Around 6,000 protestors, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, have marched through the rain and mud on Saturday to the German village of Lützerath, in order to protest its demolition to make way for the expansion of a nearby lignite mine.
When the police arrived to evacuate the twelfth-century village on January 11, or “Day X”, as the organisation, “Lützerath lebt” (Lützerath lives) dubs it, they found hundreds of environmental activists squatting there in order to oppose the destruction of the hamlet in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The evacuation has given rise to dystopian and bizarre images, of police in riot gear against a backdrop of gigantic industrial machinery, and activists in hazmat suits and balaclavas reclining in hammocks.
As part of the protests, activists took to the roofs and top floors of the few remaining buildings. Some protestors occupied treehouses, connected by cables or “sky bridges.” Others sat atop makeshift tripods and platforms. They occupied hard-to-reach places, to make their arrests more difficult.
The evacuation has progressed faster, perhaps, than the “1–6 weeks” Lützerath Lebt anticipated, with the police stating the village to be almost clear by Friday.
The police have been struggling to evict in particular two activists, nicknamed “Pinky” and “Brain” after the 1990s cartoon. The pair secluded themselves in tunnels under Lützerath and uploaded a YouTube video of themselves on Thursday evening.
“We’re trying to make this last as long as possible so the people upstairs have time to mobilise even more and make the protest even bigger,” they said.
“It’s much harder to evict a tunnel than a tree house. They don’t know exactly where [we] are. All the ways in are barricaded with doors, so getting inside will be a lot harder.”
Aachen chief of police warned that the tunnels were unstable, and voiced concerns about their oxygen supply.
On Friday, notable German climate activist Luisa Neubauer Tweeted a photo of herself being carried away by police officers.
Außergewöhnlicher Protest in außergewöhnlichen Umständen. Es ist der Job von Regierungen die eindeutigen 1,5°C-Grenzen zu achten. Und es ist der Job von uns allen, das einzufordern, wenn Regierungen es nicht tun. #Lützerath pic.twitter.com/CoBV1ZEIiD
— Luisa Neubauer (@Luisamneubauer) January 13, 2023
The caption reads: “Extraordinary protest in extraordinary circumstances. It is governments’ job to respect the clear 1.5°C limits. And it’s all of our jobs to demand that when governments don’t.”
On Friday, a spokesperson for Lützerath Lebt told Impakter that the police had yet to clear all the treehouses, and that the tunnels under Lützerath were still occupied by the two activists.
How did we get here?
Lützerath is a hamlet in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, dating back to the twelfth century which sits on a large lignite deposit. The German gas company, RWE, intends to expand the nearby 3 200-hectare Garzweiler open-cast coal mine to include the land where Lützerath stands.
When the mine is finished, the area will be flooded to create an artificial lake or filled in with soil to build a new dwelling on top of.
“My home is not a plaything for courts and politicians who want to escape responsibility for climate protection.”
Residents of Lützerath have been resettled since 2005, and the hamlet was set to be demolished by the end of 2022. One resident, Eckhardt Heukamp, refused to sell his farm to RWE, and took the company to court. In April 2022, he lost, and was ordered to sell his farm.
Although Heukamp was the last official resident of Lützerath, environmental activists have been settling there since 2020, creating a makeshift climate camp.
Many activists are furious and disappointed in the environmental Green party, who are now in government in a coalition, for allowing this to happen.
Even banking giant HSBC seems to have egg on its face, as it was revealed that the conglomerate made a $340 million deal with RWE, that they asked not to be publicised. This came just three months after the bank pledged to stop funding coal.
Robert Habeck, the Greens’ economy minister, and Mona Neubauer, economy minister of NRW, also of the greens agreed last year that RWE could mine the 280m tonnes of coal in this expansion, in exchange for five other villages that were otherwise planned for demolition, and that they would close the mine “ideally” by 2030, eight years earlier than planned.
A number of wind turbines were removed in order to make way for the Garzweiler mine expansion.
Lisa Neubauer called this a “dirty deal”, arguing that the overall emissions were hardly reduced by the deal, only fitted into a shorter time frame.
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However, it seems to have caused trouble within the state, with more than 2000 members of the Green party signing an open letter calling to put an end to the expansion of the Garzweiler mine expansion.
On Friday, the German Police Union (DPoIG) demanded an unequivocal statement of support from the Greens. “It cannot be that high officials and members of parliament call for resistance and protest in Lützerath,” said Federal Chairman Reiner Wendt. “The Greens must decide if they want to be in government or opposition.”
The Greens are indeed in a quandary as the protests have led to considerable clashes between activists and the police. In response to the amassing police forces just prior to the evacuation, Lützerath Lebt added to their website, “This is not what de-escalation looks like!”
The police faced some stones, fireworks, and molotov cocktails from protestors, while protestors have been shocked at police violence. The organisation posted a video of a confrontation between police and protestors.
Was wir heute und die letzten Tage erleben ist pure #Polizeigewalt. Wir sind erschrocken, wie die Polizei vorgeht und verurteilen dieses Verhalten. Wir bleiben standhaft, denn wir wissen, wofür wir kämpfen: #Klimagerechtigkeit!
— Lützerath bleibt! – Tag X seit 3.1. (@LuetziBleibt) January 14, 2023
Translation: “TW police violence. What we are experiencing today and the last few days is pure #PoliceViolence . We are shocked at how the police are proceeding and condemn this behaviour. We remain steadfast because we know what we are fighting for: #ClimateJustice!”
Meanwhile, Climate Protection Minister, Robert Habeck, has reproved protestors, seeking to remind them that as a result of the agreement Hambach Forest has been spared, and the mine volume halved.
“The agreements give us planning security. Because of it, investments are now being made in climate-neutral energy supply, in hydrogen power plants,” he said.
“I think climate protection and protests need symbols but the empty hamlet of Luetzerath, where no one lives anymore, is the wrong symbol from my point of view,” Habeck said in Berlin.
Is Lützerath merely a symbol?
Lützerath certainly holds symbolic value, being dubbed “the European place of crystallisation for the climate movement.” Its international interest is reinforced by Greta Thunberg’s participation, who brings with her an immense platform (metaphorically speaking).
Thunberg said, on her visit to the camp on Friday, that Germany was “really embarrassing itself.”
“Lützerath is becoming a symbol for the fact that Germany is not prepared to leave enough coal in the ground.”
In his assessment of the situation, Pao-Yu Oei, professor for the economics of sustainable energy transition at Europe-University Flensburg commented that “Lützerath is becoming a symbol for the fact that Germany is not prepared to leave enough coal in the ground.”
However, the protest is also concerned with the immediate ramifications: through mining this 280 000 tonnes of coal, they will not meet their 1.5℃ Paris accord targets.
This is a difficult look for Germany, and especially for the Green party, to pull off. The destruction of sustainable energy sources, and the displacement of unwilling citizens have both had to happen in order to make way for the expansion of the Garzweiler coal mine. This is not to mention that lignite is “the most polluting of all coal types,” and is responsible for 20% of Germany’s carbon emissions.
It seems that while Lützerath is very much a symbol, activists are not divorced from protesting the matter at hand. Just because much of what they are opposing has already happened, does not mean that they are willing to surrender the land to RWE to profit off of. The deal with RWE is vastly unpopular in German opinion and the Green party may well come to feel this in the next federal election. As it is, we can only hope that the climate-neutral energy supply that Habeck says is being invested in comes to fruition and fast.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Two protestors on the roof at Lützerath, 13.1.2023. Featured Photo Credit: Lützi Lebt.