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The coal mine that ate Hambacher forest

Climate change activists in the Hambacher Forest

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Greater than a 3rd of Germany’s electrical energy remains to be produced via burning coal – most commonly grimy brown lignite – and environmental activists are preventing to modify this. A small house of wooded area no longer a ways from the Dutch border has transform the focus in their marketing campaign.

It is virtually a uniform that they are dressed in – heavy boots, darkish trousers, a hooded fleece and a shawl masking nostril and mouth. There are 3 of them: Mona, Omo and Jim. They seem like of their early 20s, they usually say they wish to trade the arena.

“We are preventing capitalism and the large firms who’re ruling the arena and destroying it for benefit,” says Jim.

We are sitting beneath the timber of the Hambacher Woodland, within the west of Germany, 30km (20 miles) from town of Cologne. All of them reside within the “Hambi”, as they name it, in tree properties like the only above us, nestling within the branches of an oak.

Treehouse in the Hambacher forest

They are right here for the reason that Hambi is threatened with general destruction. There is no longer a lot of it left now. The wooded area sits atop some of the biggest coalfields in Europe and because mining began in 1978 the timber were regularly stripped away to permit the excavators get right of entry to to the riches that lie underneath – thousands and thousands of heaps of coal, coal that helps to keep business operating on this a part of Germany and offers hundreds of other people with a dwelling.

So as to add insult to damage, the coal this is extracted here’s brown coal, sometimes called lignite, which emits in particular top ranges of carbon dioxide.

The mine and part of the remaining area of forest

Handiest 10% of the Hambi remains to be status. However that 10% has transform an impressive image for Germany’s local weather trade motion. Mona, Omo and Jim constitute the exhausting core, those who’re ready to reside out of doors thru freezing iciness nights to protect the timber.

“You would higher have two sound asleep baggage,” says Jim.

As of late they have were given guests, a number of hundred of them, who have come to show their cohesion with the activists and their anger with the mining corporate, RWE. “Hambi bleibt!” they chant – let the Hambi keep.

Demonstrators forming a red line on the edge of the forest

They are from Cologne, and from Aachen, and from puts in between. One lady is from the Netherlands, simply around the border.

“I have come right here to protest,” says Peter, who’s at first from Kenya, however now works in Bonn. “I feel Germany must take a extra energetic position in preventing fossil fuels.”

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In finding out extra

Concentrate to Tim Mansel’s document, Germany’s local weather trade frontline, for Project, at the BBC International Carrier

Browse different episodes of Project right here

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They collect out of doors the village of Morschenich and stroll a couple of hundred metres into the wooded area, preventing on learn how to wonder on the scale of the mine, an enormous gash within the panorama, and on the measurement of the excavation machines, monsters in latticed steel.

Mine with power stations in the distance

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Two energy stations are fuelled via the brown coal from the Hambacher wooded area

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One of the vast mining diggers

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The digging machines are huge

They have got been requested to put on crimson they usually shape a straggling line alongside a financial institution of earth that separates the wooded area from the lip of the mine. The “crimson line” sends a transparent message: this a ways and no additional.

Remaining 12 months the Hambi was once the scene of an enormous war of words. RWE sought after to start out felling timber once more. The police arrived, of their hundreds, to evict the activists – who had already been dwelling there for a number of years – and to tug their treehouses aside.

“It is heavy to peer how your house simply will get destroyed,” says Omo. “The treehouse that you just constructed and the place you lived and the place you spent such a lot time. And you then see loads and loads of law enforcement officials operating thru your house. It is a heavy factor to peer.”

Police removing a protester in September 2018Symbol copyright
Getty Photographs

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Police casting off a protester in September final 12 months

The evictions had been suspended briefly when a tender guy, who is been described each as an activist and a journalist, fell from an overhead walkway and was once killed. Then, after an software via Pals of the Earth, a courtroom imposed a short lived tree-felling ban, on conservation grounds.

RWE has now mentioned it has no plans to start out felling once more, a minimum of till the past due summer season of 2020. There are additional indications that the wooded area would possibly but live on. A central authority-commissioned document printed initially of this 12 months, which advisable that Germany shut all its coal-fired energy stations via 2038, additionally mentioned that preserving what stays of the Hambacher Woodland can be “fascinating.”

Graphic showing where German electricity comes from

However the activists are suspicious.

“In October 2020 they could be allowed to chop once more,” says Jim. “So, we want to increase the drive at the govt, and at the corporate, in order that they are no longer allowed to.”

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Brown coal

  • Germany is the largest supply of lignite on the planet, adopted via China and Turkey – in 2016, the EU was once answerable for 37.five% of worldwide manufacturing
  • The Belchatow mine in Poland, at 12km lengthy and 200m deep, is the arena’s largest
  • Germany’s Niederaussem plant, equipped via the Hambacher mine, ranks 2nd in Europe for emissions of mercury
  • Coal damages well being via generating particulates, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide
  • Brown coal is worse than extraordinary coal – for well being and the local weather – as a result of extra will have to be burned to provide the same quantity of power
  • Contamination from Germany and Poland stretches throughout Europe, together with to the United Kingdom, relying at the wind path

Supply: HEAL

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In addition to “Hambi bleibt,” any other chant echoes throughout the timber. “Alle Dörfer Bleiben”- let the entire villages keep. Floor mines, just like the Hambacher mine, have as little recognize for villages as they have got for forests. It is estimated that 300 German villages were demolished since 1945 to make means for coal extraction.

The activists’ worry comes a bit of past due for Manheim, simply a few kilometres down the street from the wooded area.


Stand on the crossroads out of doors the outdated bakery within the early night and pay attention. You’ll be able to pay attention the twittering of the birds. However you will not pay attention anything. No canine will bark, no bicycle bell will ring. You’ll be able to pay attention no pleasant greeting. If truth be told, you will not see any individual in any respect.

Stroll up previous the hearth station and you’ll be able to start to perceive why. There are huge open areas the place entire streets have disappeared. A couple of properties nonetheless stand, deserted and damaged, looking ahead to the demolition crews to return and rip off the roofs and bulldoze the partitions. At the moment of day, the excavators are locked away, huge blue diggers hunkered down at the back of razor cord.


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Diggers behind razor wire

Manheim is a ghost village, a shadow of the busy agricultural neighborhood it as soon as was once. Of the 1,600 citizens just a handful are left, and they are going to all be long past in a few years. Morschenich awaits the similar destiny – two villages that can disappear from the face of the Earth.

The razor cord tells its personal tale. In different villages, equipment has been sabotaged and set on hearth. That isn’t came about right here however the activists have no longer endeared themselves to the villagers. Remaining 12 months, once they had been evicted from the wooded area, a number of occupied empty properties. The police got here to transport them on, and RWE determined to demolish a part of the village forward of agenda to deter extra profession.

“I got here to look at the home being pulled down, and I do not deny that I shed a couple of tears,” says Claudia Jakobs, who now lives along with her husband Marco within the new village, Manheim-Neu, that is been slowly taking form a couple of kilometres away. However she says she’s happier now that the outdated home is long past.

Claudia and Marco Jakobs

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Claudia and Marco Jakobs on the street the place their area as soon as stood

Earlier than it was once pulled down, she would in finding herself riding previous each day simply to test the entirety was once all proper – that no campaigners had damaged in.

Kurt and Cilly Rüttgers too have additionally been unsettled via the presence of the activists. They used to run some of the pubs within the village, Zum Roten Hahn (the Pink Hen), which has been within the circle of relatives for 150 years. Pictures embellish the partitions and trophies line the shelf above the bar. However no beer has been served right here for just about 10 years. Kurt and Cilly’s kids did not wish to take the industry over in a village that would not exist for for much longer.

Not too long ago they have had what Cilly describes as “uninvited visitors”. Kurt displays me the lawn area in the back of the pub, a small room with fundamental cooking amenities. “They broke the home windows and ripped down the curtains,” he says. “And so they hung blankets within the home windows in order that the sunshine would not display.”

“Kohlegegner,” says Cilly sharply. Actually, “coal warring parties” – in different phrases, local weather trade activists. Cilly says she hasn’t ever sooner than been afraid dwelling in Manheim, however the sight of protesters within the village with scarves over their faces does scare her.

The entrance to the village of Manheim

That description, Kohlegegner, is telling. Other folks in Manheim, it kind of feels, are defenders of coal, regardless of the upcoming lack of their village; coal has equipped jobs on this area for many years.

Kurt says that as way back because the 1950s, when he was once rising up, it was once commonplace wisdom that in the future the village would disappear. This will likely give an explanation for why one of the most villagers resent outsiders coming to Manheim now and telling them what to suppose and behave.

The power stations fuelled by the Hambacher mine

Hubert Perschke is a type of outsiders. He is an activist and photographer who lives in a village close by and has documented the sluggish destruction of Manheim over a number of years.

“It is true that most people right here did not need the empty properties to be occupied,” he says.

However he says there was sympathy for the activists as neatly.

Hubert Perschke

“There have been some individuals who introduced meals and garments over,” he says. “And there have been some who instructed them the place they could discover a key for an empty area.”

And he defends the precise of the activists to make use of the Hambacher Woodland for his or her protest.

“Coal has a practice right here. It is a cultural asset,” he says. “And, as outsiders, we are difficult that. We are announcing obviously that there are extra necessary issues – just like the local weather.”

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