of venerable wine writer Hugh Johnson, who criticised the ‘highway on stilts’ as a ‘great shadow of uselessness’ which will ‘banalise’ what is essentially a 17th century landscape.

There’s a strong protest movement resisting the bridge, particularly as they fear it might affect the quality of the celebrated local Riesling, but it looks as if they’re fighting a losing battle as the construction cranes begin to loom over the river valley, peeping over the fringe into the landscapes they are about to uproot.

For the British visitor, and for Ryanair, the new bridge will mean that Frankfurt Hahn will become more of a hub for onward journeys westwards, and not largely eastwards towards Frankfurt, as at present.

But such convenience has its price. If you want to see the Moselle valley in its unsullied configuration, I’d recommend that you go there soon.

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