Some context: Why I took the long way to Lützerath
280 million tonnes of coal. This is how much the German Government wants to allow major energy company RWE to dig up beneath the small village of Lützerath, which should be razed to the ground for that plan. The expansion of coal mining will make Germany fail to comply with the 1.5-degree climate target to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The government’s narrative is that we need additional coal for energy security.
Scientists heavily doubt this: “In view of the climate policy framework, there is neither an energy industry nor an energy policy necessity for (…) development of further open pit fields in the Garzweiler II open pit mine.”, finds a study of the German Institute for Economic Research.
I would not call myself a climate activist. In daily life, I make some efforts to foster sustainability and occasionally attend protests. But that decision left me with a new dimension of disappointment. Having elected the green party (plus being a member), I believed that they would take climate action instead of buying into deals like this. I believed that, as a new member of the government, they would make climate issues number one on their agenda. Damn was I wrong. So I decided I can’t just act as paralyzed as I felt and accept what is going on by inaction.
A trip into the unknown: On the road to “Lützi”
5.20 AM I wake up tired but excited. No need to snooze. My social media feed is full of information on today’s climate demonstrations in Lützerath, a small village in the German Ruhr Area. One last time, I read the preparatory mail from Fridays For Future: Bring waterproof clothes. Enough to eat and drink for the day. Here is your bus ticket. I have no idea what will await me in “Lützi”, how people lovingly call the village.
6.00 AM Nervous and euphoric, I walk to the meeting point in front of the city hall. The city is calm and dark. A large crowd is standing in front of the city hall in Hannover, North Germany. Alone from my hometown, six buses with 450 people go on the four-hour ride to Lützerath. The crowd is of all ages: Student groups, families, young couples, old couples, and friends. I thought about the masses of people that will come from all sky directions to protest against the coal expansion planned by the German government.
6.30 AM We wait to get on the busses organized by Fridays For Future and various other associations. All is pretty well organized. People are queuing and showing QR codesto get their seats.
9.00 AM The organization goes great and quite noiseless. Vegan snacks are shared on the bus while people get to know each other. Which I really welcome as I came alone. I thought this would be totally normal. Oops, turns out it was not. Most people showed up in groups. However, I was integrated after some minutes. Cheers to great community spirit!
Arrival at the demo area
12.00 PM Few kilometers from the demonstration site, streets are lined with demonstrators. They carry instruments, posters, and the sign of recognition for the Lützerath protests: The yellow X. What a feeling to see these masses standing up for the same cause!
12.30 PM Slightly delayed, we arrive at the starting point of the demo. We are asked to get off the bus fast to make space for the next busses waiting in line. Everything gets a little chaotic. I lose everyone I went on the bus with. It starts to rain heavily. No one is impressed. We are on a mission.
Ghost towns and a great community spirit
1.00 PM I am now marching with a group from South Germany. Turns out we were dropped off some kilometers from Lützerath and have to walk the way down there. However, the walks on the street between the fields feel like a festival. People are standing together, chanting and dancing. There are colorful flags everywhere and German Carnivalists is playing drums.
2.00 PM Our route leads us through the villages close to the pit mine. The houses are abandoned. Activists hung posters in the windows and on the walls. To the sides of the streets, there are musicians, speakers, and people handing tea to the protestors. How can people create such a positive atmosphere here, in these ghost towns, and around such negative and depressing topics? Community fuels hope.
I saw Greta Thunberg
3.00 PM We finally arrive on the field next to the pit mine. Heavy wind is blowing, it rains, and our shoes are covered in mud. There is a stage somewhere in the middle of a huge crowd of people. And lots of police.
Suddenly, I hear her voice: Greta Thunberg just starts her speech on climate action. On the failure of the German government to act against the climate crisis. On their task to take on responsibility and show fossil companies that business as usual is not possible anymore. “You are the change. You are the hope”, she shouts to the crowd. Which feels empowering and sad at the same time.
“You are the change. You are the hope.” — Greta Thunberg in Lützerath
4.00 PM We walk around the pit mine, which just has an insane dimension that the eyes (and certainly no photo) can capture. People are helping each other to walk through the muddy fields as now and then, someone gets stuck. Some people even lost their shoes and walk barefoot. Some hundred meters away, we see police chains standing vis-à-vis climate activists. We do not attend the front line as we have to walk back to the bus station — seven kilometers away from where we are.
Climate action: Hard work and a rewarding feeling
5.30 PM I walk through three villages to find my bus. I had to say goodbye to the South German people as they had to leave in another direction. It gets dark as I finally arrive at the meeting point and realize I forgot to eat and drink since I got off the bus.
6.30 PM On the way back, everyone shares impressions of the day: Feelings of strength and estrangement. The estrangement of having to protest against fossil fuels despite all that climate science and the green party being part of the government. Most of us forgot to eat and drink, had cold feet and a warm heart experiencing so much solidarity and team spirit. And everyone is sure: It matters that we took the trip to Lützerath. It matters that we fight a fossil agenda. It matters that we carry on climate action. Each of us. Keeping that spirit is hard work. And it’s worth it.
11.10 PM At home, I do not have any thoughts anymore. I just fall on my bed and sleep for eleven hours straight.
Takeaways: I might become more of an activist
Five days later, I am still overwhelmed and trying to grasp everything that happened on that day.
There are some things I know for sure: Will I drive far for attending climate protests again? Definitely. Alone as well? Yup. Do I feel empowered to take more climate action? Hell yes!
Being a person largely concerned with the climate crisis can feel helpless and depressing at points. Translating those thoughts into concrete doings, like attending the Lützerath demo, brings me from anxiety to action. And acting in line with my own values transforms my worries into pride. It gives me a sense of empowerment and heaps of good energy.
It is an uncomfortable road, but I am not alone. We are many. We stand up for a better future. And we will get there.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Mika Baumeister on Unspalsh