Words fail to convey my happiness and joy when I learned that Hambach Forest would not be logged – for now. The court had ruled that before any logging could take place it needed to evaluate whether
(1) the forest should be protected under the Fauna Flora Habitat Directive of the EU and
(2) if Germany would really suffer power outages if coal giant RWE was unable to mine the coal underneath the ancient, unique Hambach Forest.
This can take a while – possibly until the end of the year 2020.
Since most of the media and social network information about the happenings in the forest were in German I provide an English summary. It is by far not a complete. I rather focused on what I found most astonishing. For a background of the Hambach story please read the New York Times article by Melissa Eddy, published on September 14th – day 2 of the evictions.
Day 1 of the Evictions
When I heard the news I couldn’t help but think back to the first day of the evictions on September 13th. After a nearly sleepless night among the occupiers I walked towards the tree house village of Oaktown. The first sunbeams of a moist dusk accompanied me. There were maybe two dozens of occupiers in the trees and around 10 underneath the tree house. The atmosphere was extremely tense. Police troops were roaming the forest, apparently trying to count how many people were in the trees. Most of us believed we would find ourselves in police detention facilities only two hours later. At that point, the story of Hambach Forest was nearly unknown in Germany. Media reported – if at all – in often very derogatory terms, criminalizing all occupiers.
Flashback: Media Coverage One Year Before
One year before, in November 2017, when hundreds of trees were logged, I tried to raise the issue in national media. The answers I received proved that journalists had understood nothing. A local radio station in Berlin told me: “a local Cologne forest is not interesting for our listeners. We just had a car accident in our city that requires all our attention!” The German press agency (dpa) forwarded my call from the central politics department in Berlin to the most local reporter of the region. When I offered her a phone number to do live interviews with the occupiers in the trees she complained: “Why didn’t you call earlier? Our deadline for the day is approaching. I can’t do this today.” However, the phone number had been on the blog of the occupiers for weeks or even months. She didn’t call despite the fact that the logging continued over the next days.
Unexpected Popularity of Hambach Forest
Not in my most audacious dreams could I have imagined that around three weeks after that lonely experience of the first day of evictions 50.000 people would celebrate victory! That the forest would not be logged before 2020 – if at all. That RWE stocks would plummet almost one billion Euros! 1.000.000.000 Euros! That Hambach Forest would be all over the media, even in the Tagesschau, one of Germany’s most important news broadcasts. The three weeks in between held a lot of surprises.
Governments Puts Corporate Profit over Future of People and Environment
In short: I realized that I live in a country in which the governments puts the profit of a private mining company over the existence of a unique 12.000 years-old forest and the health and well-being of its citizens and future generations. It employed thousands of police men and women to beat peaceful protesters. Despite the ever increasing climate crisis, despite one of the hottest and driest summers in Europe’s history. We saw a blatantly lying government, nepotism, deception of the public, police violence. Incapable journalists multiplied the lies the police issued in press releases without checking facts.
Had these events occurred in some country that classifies as “under developed” with a “problematic human rights situation” and “corrupt governmental elites” I would not have wondered. But Germany claims to be both a constitutional democracy and a pioneer in climate protection. Luckily our higher courts of law are not as corrupt as the local government and courts of North Rhine-Westphalia and not as mutely hibernating as Chancellor Angela Merkel. The latest verdict does restore some of my almost lost faith in my country.
Government Paved Way for RWE Loggings Before Final Verdict
The forceful evictions ostensibly were meant to protect the occupiers. Their tree houses did not comply with fire safety regulations, as authorities declared. The government had just declared the tree houses to be houses, a status it had denied before. Houses need fire safety measures. Cottages don’t. Nobody ever revealed what a perfectly fire-proof tree house would look like. In some gardens in Germany parents started wondering if they would soon have hundreds of police on their premise because of small tree houses they had built for their kids. This ridiculous reason created by the local government shows how much the authorities support coal giant RWE. The government paved the way for RWE by creating a legal reason under which they could evict the occupation.
In North Rhine-Westphalia leading politicians are deeply intertwined with leading coal companies. Herbert Reul, Minister of the Interior of NRW, for example used to be a member of the supervisory board of Rheinenergie AG which holds shares of the RWE subsidiary innogy.
Deutsche Bahn Supports Coal Nepotism
The national train company Deutsche Bahn, that claims to run entirely on green electricity, supported the nepotism network of the coal industry: On Sunday September 23rd the weekly forest walk with Michael Zobel started at 11:30 am, as usual. Thousands of people wanted to come. A local train (S-Bahn) connects Cologne with Buir, the closest stop to Hambacher Forest. It runs only once per hour on Sundays. While in the past weeks Deutsche Bahn used only short trains (consisting of less wagons than normal S-Bahn) around the time of the forest walk, last week the connection arriving at 11:09 was cancelled completely. Deutsche Bahn announced the train driver had reported sick at 7 am in the morning. Yet the electronic schedule system had showed the cancellation as early as 1 am – 6 hours before the train driver allegedly reported sick. Screenshots prove it.
However, people managed to organize car pools and thousands made it to the demonstration despite pouring rain!
The Minister of the Interior of NRW Lied Continuously
Herbert Reul (CDU) is in charge and in favour of the logging of Hambach Forest. He used any possibility he could find to criminalize the protests. He created a big lie that he later had to renounce: According to Reul activists accompanied the resuscitation of journalist Steffen Meyn – who had dropped around 15 meters and shortly thereafter succumbed to his injuries – with chanting of a very derogatory phrase. It would translate into: “Fuck it. Logging only takesplace once a year.” (“Scheiß drauf. Rodung ist nur einmal im Jahr”).
This sentence depicts the activists as ruthless rioters and downplay the young man’s tragic fate. Journalists, activists and a parliamentary observer who were all eye-witnesses of the terrible scenes did not hear any of these derogatory chants as taz-reporter Annett Selle and others claimed. In fact occupiers came down from their trees despite police on the ground, fell to their knees, prayed and cried. Weeks after repeatedly claiming these false facts Reul had to admit that he was wrong.
Hundreds of Trees Logged Off-Season in Hambach Forest
Although the court had not decided yet that logging would be legal, RWE logged hundreds of trees, leaving clearings and large forest aisles where there was a thick canopy far away from the road. RWE received help and great support from often over-ambitious police forces.
I could continue this list by far. Maybe I will some day. For now, this should give you a first impression of how contemporary Germany tackles climate change issues from the governmental side. Luckily many citizens are smarter than the government. So much negativity in this post calls for a positive note in the end:
Anonymous Hackers Crashed RWE Website
On September 24th the website of the energy company RWE was completely out of service. Here is a screenshot I took on that day. Hackers of the group Anonymous published a video in which an avatar threatened the group would attack the website and corporate servers as long as RWE was destroying the climate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dR29RdUUiU. The RWE website was up and running again after a few days.
Forest Pictures: http://www.studentoftheworld.de/index.php/photo-gallery/
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