Police start clearing the occupied lignite site

Lützerath Between the wind and rain, the howling of the sirens can be heard in Lützerath early on Wednesday morning. For the activists who have been occupying the village for weeks, this means the highest alert level. The evacuation of the village, which they actually want to protect from demolition in favor of a lignite opencast mine, has begun. They prepare to resist.

Meanwhile, the police surrounded Lützerath with emergency services from all over Germany. Bit by bit, until the place near Erkelenz is completely surrounded in the course of the morning. The security forces penetrated the rows of demonstrators on the edge of the Garzweiler lignite opencast mine to Lützerath relatively easily. Then they stand for hours in small and large groups in front of the houses, tree houses and barricades and hardly move. It’s the calm before the storm.

Until the police finally begin to gradually dismantle the barricades and arrest the first activists. At the same time, for the first time, heavy equipment with utensils for fence construction is approaching near the demolition edge. With the construction fence, which is a good one and a half kilometers long, the energy company RWE wants to mark the site area where the remaining buildings, ancillary facilities, roads and canals of the former settlement will be dismantled in the next few weeks.

Once the company erects this fence, the demonstrators have lost a leg in a legal, political and communications battle that has been going on for months. A battle in which there are hundreds of climate protectors on the one hand, who believe that the start of lignite mining in Lützerath is the end of German efforts to protect the climate. And on the other side the energy company RWE, supported by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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Some want to prevent the last village in the Rhenish mining area from being demolished in order to mine the brown coal stored at a depth of 200 meters. The others want to implement the coal compromise from last year between RWE and the green economics ministers in the federal government and North Rhine-Westphalia, according to which, in return for a coal phase-out in 2030, exactly the Lützerather coal can still be promoted.

Police warn of Molotov throws

Things get serious for the activists when the police call on them to evacuate peacefully for the last time over the loudspeaker. Coercive measures would be applied immediately. Safe conduct had previously been assured upon departure, “without further police action”. And indeed, little by little, some of the young demonstrators voluntarily leave the premises with bags and baggage and a police escort. Some even accompany themselves musically on the guitar: “It’s not worth it to obey the law, my darling.”

The atmosphere on site remains mostly peaceful. Reporters occasionally report scuffles and stone and bottle throwing. Firecrackers, Bengal torches and small fires are lit at some barricades. The Aachen police call on Twitter for Molotov cocktails to be thrown to stop. However, according to the police, there are injuries on both sides.

Clearing of the first camp

The police have advanced into the village and the first arrests are made.

(Photo: Kathrin Witsch)

Before the eviction, the energy company RWE called on the squatters to be non-violent. “Violence against the police or deployed employees is completely unacceptable,” emphasized the utility in a statement published on Wednesday morning. RWE is calling on the squatters to respect the rule of law and peacefully end the illegal occupation of the houses, facilities and areas belonging to RWE. “No one should put themselves in danger by doing something that breaks the law.”

According to estimates by the responsible Aachen police, there are around seven barricaded houses and around 30 tree houses in Lützerath. Similar to the clearing of the Hambach Forest in 2018, the goal of the squatters is unmistakable: “Lützi”, as the village is called among activists, must remain. As “Hambi” was supposed to stay and ultimately stayed.

Four years ago there were mass protests against the expansion of lignite mining in North Rhine-Westphalia. At that time it was about the Hambach opencast mine. In the end, the activists won the fight for the forest. The compromise was the planned continued operation and expansion of another area: Garzweiler.

Lignite has been mined in this opencast mine for 100 years. Almost 25 million tons every year. Countless villages had to give way over the years for the extraction of raw materials. Lützerath is now the last community that is to be dredged away despite the legally stipulated coal phase-out. For many environmental activists, this is incomprehensible.

Symbol of resistance

The small village in North Rhine-Westphalia has been virtually uninhabited for ten years. Very few buildings are still standing. The resettlement of the residents of the place has been officially completed since 2017.

The last farmer had sold his farm to RWE in the autumn of last year after a long period of resistance. In the place of the former 100 residents, climate activists have moved into the empty houses in recent months and have built numerous additional tree houses. Solar cells, sanitary facilities and a huge plenum for the village community included.

Clearing of Lützerath has begun

In order to prevent the evacuation of the place, they put up barricades and obstacles. These include monopods (one-legged wooden platforms) 30 meters high, tripods (three-legged structures), holes in the asphalt or massive wooden spears surrounded by bricks.

Some have been here for months, others for a few weeks or just a day. They hang in trees, sit in the abandoned houses, stand prominently in a chain at the edge of the demolition line and call out their message to the police officers: “Lützi stays.”

The strategy of the police, on the other hand, is to clear the occupied area bit by bit. According to its own statement, the authority expects that this could take several weeks. “But it seems to be going better than expected,” said a person familiar with the events on Wednesday. It was probably not planned for the police to penetrate the village center on the first day of the evacuation.

In the early afternoon, the security forces cleared some of the massive road blockades that had been there just a few hours ago. Sometimes with excavators and tractors or brick by brick, which the officials themselves move to the side. The resistance is comparatively low. Even when the first special forces arrive with lifting platforms, the situation in Lützerath is far from escalating.

As soon as an area has been cleared, RWE employees can start demolition work. Tree felling experts from Stihl in neon-orange work uniforms then hike through Lützerath on Wednesday to get an idea of ​​the situation. “That’s impressive,” one of them praised the activists’ tree constructions. It is not easy to get the demonstrators out of the trees.

Climate resistance icon

Lützerath has become a symbol of climate activists’ resistance to the generation of electricity from fossil fuels. “The dredging of Lützerath has absolutely nothing to do with the necessity of the energy industry. We are therefore appealing to stop this fossil madness, ”says Greenpeace energy expert Karsten Smid in an interview with the Handelsblatt.

The activist is convinced that the coal under the site is not needed, “the state government has miscalculated”.

Structures of the demonstrators

The camp in Lützerath is intended to offer protection from the weather – and from eviction.

(Photo: Kathrin Witsch)

There is indeed a dispute as to whether the lignite under Lützerath is necessary to ensure Germany’s security of supply. The black-green state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and the energy company RWE refer to reports and describe the development of the area and the mining of the underlying coal as the only alternative for Germany’s energy security.

The activists describe this as a risk to the climate that will guarantee the 1.5 degree target of the Paris climate agreement will not be met, citing studies such as those by the energy analysis company Aurora Energy Research on behalf of the anti-coal group ” Europe Beyond Coal”, which come to the opposite conclusion.

RWE: “Timely use necessary in the current energy crisis”

“When calculating the necessary amounts of coal, the greatest differences between the studies lie in the consideration of the lignite requirement for coal processing. The alternative studies do not address this need, but focus on pure electricity generation,” explains Manfred Fischedick, Managing Director of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

In such refinements, the coal serves as a raw material for chemicals and other fuels, such as lignite dust, which is used in industrial power plants. Studies by the state government put the need for refined products at 55 million tons of coal by 2030, with consumption falling.

Environmentalists doubt this number. Greenpeace expert Smid assumes that the need for the refined products from other opencast mines could be covered. Especially when demand is falling.

According to RWE, however, mining conditions also play a role: “Without the possibility of continuing opencast mining in this direction, the coal could no longer be uncovered at a depth of up to 200 meters elsewhere, which would lead to considerable deficits in the coal supply of the power plants and would lead to the overburden to be extracted,” said an RWE spokesman for the Handelsblatt.

In addition, “the timely use of the former Lützerath settlement for the energy supply in the current energy crisis is necessary,” emphasizes the group, alluding to the lack of gas supplies from Russia.

police officers in the camp

In the morning the situation is peaceful at first.

(Photo: Kathrin Witsch)

It was only in October 2022 that RWE and the CDU and Greens state government in North Rhine-Westphalia agreed to bring the phase-out of coal forward by a total of eight years to 2030. In return, RWE is allowed to produce larger amounts of lignite in the short term. Also the coal under Lützerath. NRW Economics Minister Mona Neubaur (Greens) announced this compromise at the time together with party friend and Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck.

All other villages in the region, which were originally also supposed to give way to open-cast mining, will remain standing. However, whether this new coal phase-out path saves emissions overall is controversial.

That is why there is a lot at stake for the Greens in Lützerath. At the moment, the party leadership fears above all confrontations between climate activists and the police and pictures of injured environmentalists.

Vice-Chancellor Habeck also said on Wednesday about the evacuation of the place: “It’s the right decision, it’s a good decision for climate protection.” live are kept.”

All of this is still a long way off for the demonstrators in Lützerath this Wednesday afternoon. Some climate protectors have left voluntarily. But many endure in the tree houses. In small groups with names like Phantasialand or Bermuda, the young activists sit high up between the treetops and watch what’s going on. A wolf-like howl is heard regularly, which is echoed across the entire camp. They take courage for what is to come.
Meanwhile, others are hammering extra boards onto the doors and windows of their tree houses. you want to stay The only question is how much longer they can do that.

Assistance: Silke Kersting, Berlin

More: Resistance in Lützerath – why this entrepreneur became an activist

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