Thousands Gathering To Stop A Village Being Destroyed For A Coal Mine In Germany

A drone photo of Lützerath, Germany, on January 9. Activists have occupied the village for more than two years in a bid to prevent it from being demolished.

A village was flooded by police in riot gear, who forced people out of their homes and tore down buildings to make room for excavating equipment to get to the rich coal seam below the ground.

Police have removed hundreds of activists since Wednesday, when rain and wind battered the tiny west German village of Lützerath. Some people have been living in Lützerath for more than two years, occupying the homes that were left behind by former residents when they were kicked out, most of which happened in 2017 to make way for the mine.

The eviction process involves more than 1,000 police officers. According to Aachen city police, while the majority of the buildings have now been demolished, some activists were still huddled in treehouses or in a hole dug into the ground as of Friday.

On Saturday, protest organizers anticipate that thousands of additional people will demonstrate against its destruction in the area, though they may not ultimately be able to access the village. RWE intends to construct a 1.5-kilometer perimeter fence around Lützerath following the eviction to prevent the demolition of the village’s buildings, streets, and sewers.

Police prepare to enter buildings to remove activists in the condemned village of Lützerath on Thursday, January 12

Still, activists vow to continue to fight for the village.

“We are taking action against this destruction by putting our bodies in the way of the excavator,” said Ronni Zeppelin, from campaign group Lützerath Lebt (Lützerath Lives).

Due to its location on the edge of the open-cast lignite coal mine Garzweiler II, Lützerath, which is approximately 20 miles west of Dusseldorf, has long been a climate flashpoint in Germany.

In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the mine covers about 14 square miles (35 square kilometers), creating a massive, jagged cut in the landscape.
Villages where families have lived for generations have already been swallowed up by its gradual spread over time. Buildings that have stood for centuries and even a wind farm have been demolished as a result.

Despite criticism from climate groups, RWE has long planned to expand the mine. Coal lignite, which is also the most polluting fossil fuel, is the most polluting form of coal.

In 2013, German courts decided that the business could grow, even at the expense of nearby villages.

According to David Dresen, who is a member of the climate group Aller Dörfer bleiben (All Villages Stay) and lives in Kuckum, a village that was supposed to be demolished, some people hoped that the expansion would be canceled after the Greens won the federal elections in 2021.

An excavator operates in RWE’s Garzweiler II lignite mine on January 5.
An activist kneels in front of riot police next to the Garzweiler II coal mine on January 8.

However, in October 2022, the government reached a deal with RWE that allowed Lützerath to be demolished so that RWE could access the coal beneath it. This allowed the government to save several villages, including Kuckum.

RWE agreed to move its coal phase-out from 2038 to 2030 in return.

It is presented as a win by the Greens.

In an email to CNN, North Rhine Westphalia Green Party spokesperson Martin Lechtape stated, “We were able to save five villages and three farms from being destroyed, spare 500 people a forced resettlement, and bring forward the coal phase-out by eight years.”

The expansion, according to the Greens and RWE, will also help alleviate the energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine, which has restricted gas supplies.

In an email to CNN, RWE spokesperson Guido Steffen stated that it “is not a renaissance of lignite or coal, but only a side-step – helping Germany to cope with the energy crisis.”

Some background for an international audience: These people come at the last second, when everyone has already been paid for their land and houses, moved out to new houses somewhere else and the necessary work has been completed so that the village can be torn down. Yes, there is a small number of people who protest against it continuously, but the real uproar always happens when it’s already too late.

Now I am against energy production using coal. It’s messing up our air, environment and has caused my generation to grow up with a multitude of respiratory problems. It should be stopped immediately and replaced by other sources. But I can’t help feeling that these demonstrators are not targeting the right people/situations or that they just want to do “something”, as they are nowhere to be seen when all these developments are put into motion but show up when it’s already been decided and execution time is right around the corner.

It’s like the people who glue themselves to our streets: they are only hurting the average Joe and not the people whose minds they actually need to change.

And, btw, it’s not “Germany” and they are not planning anything. Maybe, just maybe, if the 1980s hadn’t seen demonstrations against nuclear power on a mass scale, we wouldn’t need those coal power stations to manage base supply.

I do sometimes wonder at the fact that the Greens basically created their own demand: by doing their best to get rid of nuclear power and block its expansion, they are one of the main players who are responsible for the fact that Germany still needs to burn this much coal and gas.