• Germany edition
 
German coal mine turns village into ghost town

German coal mine turns village into ghost town

Published: 08 Sep 2013 09:25 GMT+02:00
Updated: 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 braces for storms and floods
Cars waiting to be loaded onto the ferry at Bremerhaven, Lower Saxony, were caught in flooding on Wendnesday. Photo: DPA

North braces for storms and floods

UPDATE: The remnants of hurricane Gonzalo have drifted across the Atlantic and are now threatening North German cities with flooding, forecasters warned on Wednesday. The news followed a night of accidents caused by heavy winds in southern Germany. READ  

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall
US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Berlin Wall. Photo: DPA

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited remnants of the Berlin Wall on Wednesday and warned that East-West tensions again threaten freedom in Europe, 25 years after its collapse. READ  

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Sonneborn in the EU Parliament. Photo: DPA

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train

Martin Sonneborn can’t believe his luck. The German comedian, leader of the political party “Die Partei”, managed to get elected to the European Parliament in May, and has found himself overwhelmed with fresh material. READ  

The Local List
Which high school cliche is your city?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock

Which high school cliche is your city?

This week's Local List takes a leap of imagination and finds German cities fit perfectly into high school cliche categories. Who's the class clown? Who's the nerd? READ  

Indian schools drop German teaching
Indian pupils enrolled in German classes prepare for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to their school. Photo: DPA

Indian schools drop German teaching

Thousands of children in India will no longer be taught German after the country's education ministry allowed a contract to lapse. READ  

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt
A passenger plane landing at Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt

Three teenage girls from Colorado were arrested by German police at Frankfurt airport after running away from home, reportedly on their way to join Isis in Syria. READ  

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine
Tuesday night's rescue operation Photo: DPA

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine

Six people, including a family and two American tourists, were left dangling 40 metres in the air over the Rhine for hours late on Tuesday after Cologne's cable car came to a halt. READ  

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome
Arjen Robben celebrates the first goal against AS Roma. Photo: DPA

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome

Bayern Munich were elated on Tuesday night after securing a 7-1 victory against Roma in their group stage Champions League clash. READ  

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast
A preserved World War II U-Boat on the beach near Kiel, Germany. Photo: DPA

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast

A World War II German U-boat and an American merchant vessel it sank in battle have been found deep in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, officials said on Tuesday. READ  

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?
Coming soon? Photo: DPA

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?

Berlin's bid to set up a free city-wide wireless network has so far come to nothing. But city bosses are now trying for a fourth time - and hope to have the project running next year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
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

3,491
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd