One Struggle! One Fight! Ende Gelände, Hambi Bleibt!”

[end of story, hambi lives!]
By Alex Johnston
Protesters in Germany wearing white overalls march with banner that reads 'Burn borders not coal'

That was the rallying cry of 6500 people, marching out of a campsite and into the German countryside on Saturday 27th October. I was lucky enough to be one of them and the feeling was electric.

As we marched, on one side towered giant wind turbines; on the other horizon stood enormous chimney stacks from the nearby coal power station, pumping a huge plume of emissions into the sky. A few kilometres ahead was the 43km2 Hambacher mine, Germany’s largest lignite coal mine owned by energy company RWE. It sits on the site of the ancient Hambach (or Hambi) forest, of which only 10% remains.

Our destination was the train tracks carrying coal from the mine to the power station. Our goal was to block them. 3000 German police in riot gear were mobilised to stop us, equipped with water cannons, pepper spray and batons.

Protesters in Germany hold hands as they march into coal mine, police on horses surround.

This setting brought the climate crisis into such prescient reality. Such an enormous mine causing such destruction required an equally large mobilisation to shut it down; and that is what the Ende Gelände movement is providing.

Since 2015, Ende Gelände has been a mobilisation of thousands of everyday people from across Europe taking part in civil disobedience to shut down fossil fuel infrastructure and force a fossil fuel phase out. The latest IPCC 1.5 degrees climate change report has outlined with clear science the life-preserving urgency of ending fossil fuel expansion and rapidly transitioning to 100% renewable energy. Yet the German Coal Exit Commission’s deliberations ring hollow while RWE continues expanding the mine and attempting to fell the remaining forest, with support by state police to evict activists living there. Only mass mobilisations of people and an interim court order to halt tree-felling stand in the way.

Some of the people I stood beside at Ende Gelände were taking part in their first direct action, for others it was their fourth time there. Though many of us were nervous, there were well organised structures in place to prepare for potential police confrontation and arrest, and to recover from it afterwards (such as foot massages and counselling back at the camp). The solidarity engendered among strangers all pitching in to do this together was enough to make me feel comfortable with whatever we were met with.

Protesters block train track from coal mine in Germany. Two protesters hug on the in the foreground. On the hill a banner reads "End Coal Now"

The sheer volume of people taking part heightened the chance of success. Though the group of 1000 I was with got stopped by police and herded back to camp, 3000 others got to the train tracks that day, and 1500 slept on them overnight. Each ‘finger’ of activists contributed to this success by spreading police resources and enabling others to reach the destination. Coal was not taken from the mine for 22 hours. Widespread coverage in German and European media talked positively of the activism, expanding the public’s imagination about a fossil free future, and further highlighting the issues that need to be confronted by the German Coal Exit Commission urgently.

Back at the camp, some of us debriefed around campfires and cups of tea, while others danced into the night.

The structures that maintain the status quo were powerful, but our collective power was, and is stronger. Massive, repeated bold action by everyday people such is this is the appropriate response to the climate injustice that is before us. But I wholeheartedly believe it is also the most empowering way of taking action on climate change we have.

So next time 350 Aotearoa puts the call out for a fossil free campaign action, are you up for it? Click here to get involved here!

[Images and video from Ende Gelände facebook page]