Inside Keyenberg: Hope For Our Home

A view of the lignite mine Garzweiler II, in Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany
Garzweiler II in September 2018. Credits: Nico Scagliarini

The project „Inside Keyenberg“ is an innovative approach to today’s climate disasters in Germany, initiated by our co-founder Estrella. By 2018, when we started the project, climate change was already a big topic in the media. However, hardly anything covered how governmental decisions for Germany would affect it, especially concerning coal mining. In fact, while Germany has been taking big steps forward in the generation of renewable energy and away from nuclear power in recent years, the coal industry has kept growing steadily, along with its CO2 emissions and, in addition, continues profiting from subsidies. 

During the Climate Reality Leadership Training in June 2018, we were very moved by Norbert Winzen’s speech. He didn’t represent a bank or an organization or an institute, unlike the other speakers. Instead, he represented perhaps something worth a lot more: his home. He was “just” a simple resident in Keyenberg. He told us his story, how his entire life and livelihood are threatened by the expansion of RWE’s coal mine “Garzweiler”. We learned that tens of thousands of Germans were forced to relocate in the past years, causing social bonds to break irreparably and lives to change, usually for the worse. Especially elders, who spent all their lives in their cherished hometowns, have been suffering from severe psychological stress and died shortly upon hearing the devastating news. Upon searching the web after Norbert’s speech, we didn’t find any media displaying the hardships of the town-citizens living near coal mines. The available documentaries tended to be rather neutral, not very sentimental, and quite long. We really wanted to spread the word about what was happening in Keyenberg, but felt rather hopeless due to the lack of coverage. So we decided to create our own awareness campaign: a team of Climate Reality Leaders (Estrella, Nico, Andrea, Jenny, Bruno) decided to create a series of short films that show the widely unknown dark side of the coal mining in Germany by using images that would move the audience emotionally, leveraging empathy.

Ivonne Kremers, resident of Keyenberg, with her son/Credits: Nico Scaglliarini

The goal

With these videos, we want to tell the story of the people who live in Keyenberg: a town that is undergoing relocation because of the expansion of the Garzweiler lignite mine. Some people have already left, while many others are still fighting. We want to help them save their home by spreading awareness and compelling people to take action. We want to give hope, engage the audience to act and empower them to act together for our future, focusing on three topics:

  • Effects on the local nature and landscape as well as on global warming
  • The connection between the social justice aspect of entire communities being driven out of their homelands and climate change
  • Effect of the relocation on the psychological and physical of the residents

We travelled to Keyenberg twice and were hosted by Norbert Winzen himself who agreed to show us around. We were immediately shocked by what we saw. The mine was eating away, like cancer, at the beautiful landscape. Over the mine, we saw a small yellowish cloud full of toxins that obviously were already in our lungs. RWE managed to make the “viewing points” into some tourist attraction, selling their destruction as a “green project”. Even an ice cream truck came around to the delight of the visiting families with children. We also visited the town of Immerath that in January 2018 suffered the fate that stood before Keyenberg and saw its last residents move out. A town patrolled by  RWE, private security with the purpose of intimidating activists and press, filled with empty houses with broken windows and doors, a church that has been torn apart down, graves that have been hollowed, and wild plants taking over once curated gardens. A ghost town. Around the entire area, we found water pumps that were placed to suck out the water out of the ground so the coal mining could advance. Due to this, trees and crops dried up and animals disappeared. As we passed fields of dead sunflowers, we were close to tears. After interviewing several local residents we had enough material to return to Hamburg and put together the Trailer and the firsts Video. Nico and Federico returned to Keyenberg in February 2019 to film an update of the situation. The mine has grown. In fact, you could already see it close to Norbert’s house. Thankfully, a big movement has started: “Alle Dörfer Bleiben” is fighting for the protection of towns all over Germany like Keyenberg.

Acknowledgements


Trailer

Inside Keyenberg – Trailer

Part 1 – Nature

Inside Keyenberg – Part 1

This video focuses on the disastrous effects coal mining has on the landscape, on nature and on our precious ecosystem. Not only were large areas of the ancient (and now protected) Hambach Forest was irreversibly destroyed, the mining also interfered with all other surrounding ecosystems. To sustain the mining, water pumps have been placed kilometres away from the mine to lower groundwater levels. As a result, trees have stopped growing, fields have dried up, and areas that were “overflowing with life” are now empty. 

Part 2 – Social (in)Justice

Inside Keyenberg – Part 2

Apart from the issues discussed in the first video, which are directly related to coal mining (or any type of mining for that fact), this video focuses on the locals. In Germany, lignite continues to be subsidized for the “common good” and thousands of Germans are losing their homes – 120.000 people since WWII and counting. Lignite mines not only irreversibly damage the beautiful landscape, but are also a statement of social injustice. Social structures are broken, living conditions deteriorate, many are forced to do professional retraining for jobs that they don’t want, while monuments and landmarks such as cemeteries are destroyed. 

Part 3 – Our Health

Inside Keyenberg – Part 3