The last remaining tree house village ‘Lorien’ is evicted by police special forces, September 27, 2018 © Daniel Chatard www.chatard.de
the end of last summer, when RWE announced that it would start clearing the forest. Local authorities began to forcibly remove the occupiers from their treehouses on the grounds of insufficient fire safety, which, oddly, had not been a concern during the extremely dry summer. About 3,000 police guarded the forest day and night as specialist climbers painstakingly dragged the activists from their treetop homes, some of them 25–30 metres above the ground. The operation cost millions of euros and generated a vast amount of media attention. In polls 75% of Germans said they opposed the destruction of the forest. More anger was sparked when a young journalist died after he fell from a rope bridge between treehouses.
The grotesque spectacle motivated people across Germany to act. “Totally unnecessary,” says Sandra, who travelled to the protest from Cologne. “Simply a display of power by the state government. This really worked me up and led me to take a closer look at what was going on. I wasn’t an environmental activist beforehand. The evictions of the treehouses moved me to get involved.”
Public outrage grew. Spurred on by the hashtag #hambibleibt, thousands headed to the forest every weekend to demand that the state stop doing the corporation’s dirty work. By the end of September some 88 treehouses had been destroyed. RWE was to start cutting down trees around October 15. Then, on October 5, the eve of the big protest, the good news arrived: the Higher Administrative Court in Münster had ordered RWE to suspend all work until a case filed by BUND was properly reviewed. The environmentalists’ lawyers argued that Hambach Forest was covered by an EU directive because it is the habitat of 142 protected animal species, including the endangered Bechstein’s bat. RWE said it would lose €100 million in earnings as a result of the ruling. Its share price plummeted.
The police stepped back and allowed 50,000 people to congregate peacefully to celebrate the stunning, if temporary, victory. It could take two years before the court makes its final decision, giving the forest another chance to live – and Germany a chance to come up with a more ambitious climate policy. The battle against coal is far from over. Activists have little faith in the coal commission. Some have begun to build new treehouses.
For Sandra, Hambach symbolises a new spirit of solidarity. “All kinds of people are here: environmental activists, middle-class people, Christians, leftists. Everyone is working towards a shared goal. Just to feel that strength gives me hope – no matter what issue is on the table – that people can mobilise quickly and make things happen together.”
Maurice Frank is a freelance journalist based in Germany.
Resurgence & Ecologist