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Bridge that doomed Dresden's World Heritage status to open

Update: August, 26/2013 - 11:08

BERLIN – A bridge that torpedoed Dresden's World Heritage status because UNESCO deemed it a blot on the city's baroque landscape will open to traffic on Monday.

The Waldschloesschenbruecke, which at 635m becomes the longest span over the River Elbe, was built to alleviate traffic in the eastern German city's historic centre.

But added to its 180 million euro (US$240 million) pricetag was the blow to the city's prestige when UNESCO decided to drop the Dresden Elbe Valley from the World Heritage list in 2009 when the project to build the four-lane, concrete-and-steel bridge got the green light.

The "cultural landscape" that was designated a World Heritage site just five years earlier extends for some 20km on either side of Dresden.

UNESCO argued that the new bridge would blight the view of Dresden's old town, home to tourist magnets such as the Semper Opera House and the Dresdner Frauenkirche, an 18th-century Lutheran church. Both were destroyed in World War II and later rebuilt.

Thomas Loeser of the Green party lamented the "bitter loss of a one-of-a-kind landscape and the derecognition of the UNESCO World Heritage title."

For his part Holger Zastrow, head of the Saxony region's Free Democrats, urged the World Heritage Committee to come and see for itself "that the Elbe Valley is not disturbed and more than ever not destroyed."

The project also raised concerns over its environmental impact, notably on an endangered species of bat that lives in the area, leading to a vote on the issue by Dresden residents as well as court action.

The bat's supporters won a small victory – a 2007 court decision stipulating a 30km per hour speed limit on the bridge at certain times.

The Saxony capital sustained a massive bombing raid by Allied forces beginning on February 13, 1945, sparking a firestorm that destroyed much of the historical centre of the city, much of which has been restored.

The Dresden Elbe Valley was only the second World Heritage site to be struck from the prestigious list, after Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was dropped in 2007 after a sharp decline in the oryx population as a result of poaching and loss of habitat. AFP

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