Peak of Insanity? Dutch Dream of Building Artificial Mountain

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Zonneveld says it was the feedback from readers, sports clubs and companies that turned the idea from a joke into a project. They don't see it as a way of filling space during the slow summer news period, says Zonneveld. "We're in the midst of an economic crisis. They have better things to do than kid around."

A virtual mountain, "DeNederlandseBerg," already exists in graphic form and as a spectacular 3D visualization in Google Earth. Zonneveld's employer has turned the idea into a campaign. Zonneveld is in great demand and is talking "to all the radio stations, TV stations and newspapers, including the foreign press."

In an appearance on "Knevel & Van den Brink," a popular TV talk show in the Netherlands, Zonneveld convinced seven skeptical people to seriously discuss the issue for 10 minutes. Initially describing it as a "bizarre idea," he went on to cite the advantages of the Alpine attraction. Zonneveld believes that it could be done for about €1 billion ($1.43 billion). Of course, he adds, raising this "costly mountain" would not be a job for the public sector, but for bold investors instead.

Hollow Mountain

He told SPIEGEL ONLINE that he planned to meet with experts and representatives of interested companies this week -- including, he said, six of the country's 10 largest engineering firms -- for a brainstorming session on the feasibility of the idea. Zonneveld insists that his Alpine challenge is surmountable -- for example, if the mountain was hollow.

A hollow mountain would save an enormous amount of material. If it consisted of a mass of reinforced concrete, the colossus would weigh an estimated 5.2 trillion kilograms. If it were built out of stone, the mountain would be even heavier, and more expensive. But lighter doesn't necessarily mean cheaper. Blogger Erik van der Zee has already calculated that building the mountain out of ordinary Lego pieces would be unaffordable, if only because of the astronomical wages it would require. At a rate of one Lego piece per second and worker, the superstructure alone would consume about 729 billion man-years. Put differently, the entire human population could be employed around the clock for the next 104 years.

Even Zonneveld knows that the mountain project won't be easy. "The only way to build something like this is to involve the entire Dutch construction industry." At least.

In Berlin in the summer of 2009, the idea was floated of erecting a 1,000-meter mountain on the grounds of the defunct Tempelhof airport. The plan was quickly dismissed as a gag. But in the Netherlands the idea of building a mountain awakens real aspirations. As crazy as it all sounds, even intelligent people are apparently giving it some serious thought.

The biggest problem, Zonneveld believes, probably wouldn't even be the structural engineering challenges or the money, but rather the people who would have to be resettled to make space for the mountain. It's also clear that current tourist attractions, like the Urk lighthouse hill -- which towers a breathtaking 24 feet above sea level -- would lose a significant amount of appeal.

But Zonneveld isn't going to give up his dream. "The mountain will come," he wrote in a column published on Friday. "Period." Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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