Although there is still no building permit: Elon Musk is celebrating in front of the Tesla factory

Despite massive criticism from environmentalists, Tesla succeeds in building its Giga factory in record time. After all, Tesla founder Musk has 40,000 jobs in prospect. On Saturday he is holding a community festival in front of his new company in Grünheide. It could be that he has to rebuild everything.

Suddenly the gray colossus shimmers through the trees on the highway, inconspicuous in steel and exposed aggregate concrete, but gigantic. When Elon Musk announced the first European Tesla factory near Berlin almost two years ago, there were at best pine trees in the sand of the Brandenburg region. Now the gigafactory of the American tech pioneer and Tesla boss is a reality. The first e-cars should roll off the assembly line here in a few weeks. A hussar piece in a country where it often takes six years to build even one wind turbine.

On Saturday, Musk wants to be celebrated at a community festival with up to 9,000 visitors on the company premises in Grünheide. The eccentric billionaire managed to stir up the European car market with the project. VW boss Herbert Diess made explicit reference to the competition with Tesla at the beginning of October when he wrote on Twitter: “We are ready!” Tesla reports stock market, sales and sales records. And Musk has delighted politicians in Brandenburg and in the federal government. For the region, the car factory, with perhaps 40,000 jobs in the future, is “a lottery win,” says Grünheide’s mayor Arne Christiani (non-party).

Not everyone is enthusiastic about industrial construction at the gates of Berlin. Steffen Schorcht from the Grünheide citizens’ initiative looks worriedly from a nearby bridge at the huge construction site, where next to the almost finished main building a bare skeleton juts out into the gray October sky. That will be the battery factory next to the car factory. Like other critics, Schorcht warns of environmental damage. Not only 90 hectares of pine forest were cleared for the new production facilities. Some of the buildings are also being built in the water protection area, and Schorcht fears both pollution and excessive water consumption in the factory.

Tesla has built millions

After all, Tesla wants to build around 500,000 cars a year in Grünheide soon, starting with the Model Y. Possible incidents, delivery traffic, commuters, air pollution – all of this causes headaches for critics. The opponents are particularly annoyed by the company’s approach – this speed, which is so unusual for major projects in Germany. Musk was still going far too slowly, he kept pushing and complaining about the length of the approval process. But he could still build. Because there had been a development plan for the site for around 20 years, drawn up for BMW at the time, before the German company decided against the location. And the authorities issued so-called early approvals for Tesla, which are possible with a positive forecast for a project, although the environmental review is still ongoing.

The final approval for the entire project is still missing, and a new discussion of hundreds of objections will take place until mid-October. The builder runs the risk of having to dismantle everything if the authorities say no. But Tesla has “already built a high three-digit million amount,” says Schorcht. The criticism is that facts have been created here in a “legal gray area”. “The work is done,” says Michael Ganschow from the Brandenburg Green League. All previous complaints came to nothing. Supporters and critics alike expect the green light to be given soon. Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke of the SPD puts it this way: “If the hearing goes well and the objections that have come up are processed well, I think it is possible that the decision on the approval will come this year.”

Woidke is a fan of the project, which in his opinion “leads to worldwide attention for Brandenburg”. The state has already promised 120 million euros in funding for the battery factory. In addition, there are funds from a European joint project. According to the Federal Ministry of Economics, the decision should be issued before the end of the year. The ministry has not yet said anything about the scope. According to a report by “Tagesspiegel”, Tesla has a prospect of government funding totaling around 1.1 billion euros.

Mayor is a fan of the project

Tesla originally estimated the construction costs in Grünheide to be around 1.1 billion euros. Musk said last year that the budget would be exceeded. How much money has flowed up to now, how many people are building in Grünheide and how many have been employed for production is not easy for the company to find out. There were initially no answers to questions. Musk is more on the big messages. His e-car company is now worth a good 780 billion dollars on the stock exchange, a multiple of its traditional competitors. In the third quarter, it brought a good 241,000 vehicles to customers worldwide, half more than a year earlier.

The fact that 500,000 cars are to be produced in Grünheide alone shows Musk’s ambition. On the Tesla website, happy-looking people with safety glasses smile at the request to apply: “The Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg will be the most advanced series production facility for electric vehicles in the world.” “World-class” vehicles are created here. It doesn’t say much more.

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Grünheide’s mayor Christiani assumes 3000 employees at the start of production and 12,000 at full load of the systems that are now under construction. 40,000 could one day be with further expansion stages, so it is officially in the development plan. 40,000 employees in a small town with currently 9,000 inhabitants – where do you get them and where do you put them? Isn’t this project like an economic meteorite impact for a community in an idyllic landscape between lakes and forests and a touch of leisurelyness at the gates of the capital? He sees that as “relatively relaxed”, says Christiani in his office on the third floor of the town hall. According to studies, 51 percent of the employees required come from Berlin, another 35 percent from Brandenburg, eight percent from Poland, the rest are “onward commuters”.

His community has only a limited area and in the worst case could grow by 3000 residents. “Grünheide cannot and does not want to be a second Wolfsburg,” says the non-party mayor, who has been in office since 2003. Nevertheless, he sees golden times for Grünheide. The first improvement: the train to Berlin now runs every half hour. Then he talks about the job opportunities for young adults, the prospects for families, the prospect of offspring for the voluntary fire brigade, the planned rescue center, the attraction for further investors, the planned university. And then of course the trade tax. Grünheide, says Christiani, “will one day be one of the richest communities in the state of Brandenburg, I assume that”.