The spark cave that ate Hambacher forest

Climate change activists in a Hambacher Forest

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More than a third of Germany’s electricity is still constructed by blazing spark – mostly unwashed brownish-red lignite – and environmental activists are fighting to change this. A tiny area of timberland not distant from a Dutch limit has turn a focal indicate of their campaign.

It’s roughly a uniform that they’re wearing – complicated boots, dim trousers, a hooded fleece and a headband covering nose and mouth. There are 3 of them: Mona, Omo and Jim. They seem to be in their early 20s, and they contend they wish to change a world.

“We’re fighting capitalism and a vast companies who are statute a universe and destroying it for profit,” says Jim.

We’re sitting underneath a trees of a Hambacher Forest, in a west of Germany, 30km (20 miles) from a city of Cologne. They all live in a “Hambi”, as they call it, in tree houses like a one above us, nestling in a branches of an oak.

Treehouse in a Hambacher forest

They’re here given a Hambi is threatened with sum destruction. There’s not many of it left now. The timberland sits atop one of a largest coalfields in Europe and given mining started in 1978 a trees have been gradually nude divided to concede a excavators opening to a cache that distortion underneath – millions of tons of coal, spark that keeps attention using in this partial of Germany and provides thousands of people with a living.

To supplement insult to injury, a spark that is extracted here is brownish-red coal, also famous as lignite, that emits quite high levels of CO dioxide.

The cave and partial of a remaining area of forest

Only 10% of a Hambi is still standing. But that 10% has turn a absolute pitch for Germany’s meridian change movement. Mona, Omo and Jim paint a tough core, a ones who are prepared to live outward by frozen winter nights to urge a trees.

“You’d improved have dual sleeping bags,” says Jim.

Today they’ve got visitors, several hundred of them, who’ve come to denote their oneness with a activists and their annoy with a mining company, RWE. “Hambi bleibt!” they intone – let a Hambi stay.

Demonstrators combining a red line on a corner of a forest

They’re from Cologne, and from Aachen, and from places in between. One lady is from a Netherlands, usually opposite a border.

“I’ve come here to protest,” says Peter, who is creatively from Kenya, though now works in Bonn. “I consider Germany should take a some-more active purpose in interlude hoary fuels.”

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They accumulate outward a encampment of Morschenich and travel a few hundred metres into a forest, interlude on a approach to marvel during a scale of a mine, a outrageous indenture in a landscape, and during a distance of a cave machines, monsters in latticed metal.

Mine with energy stations in a distance

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Two energy stations are fuelled by a brownish-red spark from a Hambacher forest

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One of a immeasurable mining diggers

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The digging machines are enormous

They’ve been asked to wear red and they form a straggling line along a bank of earth that separates a timberland from a mouth of a mine. The “red line” sends a transparent message: this distant and no further.

Last year a Hambi was a stage of a outrageous confrontation. RWE wanted to start felling trees again. The military arrived, in their thousands, to exude a activists – who had already been vital there for several years – and to lift their treehouses apart.

“It’s complicated to see how your home usually gets destroyed,” says Omo. “The treehouse that we built and where we lived and where we spent so many time. And afterwards we see hundreds and hundreds of cops using by your home. It’s a complicated thing to see.”

Police stealing a protester in Sep 2018Image copyright
Getty Images

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Police stealing a protester in Sep final year

The evictions were dangling temporarily when a immature man, who’s been described both as an romantic and a journalist, fell from an beyond corridor and was killed. Then, after an focus by Friends of a Earth, a justice imposed a proxy tree-felling ban, on charge grounds.

RWE has now pronounced it has no skeleton to start felling again, during slightest until a late summer of 2020. There are serve indications that a timberland competence nonetheless survive. A government-commissioned news published during a commencement of this year, that endorsed that Germany tighten all a coal-fired energy stations by 2038, also pronounced that maintaining what stays of a Hambacher Forest would be “desirable.”

Graphic display where German electricity comes from

But a activists are suspicious.

“In Oct 2020 they competence be authorised to cut again,” says Jim. “So, we need to build adult a vigour on a government, and on a company, so that they’re not authorised to.”

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Brown coal

  • Germany is a biggest source of lignite in a world, followed by China and Turkey – in 2016, a EU was obliged for 37.5% of tellurian production
  • The Belchatow cave in Poland, during 12km prolonged and 200m deep, is a world’s biggest
  • Germany’s Niederaussem plant, granted by a Hambacher mine, ranks second in Europe for emissions of mercury
  • Burning spark indemnification health by producing particulates, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide
  • Brown spark is worse than typical spark – for health and a meridian – given some-more contingency be burnt to furnish a same volume of energy
  • Contamination from Germany and Poland stretches opposite Europe, including to a UK, depending on a breeze direction

Source: HEAL

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As good as “Hambi bleibt,” another intone echoes by a trees. “Alle Dörfer Bleiben”- let all a villages stay. Surface mines, like a Hambacher mine, have as tiny honour for villages as they have for forests. It’s estimated that 300 German villages have been demolished given 1945 to make approach for spark extraction.

The activists’ regard comes a tiny late for Manheim, usually a integrate of kilometres down a highway from a forest.


Stand during a crossroads outward a aged bakery in a early dusk and listen. You’ll hear a twittering of a birds. But we won’t hear anything else. No dog will bark, no bicycle bell will ring. You’ll hear no accessible greeting. In fact, we won’t see anyone during all.

Walk adult past a glow hire and you’ll start to know why. There are far-reaching open spaces where whole streets have disappeared. A few houses still stand, deserted and broken, watchful for a dispersion crews to come and slice off a roofs and pierce a walls. At this time of day, a excavators are sealed away, vast blue diggers hunkered down behind razor wire.


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Diggers behind razor wire

Manheim is a spook village, a shade of a bustling rural encampment it once was. Of a 1,600 residents usually a handful are left, and they’ll all be left in a integrate of years. Morschenich awaits a same predestine – dual villages that will disappear from a face of a Earth.

The razor handle tells a possess story. In other villages, machine has been sabotaged and set on fire. That’s not happened here though a activists have not endeared themselves to a villagers. Last year, after they were evicted from a forest, several assigned dull houses. The military came to pierce them on, and RWE motionless to explode partial of a encampment forward of report to daunt some-more occupation.

“I came to watch a residence being pulled down, and we don’t repudiate that we strew a few tears,” says Claudia Jakobs, who now lives with her father Marco in a new village, Manheim-Neu, that’s been solemnly holding figure a few kilometres away. But she says she’s happier now that a aged residence is gone.

Claudia and Marco Jakobs

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Claudia and Marco Jakobs in a travel where their residence once stood

Before it was pulled down, she would find herself pushing past each day usually to check all was all right – that no campaigners had damaged in.

Kurt and Cilly Rüttgers too have also been unsettled by a participation of a activists. They used to run one of a pubs in a village, Zum Roten Hahn (the Red Rooster), that has been in a family for 150 years. Photographs accoutre a walls and trophies line a shelf above a bar. But no drink has been served here for scarcely 10 years. Kurt and Cilly’s children didn’t wish to take a business over in a encampment that wouldn’t exist for many longer.

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Recently they’ve had what Cilly describes as “uninvited guests”. Kurt shows me a garden residence during a behind of a pub, a tiny room with simple cooking facilities. “They pennyless a windows and ripped down a curtains,” he says. “And they hung blankets in a windows so that a light wouldn’t show.”

“Kohlegegner,” says Cilly sharply. Literally, “coal opponents” – in other words, meridian change activists. Cilly says she has never before been fearful vital in Manheim, though a steer of protesters in a encampment with scarves over their faces does shock her.

The opening to a encampment of Manheim

That description, Kohlegegner, is telling. People in Manheim, it seems, are defenders of coal, notwithstanding a approaching detriment of their village; spark has supposing jobs in this segment for decades.

Kurt says that as prolonged ago as a 1950s, when he was flourishing up, it was common believe that one day a encampment would disappear. This competence explain because some of a villagers resent outsiders entrance to Manheim now and revelation them what to consider and how to behave.

The energy stations fuelled by a Hambacher mine

Hubert Perschke is one of those outsiders. He’s an romantic and photographer who lives in a encampment circuitously and has documented a light drop of Manheim over several years.

“It’s loyal that many of a people here didn’t wish a dull houses to be occupied,” he says.

But he says there has been magnetism for a activists as well.

Hubert Perschke

“There were some people who brought food and garments over,” he says. “And there were some who told them where they competence find a pivotal for an dull house.”

And he defends a right of a activists to use a Hambacher Forest for their protest.

“Coal has a tradition here. It’s a informative asset,” he says. “And, as outsiders, we’re severe that. We’re observant clearly that there are some-more critical things – like a climate.”

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