In this post i would like to address the situation around Tesla’s Gigafactory in Berlin / Brandenburg – Grünheide. I have been following the construction and protests there from the start and visited in regular invervals throughout the process. I went there again last week to document the situation on the ground for non-locals.

Tesla‘s factory & construction area is surrounded by:

  • North: Train tracks & a train station
  • South: An industrial zone (Trading-Logicistics-Center Freienbrink) right across the road from Giga Berlin‘s main entrance. It consists of roads, train tracks a variety of companies and huge logistics centers, with a multitude of truck loading bays each and hundreds of diesel trucks driving to & from them or parked all across the area. Some of the biggest companies there are Lidl, 2x Edeka, DGL, Knorr-Breaks and GLX Logistics
  • East: Train tracks, pine tree monoculture plantations, and then a road
  • West: The main Berlin Ring A10 highway as well as highway ramps and bridges

The Protests

The ~ up to 80 protesters are located northeast of the Tesla Gigafactory in Berlin Grünheide. They have set up an information booth next to the train station and a treehouse camp in the pine trees adjacent to the road. I noticed that they did not damage any trees with their treehouses, as they used only ropes and similar materials to secure their structures, which looks very elaborate and I found quite impressive as this is not always the case with treehouse protests. They are likely to be evicted from the property next week, although the protesters expected to be evicted by Monday the 11th, resulting in the protests lasting longer than initially expected by some.

There are different groups of protesters, some environmental and some politically motivated (e.g. Antifa is there).

They are protesting various issues, mainly:

  • The expansion of the Gigafactory and the nescessary forest clearing
  • Water Use by Tesla
  • Water pollution
  • Building within a drinking water protection area
  • Wildlife protection
  • Tesla employee exploitation
  • Privacy concerns related to Tesla‘s camera data
  • Big corporations – in this case Tesla
  • Electric cars
  • Use of imported – critical minerals (lithium, cobalt etc.) for Teslas
  • Individual transportation instead of public
  • Luxury/unaffordable cars
  • Climate change
  • Elon Musk & his politics
  • Starlink
  • The government

With this article, I mainly refer to the following points of criticism:

  1. The “forest clearing” (which is mainly the cut-down of pine tree monoculture plantations)
  2. Wildlife protection
  3. The matter of building within a drinking water protection area
  4. Water Use (updated on 17.4.2024)
  5. Water pollution (updated on 17.4.2024)

Forest Clearing at the Tesla Gigafactory Berlin Grünheide

The area of Giga Berlin consisted and consists mostly of pine plantations. Conifer plantations are harvested at regular intervals. They are dry, prone to forest fires, and offer little value to wildlife. For many years the state of Brandenburg has been trying to replace this kind of pine monocultures with deciduous forests which are more resiliant to a changing climate, bind more water & CO2. Spruce and Pine also are not natural in most areas in Germany and spruce should by nature actually majorly be growing in swamps or higher vacinities. Naturally most of the country should instead be covered by beech trees. I have also never seen a clear cut of decidous forests but many cases of clear cut spruce and pine plantations during my hikes across Germany.

I would also like to note that in Germany, there are laws (e.g. Bundesnaturschutzgesetz) regarding the clearing of land and forests for commercial construction; a portion of the cleared area must be replanted or compensated for ecologically elsewhere. In Tesla‘s case, the compensatory plantings, seem to be mostly deciduous forsts, which are in most cases much more ecologically valuable than pine tree monocultures. Tesla promised to replant 3-times as many trees as they remove, though it is noteworthy that the growth of the new trees takes time and it will be many years until they turn into a “real forest”. But that forest will be either not at all or only with restrictions commercially useable which will also mean a higher environmental benefit and the fully grown compensatory planting zones in other regions i have personally walked in, seemed more diverse and healthy than any of the tree plantations.

Observations regarding mammal wildlife

The entire area is in the flight path of airplanes taking off and landing every few minutes at Airport Berlin Brandenburg (BER). Everywhere on the property you can hear substantial noise from the airplanes and the numerous trucks (coming to and from the logistical companies neighbouring Tesla) on the roads and cars on the highways as well as the trains regularly driving by. Considering the amount of truck & train traffic on all 4 sides of Tesla‘s area and the plane traffic above it, one could argue it is safer for wildlife to avoid this area.

The drinking water protection area

The industial zone to the south is located in the same water protection area (Erkner – Neu Zittauer und Hohenbinder Straße Zone III) as Tesla and the companies building there, highly likely also required the clearance of pine trees and the herewith related issues.

Why did the protestors not equally fight the construction of the Trading-Logicistics-Center Freienbrink, or are now also protesting the companies located there?

Water Use & the Protection of water reserves

Tesla was highly criticized for the amount of fresh water they intended to use in the Gigafactory, during the initial construction. However they seem to have addressed the issue and currently, without the expansion of production, only use 500,000 out of the 1,800,000 cubic meters of water contractually assured to them by the Wasserverband Strausberg-Erkner.

Water pollution

The Nitrogen & Phosphorus problem

The lower usage of freshwater is achieved by continuously recycling the water used in the production of the cars (mainly the paint shop). The problem is that the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the wastewater is exceeding the limits set by the regional water supplier (sometimes even by a factor of six). This is likely caused exactly by the continuous reuse of the water, which tends to increase the concentration of certain elements within it – when it is finally discharged from the cycle.

There is also a significant amount of wastewater created by the 12,500 Tesla employees on-site which contains concentrated phosphorus & nitrogen among other substances. Both elements cause eutrophication when entering nature (rivers, lakes, groundwater…), which is an increasing problem across the world, due to the significant amounts already released by the farming industry among others.

It is important to note that the Gigafactory Grünheide releases WASTE-water, as such it is not directed directly into any natural bodies of water. Instead it is treated by the wastewater treatment plant Münchehofe before it is released. This means the concern is not about spills into nature but the amount of treatment the plant has to do before its standards are met.

Is the Groundwater around the Gigafactory Berlin Brandenburg protected?

The possibilities of chemicals & other toxins spilling into the groundwater are an important concern and should be addressed when it comes to companies using highly dangerous substances such as an automotive manufacturer. Tesla has repotedly implemented safeguards at the Gigafactory 4 , ensuring that any spills, from the most problematic parts of the production, are contained on sealed surfaces to prevent leakage into the groundwater.

The area’s groundwater has long been polluted with industrial waste, wastewater, consumer waste ( e.g. thrown from cars or left by pedestrians), exhaust fumes, oil, particulate matter (including diesel dust, tire and brake abrasion) and other sources caused by human settlements, the highway, the roads and the industrial zone, among others. Consequently, it is a pertinent question whether: The pollution would really increase so significantly as a result of an expansion of the Tesla facility and the extent to which the pollution has already increased since the initial construction.

Conclusion regarding the situation and protests

Aren’t there many, much better targets to protest many of the concerns raised by the protestors?

These and many more questions came to me when I looked at the area around the Tesla Gigafactory Berlin Grünheide and the protests against the expansion plans.

I hope I was able to help you get a better impression of the situation on the ground.

– Your Team
PS This post does not mean the other points of criticism are unjustified or that we are against demonstrations in a democracy.

Video about the Tesla Gigafactory Berlin Grünheide

If you want to see more footage of the area surrounding the Tesla factory in Berlin, I have made a video summarizing all the findings from this article and recorded footage of all four directions from the plant.

It is up to you to decide for yourself: 
Is Tesla trying to protect the environment or destroy it?
Is GigaBerlin Mordor or is it Gondor?

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Video about the ongoing construction and Protests at the Gigafactory Berlin Brandenburg Grünheide

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