Stay or go: villagers against big coal

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Stay or go: villagers against big coal

Germany has promised to stop using coal but big energy company RWE is planning to expand a coal mine and destroy two villages. Paul Krantz and Leo Frick write about the protests.


The Lutzi camp is protesting. Photo by Leonard Frick.

In western Germany, right next to the Garzweiler 2 coal mine, are Lützerath and Immerath – two 12th century villages. They will disappear if big energy company RWE can expand the mine. But a community of local residents and climate activists are fighting against it.

Germany has a quite a good green reputation but the country still depends on coal for about a quarter of its electricity. About half of its coal is from ‘brown’ coal mines.

RWE started as an energy company in the nearby city of Essen but it grew into a big multinational company. Its website says it will change to more renewable energy, but it is still a coal mining leader in Germany, the world capital of lignite, a kind of brown, black coal.

Brown coal is very harmful to the environment and human health. It produces the most carbon and sulphur pollution compared to other kinds of coal.

RWE extracts 100 million tons of lignite from the so-called ‘Rhein’ area each year. To make that clear, if we take the coal from one day’s work and put it onto cargo trucks, the trucks will be in a line 250 kilometres long.

The next generation


Villagers and supporters protest near one of the camp's entrances. Photo by Leonard Frick.

There is a main road between Garzweiler 2 and the first Garzweiler mine. The mine is 48 square kilometres and it’s difficult to describe just how big the mine looks from the small village of Lützerath.

RWE wants to make it bigger and plans to evict people from their houses and destroy seven more villages. Some residents left after accepting money from RWE for their homes and land. Some moved into one of the many new houses in the surrounding areas. They have names like ‘New Lützerath’ to give us the idea they are replacing the very old villages.

But a few residents refused RWE’s offers, including farmer Eckardt Heukamp. His land is now directly on the edge of the mine. For Heukamp, the mine is a danger to the only life he knows.

To try to defend his land, Heukamp has taken RWE to court. While the court battles continue, he has given the use of his land to climate activists. They built a protest camp named Lutzi over the past year.

‘I hope this protest and this camp will make a climate justice movement possible - a movement to be anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, and criticise the state,’ says Florian Özcan.

A group called ‘Alle Dörfer Bleiben’ (All the villages are staying) joined the camp. They are protesting at one of its entrances and there is always a small group there watching and drinking coffee together. Many members of Alle Dörfer Bleiben live locally and grew up there. Some have already lost their family homes and others are hoping to save their homes.

The new generation of climate activists are also at Lutzi. Many are inspired by organisations like the Fridays for Future, Greenpeace, or the anti-coal movement Ende Gelände.

The protest has formed a strong group. A big outdoor kitchen cooks free vegetarian meals three times a day for hundreds of campers. Others build more and more treehouses and shelters, meeting places, press tents, and cafés. There are toilets that they look after, sinks with drinking and washing water, a bicycle repair stand, a place for restorative justice where people can meet and find answers to their problems together, and a very big circus tent for morning meetings and workshops. Everything is the work of volunteers, and people give most of the food and materials or they give money to pay for them.

‘I think this place gives people the possibility to learn, in a friendly way, that self-organization is possible,’ said Özcan.

Same story, different mine

Unfortunately, evicting people from their villages and digging up land for coal is not new in this area. About 20 kilometres south is the Hambach mine, and what remains of Hambach Forest.

Once Hambach Forest covered more than 5,260 hectares and it was one of the few places in Germany where oak and hornbeam trees still grew. In 1992, the European Union passed the Habitats Directive to protect 200 plant and animal species – 13 of those species were in the Hambach Forest, including several bats, an endangered mouse, a couple of toads, and frogs.

This alone should be enough to stop the expansion of the Hambach mine. But RWE successfully argued that its mining rights, in 1978, were above the Habitats Directive.

When German courts failed to protect Hambach Forest, a resistance movement began to get stronger. As RWE started to clear the forest, more and more climate activists and forest defenders came to Hambach. They occupied the forest from 2012 onwards. They built treehouses in the tops of the highest trees and lived in them through the logging season each year to try and stop RWE from clearing trees.

The movement continued to get media attention and became a serious public relations problem for RWE. Finally, in 2018, mine expansion into the forest stopped.

‘This was the first big protest against the climate crisis in Germany,’ said Indigo, an activist involved with the forest occupation. ‘It gave hope to a lot of people.’ This success was a turning point for the coal resistance movement in Germany, but only 10 per cent of Hambach’s forest remains.

Many of the people starting the Lutzi camp met as part of the Hambach Forest resistance.


Now the protest to stop Garzweiler 2 is getting bigger. In September 2021, people thought that they could not stop the expansion of the mine but then there was a new German federal government of socialist, green, and libertarian parties in a new coalition.

This coalition agreed to stop the use of coal for energy by 2030 – a big difference from the old government’s promise of 2038.

RWE said that it won’t have a problem with 2030. ‘A fast coal-exit is possible,’ they said with the expansion of renewable energy. But RWE seems it will continue to extract coal for the next eight years.

Green party members in North-Rhineland Westphalia have already taken actions to save five villages but the future of Lützerath is not yet clear.

‘At the beginning of the talks it seemed impossible to save the villages but we saved the homes of 491 people,’ said Kathrin Henneberger, a new Green member of the German parliament.

‘The courts will decide about Lützerath,’ the coalition papers said. By the end of January 2022, they expect a decision on farmer Eckardt Heukamp keeping his farmland or giving it to RWE. The company said, there will be ‘no clearing, no tree cutting, no house demolition to prepare for lignite mining in Lützerath’ before this date.

But activists in the camp are calling for support to stop possible destruction in January.

‘I don’t know what I expect,’ said Indigo. ‘But if the court decides against us, I’m sure we will be thousands here, because we know that an economic system that cannot take action on the climate crisis has no future.’

We will wait and see if the German courts stop RWE to help the climate change problem. But in Lützerath one thing is certain, if RWE plans to continue with the mine expansion, it can expect protests.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)