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Germany Razes 20 Villages For Massive Opencast Coal Mine

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Once the Garzweiler opencast mine is finished, 20 villages will have gone.

For four generations, Portz family life has focused around a quaint, red-brick farmhouse and the fertile fields beyond, ready for early harvest after this summer’s high heat.

Soon, the family will pull its last potato and final spike of grain from the rich Immerath soil.

Big coal is coming to replace their agrarian way of life.

The Portz matriarch puts on a brave face as she folds laundry in her flower-packed yard, the ground strewn with toys.

“It’s always jolly here,” Christiane Portz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, interrupted by a chatter of grandchildren who make noisily for the stable.

The singsong voices, the spill of toys – everything will go when the home is bulldozed and replaced with a vast coal mine.

Immerath, once a small village of 1,200 in Germany’s western frontier, host to both farms and industry, has fallen quiet.

The Portz family is one of the last households still in situ; they live among piles of rubble after neighbouring families were resettled 12 k west at New Immerath.

A sign reads the name of the village upon entering in Immerath, Germany on 19 July 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Stefanie Glinski


Roughly 1.3 billion tons of lignite – a soft coal – were discovered long ago under the village and its surrounding land in Germany’s North Rhine Westphalia state. Few locals took the threat seriously, so life continued until development of the mine became reality and villages were lined up for destruction.

Immerath is one of the last to make way for the expansion of Garzweiler opencast mine, which is run by giant German energy provider RWE, supplying one third of Germany’s overall power.

Once Garzweiler is finished, 20 villages will have gone.

Under the scheme, some 5,000 people will be forced to move, compensated with either a new house or cash. RWE says almost half of locals just take the money.

“Our expectation is that Garzweiler will be open until the middle of the century,” RWE press officer Guido Steffen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Germany is making radical changes, but even in the long run, in order to provide energy, we can’t forgo conventional power plants.”

Once finished, the company website says the mine will cover an operating surface of about 32 sq km. The size of the approved mining field is 114 sq km, it says.

The plan to expand was no shock for locals. It was back in the 1960s when nearby villages first made way for coal extraction, despite loud community protests, and protesters say the march of commerce over community continues nationwide.

Germany’s Environmental Agency says the Federal Mining Act prioritises the extraction of raw materials over the interests of the common good.

Since 1945, hundreds of villages yielded to a growing need for energy, with 40 percent of Germany’s power coming from coal.

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see also GWPF coverage of Germany’s coal shenanigans