Hamburgers save 1.2 billion – or significantly more

The outcome of the hamburg olympic referendum is good news for all taxpayers

In a referendum held yesterday, 51.6 percent of hamburg’s electorate voted against the city’s bid for an olympic games. This result is remarkable, among other things, because almost all the parties represented in the burgh – the SPD, the grunen, the union and the FDP – had participated in the pro-olympia campaign. Only the left party, which was elected by just eight and a half percent, was against it.

The result shows how much parliamentary democracy needs a plebiscitary corrective: for although there was one party that was as thrifty as the citizens wanted on this prestige project – this party took positions on other points that apparently ensured that only eight and a half percent voted for it in the last parliamentary election.

Not only the parties experienced a debacle, but also the polling institutes, which had predicted a clear majority of olympic supporters until the very end – ZDF, for example, still saw the olympic supporters in the lead with 56 percent on sunday evening. The fact that pollsters are so "erred", could also have been due to the will of those who commissioned the surveys: yesterday, the cartoonist dieter hanitzsch impressively revealed in the program sonntags-stammtisch, how he was asked quite openly by an actually well-known institute during the organization of a survey for the bayerischer rundfunk, which result they wanted to have.

Hamburgers save 1.2 billion - or significantly more

Terminal facilities of the sud-west terminal on kleiner grasbrook. Photo: wmeinhart. License: CC BY-SA 3.0.

Before the referendum, mayor olaf scholz had promised that the olympic expenses for hamburg taxpayers would be reduced to "only" 1.2 billion euros for hamburg taxpayers. The rest of the estimated 11.2 billion euros in costs was to come from revenues of 3.8 billion euros and from the federal budget, which was to contribute 6.2 billion euros. However, there was no commitment to do so.

In view of the more than one million immigrants expected in 2015 and the unknown number of asylum seekers in the years to come, many hamburg residents apparently considered federal funding to be rather unrealistic. In any case, this is what they believe at the international olympic committee (IOC), where the result was a surprise in view of the "historical challenge" by migration as regrettable, but not entirely "not entirely surprising" is classified. Against the background of the unclear financing of immigration in germany, the still disproportionately high number of olympia supporters was "particularly valuable".

In addition, it was questionable whether the projected 11.2 billion euros had been sufficient at all: in the past, companies almost always made calculations for large public projects in such a way that the estimate at the beginning, when a project was sold to the burgher, was much lower than what came out in the end. When the hamburg senate planned a prestigious concert hall on an island in the elbe, the burghers of the hanseatic city were first told that the elbe philharmonic hall project would only cost them the land provided by the city. Then the estimated costs gradually increased from 77 to 789 million euros. It remains to be seen whether the elbe philharmonic hall will not become even more expensive before its opening, currently scheduled for 2017 (cf. Hamburg public prosecutor’s office investigates elbe philharmonic scandal).

In addition, many olympic buildings were to be built on kleiner grasbrook – a former inland island where the water alone could make the construction projects much more expensive than the two billion euros that were estimated for them. This wet broken land is used by the port industry so far. Scholz and his city planners want to build on it differently. For this, according to economics professor wolfgang maennig, the "lever" olympia serve. The federal ministry of the interior did not want to be drawn into this and, according to the frankfurter allgemeine zeitung (FAZ), refused to sign a blank guarantee: "we are not doing the beckenbauer here."

For security, the planners had budgeted just 461 million – a billion less than was spent in london 2012, when there was no islamic state, which demonstrated in paris how easily it can let fanatics commit mass murders even in tourist destinations. Costs for the reconstruction of railroad stations, suburban railroad lines and freeway connections did not appear in the planning at all. Observers therefore calculated the costs at 19 billion euros – not 11.2 billion euros. That would have been almost three times as much as paris had estimated for its olympic bid in the same year. And a good four times as much as the 4.7 billion euros that los angeles is planning for its third summer olympics after 1932 and 1984, which will be much more heavily financed by the private sector.