UTRECHT, The Netherlands What started as a joke about creating an artificial mountain in the utterly flat Netherlands may actually be feasible.
This was not what semi-professional cyclist-cum-journalist Thijs Zonneveld had expected when he posted a column on a popular Dutch news website on August 5 in which he laughingly urged his countrymen to create their own mountain with alpine slopes, meadows and villages.
"It was not serious but the next day there was such a serious response from people who had actually been thinking about it and calculating stuff that it made me realize I was not the only one who'd had that idea," Zonneveld said.
The highest natural ground in the Netherlands is at Vaalserberg, in the southern province of Limburg, with an altitude of just 323 meters, making it little more than a hill in the low-lying country in the eyes of most people.
But Zonneveld, 30, dreams of an artificial mountain 5 km (3.107 miles) wide and between 1 and 2 km in height, which would surpass the world's tallest man-made building, the 828-meter (yard) high Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.
The idea of artificial mountains is not new.
In 2009, a German architect proposed erecting a 1,000 meter-high mountain at the site of the old Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, but had to settle for a 60-meter hill as the challenges set in.
Zonneveld has yet to figure out exactly how the Dutch mountain would be designed and built, what materials would be used, where it would be located, and, crucially, how much it would cost. He declined to put even a rough price tag on it.
Yet his call has resonated with the enterprising Dutch, whose engineering prowess has allowed them to defend land that lies below sea level from the raging waters and to engage in major engineering feats abroad, such as building artificial islands in Dubai.
On Tuesday, Dutch engineering groups such as Oranjewoud and Bartels, along with sport organizations, such as the Dutch skiing association and the Dutch climbing and mountaineering association, met to ponder the details.
"The project is feasible and we the Dutch have a lot of experience in moving soil and sand around for our land reclamation projects. It just needs to gather a snowball of support," said Oranjewoud project manager Anthony van Dongen.
Estimates of the cost range from a few billion euros all the way up to 200 billion euros. If and when the project takes off, it would therefore provide a major boost to the Dutch construction sector, which has been hit by a property downturn.
"Technically this can be done and the space can also be found. The biggest hurdles will be financing and environmental problems. But these will be tackled in the coming months by these companies," Zonneveld said.
Zonneveld said he had already spoken to several investors who saw commercial opportunities in offering sports, leisure resorts, developing real estate and even producing renewable energy by erecting wind mills on the mountain.
"People may think this is a publicity stunt but this is not true. Publicity is the means because if people don't know about it, it cannot be done. The goal however is to build this mountain," Zonneveld said.
Zonneveld said that even though his editorial kicked off the initiative and he was now devoting up to 16 hours a day working on the project, he does not care what the mountain is called, but suggested it could be named after the largest proprietor.
"The idea is now to use the name of a person or company that pays the most. I think it would be good to name the mountain after someone who can afford to contribute the most to make it happen," Zonneveld said.
Supporters of the idea hope they can appeal to Dutch national pride but also tap into the frustration of many of the country's holidaymakers who have to travel to neighboring northern European countries to enjoy holidays with a bit of altitude.
"I'm realistic enough to know it will take a long time and that there will be a lot of obstacles to overcome, it will have to be taken step by step. But this is the moment to do this, I'm 100 percent confident," Zonneveld said.
(Created by Paul Casciato)