The historic heart of Amsterdam will literally be rocked to its very foundations next week, when drilling begins for a controversial new metro line to connect the north and south of the Dutch capital.
Already three times over budget, and years behind schedule, the people behind the project are no doubt praying nothing else goes wrong. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that they asked a priest to bless the machines that will dig the tunnels. [More]
The idea for the North-South Line was first floated in the 1980s and it's due to be completed by 2017. On Thursday, the German company, Saturn, which will carry out the bulk of the work, invited the Dean of Amsterdam to bless two drills, after they'd been christened 'Noortje' and 'Gravin' by primary school students.
Dean Ambro Bakker took a statue of Saint Barbara, patron saint of miners, into the tunnel, before sprinkling drops of Amsterdam tap water on the drills. "I think it's not only the first time I'll do this, but probably also the last time. If you bless the machine, it's not the machine you're blessing it's the people..."
The ceremony is traditional practice in Germany, says a spokesman for Saturn: "We need it because the people who are building the tunnel won't start work before the Barbara statue and the drills are blessed... you can't expect miracles, but they feel better when it's blessed and it's working as it has to work."
The drills are 85 metres long and weigh 870 tonnes. They will move nine metres of earth a day and, once switched on, won't stop turning until the project is completed. The North-South Line is only the ninth tunnel ever to be built in the Netherlands. Amsterdam City Council insists there's no danger in drilling underneath the city centre, even though earlier work has already caused a number of 17th-century houses along the historic Vijzelgracht to sink. The council was forced to buy the multi-million-euro homes and re-house their owners. This week, it emerged businesses on the street have also been affected.
Paris or London
Angela Holtkamp runs a patisserie on the street and says the project should never have been approved: "I don't think Amsterdam needs the metro. It's not as big a town as Paris or London. We have trams, we have buses, we go by bike. It's not necessary. I'm very worried about it. The houses on the other side of the street are already sinking, so we're a bit afraid."
Ms Holtkamp suggests the decision to bless the machines may also have been prompted by fear, saying Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen "is also a bit afraid".
It's not an idea the project directors are likely to agree with, and they dismiss claims that the naming ceremony is a public relations stunt designed to get sceptical Amsterdam residents on board a project they don't all support. Absolute nonsense, according to Peter Dijk, director of the North-South project: "It's a remarkable moment for the project...but it's not a PR stunt, it's just a tradition which has been honoured today. The trains will start running in 2017. Is it going to be worth the wait? Oh yes, it is."