• Germany's news in English
 

German coal mine turns village into ghost town

Published: 08 Sep 2013 09:25 GMT+02:00

The tiny western German ghost town of Immerath is making room for the hungry excavators of one of the country's biggest coal mines.

In this rural area wedged between the Ruhr metropolitan area and the Dutch border, Immerath and nearby towns will soon be wiped off the map to allow energy giant RWE to enlarge its huge open-pit lignite mine of Garzweiler.

Producing coal is once again lucrative amid a sluggish market for CO2 certificates. Lignite extracted at Garzweiler directly feeds the RWE plants, which are belching white smoke into the sky.

The site of Garzweiler I, in operation since 1983, has had its day. It is being filled in progressively with earth dug out of Garzweiler II, which will measure 48 square kilometres.

Between them the old and the new pit are the size of central Paris.

Some 7,600 people are being moved in all. Of Immerath's 900 inhabitants, about 100 are still waiting to leave. The rest have resettled into Immerath-Neu (New Immerath), which has sprung out of the ground in the same district of Erkelenz, or gone elsewhere.

Their dead have been relocated to a new cemetery here, and a new school and

kindergarten have been built. However, there is no church to replace the old one which will be deconsecrated after a final service in October and razed to the ground like the rest of the town.

"It breaks my heart," said Hans-Willi Peters, who lives in a nearby village and will have to decide shortly whether to move like his neighbours or start a new life elsewhere.

"My wife and I change our minds every day," said the early retiree, who sits on a "citizens committee" responsible for assisting the trans-settlement.

RWE is financing the entire operation but does not want to reveal the cost.

One thing is certain: as the price of pollution rights has collapsed on the European market, and after Germany announced its phase-out of nuclear power, lignite extracted from Garzweiler has a bright future.

As an unintended side effect of Germany's "energy transition", the pollutant coal accounts for 40 percent of electricity production in the country, against 25 percent on average in Europe.

The licence granted to RWE allows the energy giant to extract 1.3 billion tonnes of lignite by 2045 on the site.

Even here, where the landscape is disfigured and noise and dust are part of daily life, "people realise that without coal, we would have a problem" in meeting Germany's electricity needs, said Hans-Heiner Gotzen, first deputy mayor of Erkelenz.

Since early June, Germany's Constitutional Court, the highest in the country, has considered the legality of the resettlement following a complaint from a resident of Immerath and an environmental organisation.

The plaintiffs argue that coal mining is not of paramount public interest and that there are therefore insufficient grounds to justify the public resettlement.

They say coal mining is not required to ensure the country's energy supply, a conclusion the economic research institute DIW also arrived at in a recent report.

But the judges are unlikely to take a position on the thorny issue in their decision expected in the next few months.

"The court will insist on respect of private interests" but not revoke the licence granted to RWE, predicted Gotzen.

It must be acknowledged that the company "does things well, professionally

and in a structured way", with strong stakeholder involvement, said Jürgen

Schoebel, responsible for the movement of the villages on behalf of the

municipality.

He said that some time ago he received a group of Chinese who came to see

how the Germans managed the evacuation of villages, a phenomenon common in

China on a much larger scale.

"Their eyes widened with amazement" at how RWE is taking care of the residents, said Schoebel.

AFP

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
North Korea mistakenly outraged at Berlinale
Kim Jong Un has accidentally wounded his dignity while trying to stop his dignity being wounded. Photo: DPA

North Korea mistakenly outraged at Berlinale

North Korea turned harsh diplomatic language against Berlin's film festival in the mistaken belief that The Interview, the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy about a murder plot against dictator Kim Jong Un, will be screened there. READ  

Let's officialize Muslim community: Berlin mayor
Muslims at prayer in Berlin's Sehitlik mosque. Photo: DPA

Let's officialize Muslim community: Berlin mayor

SPD party leader Raed Saleh wants to create a contract with the Muslim community similar to the one between the town hall and Christian and Jewish groups that grants them official status. READ  

Cities see slower house price growth
Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg. Photo: DPA

Cities see slower house price growth

A trend for ever-faster growth in house prices across Germany was reversed in 2014, as prices rose by four percent compared with seven the previous year 2013. READ  

Court probes abuse at Catholic boarding school
The monk at his court appearance in Munich on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Court probes abuse at Catholic boarding school

A monk and former teacher at a boarding school in the Bavarian alps pleaded not guilty on Thursday at his trial for abusing two pupils and attempted abuse of two more. READ  

'Fight harder' against corruption: activists
Bribery photo: Shutterstock

'Fight harder' against corruption: activists

Campaigners say the states can do more to fight corruption after a report showed that Brandenburg, Saarland, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg had the highest numbers of cases. READ  

Renzi woos Merkel amid Florentine splendour
Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi speaking in Florence. Photo: DPA

Renzi woos Merkel amid Florentine splendour

The eurozone's deep divisions were set to be given an airing in Florence on Friday as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel days before crucial elections in Greece. READ  

Merkel offers Russia free-trade agreement
Photos: DPA

Merkel offers Russia free-trade agreement

Germany would be prepared to negotiate a free-trade agreement between the European Union and Russia as a way out of the deadlocked Ukraine conflict, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday. READ  

Get more 'gigaliners' on roads: Minister
Photo: DPA

Get more 'gigaliners' on roads: Minister

Environmentalists and train companies reacted with outrage to Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt's plan to allow more giant "gigaliner" trucks on motorways before they've passed a trial period. READ  

Police arrest suspect in asylum seeker murder
Demonstrators in Dresden with photos of murder victim Khaled Idris Bahray

Police arrest suspect in asylum seeker murder

Police in Dresden have arrested a man on suspicion of killing his flatmate, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, on Monday January 12th. READ  

Meet the women fighting German tabloid sexism
Photo: DPA

Meet the women fighting German tabloid sexism

After a false dawn for campaigners against daily topless models in Britain's Sun newspaper, The Local talks to the women campaigning against sexism in Germany's biggest-selling tabloid. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

1,438
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd