I didn’t fall in love with Germany, it’s verdure and general leafyness like lightning. It has been a slow burn that started with Leipzig’s parks and Saxony’s wonders. The flame kindled on in Petersthal in Bavaria where I lived in a yurt for about a month and ate my breakfast every morning on a set of four steps overlooking Peter’s Valley. I’m not sure who Peter is but his valley has fewer inhabitants than hill-roaming cattle.
My flickering adoration, I’ve come to realise, isn’t for Germany but for the world and anything that respects, lives or reminds me of nature. But it is since living in Germany that I’ve been wildly impressed by the amount of people who voice the issues that beg attention and breathe severity.
The first demonstration I ever saw was in Leipzig in 2009. We heard them before we saw them. “That’ll be the neo-nazis”, said someone in the group. “Actually, it’s the Gegenbewegung”, corrected a stranger. “The shouting you can hear? That’s the counter demonstration”. In Germany, I’ve witnessed more citizens using their voice than I did during my twenty years spent living in the UK. Maybe I’m just more aware of it now or maybe I care enough to notice.
The topics span society. People call out against privitizations that turn cultural centres into elite care homes. They oppose the AfD and debate whether Trier should accept the giant Karl Marx statue gifted to the city by the Chinese. They call for human rights; for Europe to retain its pulse; for migrants to be welcomed into safe harbours and, most recently, people are speaking out for the world itself.
The first climate demonstration I heard of both tainted my love for Germany and sharpened it. In October 2018 I learnt about Europe’s largest open-pit coal mine in the Hambach Forest which lies between Aachen and Cologne. Its existance came to my attention because of six thousand activists who travelled to the forest to protest its destruction for coal extraction.
RWE, one of Germany’s largest electricity producers, purchased the land in 1978. The nearly 12,000 year old forest has been uprooted and of the original 5,500 hectares, less than a tenth remains. “How could that have even been an option?”, I still ask myself in disbelief.
Since 2012 the forest has been occupied by activists who have built and inhabit tree houses. Although RWE say they will restart logging at some point in the future, activist presence in the forest has successfully interrupted its annihilation. You can’t tear down a forest if people are living in it.
The Hambach mine is Europe’s biggest lignite coal mine and largest coal extractor. In June this year, thousands of people protested in the coal fields of the Rheinland where most of the forest once stood. The occupying of the mine was lead by Ende Gelände (a play on words: figuratively means “that’s it!/ we’ve had enough” and literally “end of land”), an alliance of anti-coal activists who entered the mine, sat on the tracks and, even if but briefly, stunted the process that dribbles carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
It broke my heart when I realised the Green Germany I had in my mind was a myth. I only saw fairytale forests and nature reserves and was completely oblivious to Germany’s coal-centric reality in which 40% of the country’s electricity is produced by a fossil fuel that should stay burried.
What repairs me are the people living in the forests and descending into open-pit mines, some of whom I’m proud to know and praise. They are regreening my sight. They are the heroes of the climate movement and with each day the forest stays standing, with each day coal-carrying trains can’t run, they are actively keeping carbon where it should be and that’s in the trees and in the ground.
I have to agree with Extinction Rebellion member and conservation lecturer at the University of Kent, Charlie Gardner: “The fact that some people are prepared to make such a big sacrifice, that they are putting themselves in a position of arrest, very clearly illustrates just how big an issue this is”.
I’ll honestly say I’m too scared to come into contact with police but I do walk with the thousands in the Fridays for Future demonstrations. If you haven’t already heard of Fridays for Future, this is the worldwide school strike instigated by Greta Thunberg who began striking for the climate outside the Swedish parliament last year.
The climate revolution we’re witnessing is the product of living in a society centrered around growth, a society of bigger and better and faster. I support Extinction Rebellion and Ende Gelände because they are two groups that are one by one popping bubbles that convince us we are happy, safe and secure. Shutting down cities, coal mines, airports and road-building projects adds a kink to the otherwise gradually rising curve of capital expansion and for a short while, for a day, a weekend or an hour, they are giving the environment a chance to recuperate from being plundered.
It’s our turn to use our democracy. We have voices and I am in awe of those who are filling the streets by the thousands to practice their democracy. I love local projects and initiatives. There are so many to witness and join. I’ve been in Marburg for hardly a week and have already heard about an alternative community just outside the city, education for sustainable development and transporter- bikes that you can rent for free, one of which I’ll be renting to move house!
Alongside Friday for Futurers are people holding banners and signs that read: Parents for Future, Grandparents for Future, Scientists for Future and Everyone for Future. Where do you stand?
The open-pit mine between Aachen and Cologne.
A tree house in the Hambach Forest.
Activists at the coal mine.