Last coal marks end of Saarland mining

An era quietly ended on Friday when the last coal was brought up from the west German Saarland region.

Last coal marks end of Saarland mining
Photo: DPA

The last ten wagons of around 1,000 tonnes of coal trundled out of the Duhamel shaft, marking the end of a 250-year history of mining in the region.

Mine director Friedrich Breinig spoke of a, “cesura of an epochal time.”

“There is hardly a family on the Saar River which never had anyone working in a mine,” he said according to the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper.

Miners will continue to work at the mine until the middle of next year – filling it with concrete. Some will then move to the North Rhine-Westphalian town of Ibbenbüren and work in mining there where it is expected to continue until 2018.

Of the nearly 5,000 workers, around 450 have already moved there – and will be joined by a further 1,350 by mid-2013.

He said mining had been the impulse for the economic and social development of the region and that in the last 250 years around 1.5 billion tonnes had been excavated.

The closure was described by Left party state parliamentary leader Oskar Lafontaine as a “major mistake”. He said a centuries-old tradition was being ended without a watertight policy in place to replace what was being lost to energy generation. He said energy producers and other industries in the region were being endangered.

Yet it was greeted by national head of the Green party Cem Özdemir as symbolic of the end of centralised energy supply. He said the future lay in renewable energy sources as well as intelligent network and storage ideas.

DAPD/The Local/hc

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‘Psychological terror’: The German villages threatened by coal mine expansion

Germany is on course to abandon coal-fired power stations but ironically one mine is being allowed to expand - to the fury of local residents who describe the battle to save their homes as "psychological terror".

'Psychological terror': The German villages threatened by coal mine expansion
Police look on as activists stage a sit-in protest against the destruction of the road L277 between Lützerath and Keyenberg near the Garzweiler coal mine in western Germany. AFP

Lost in the countryside of western Germany, the innocuously named L277 road has become a central battleground in a bitter fight over the country's plan to ditch coal. 

“It's psychological terror. The L277 was the last road which separated us from the mine. It was our red line, our border,” 29-year-old David Dresen, a resident of Rhineland village Kuckum, told AFP.

Dresen was one of dozens of residents who came out to protest this week, as work began to dismantle the L277.

The road is to be dug up to make way for the expansion of a neighbouring coal mine, with villages such as Kuckum next in line for demolition.

Germany is officially on course to abandon coal-fired power generation by 2038, with the government finalising its fiercely disputed “coal exit law” earlier this month. 

But ironically, the new law has also ringfenced the enormous Garzweiler mine in the Rhine basin from closure, allowing it to resume its expansion march — to the fury of local residents.  

A sign reading “Kuckum stays” is pictured in Kuckum, near the Garzweiler coal mine in western Germany. AFP

Kuckum and neighbouring villages such as Berverath and Keyenberg sit atop untapped sources of brown coal which mine operator and energy company RWE claims will be “needed from 2024”.

While other mines in the region are slated to close by 2030, the coal exit law allows Garzweiler to keep operating, continuing to supply nearby power plants even as they begin to close down in the coming years.

Under RWE's plans, the mine will thus edge closer and closer to villages such as Kuckum, eventually swallowing them up entirely.

“There will be no coal exit for us,” said Dresen.

Paris goals

A compromise hashed out between Germany's ruling centrist coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, the timetable for the so-called “coal exit” has long been criticised by environmentalists. 

Environmental NGOs have slammed the final text of the law — released in early July — as lacking ambition and urgency. 

This picture taken on July 22, 2020, near the Garzweiler coal mine shows a sign indicating the closure of the L277 road between Lützerath and Keyenberg.AFP


They argue that the 2038 deadline is too late if Germany is to fulfil its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. 

The Garzweiler mine is another flashpoint.

The site is regularly occupied by activists from the anti-coal movement, which has grown in significance since Germany's move away from nuclear power in 2011 increased dependence on the fossil fuel.

RWE said that it will be bearing the brunt of the impact of the coal exit and must shut down two-thirds of its power plant capacity in the Rhenish coalfield by 2030.

“The remaining power plants and refineries must continue to be supplied with coal that from 2030 can only be extracted from Garzweiler.

'Lost cause'

For residents like David Dresen, however, it is as much about saving their own homes as saving the planet. 

“I am nearly 30. I have lived all my life on a big farmhouse, where my family has been since the 18th century,” he says. 

Yet the farmhouse is currently set to be torn down with the rest of Kuckum in 2027.

In 2016, the village's residents were officially invited to sell their land to RWE and offered assistance to relocate elsewhere. 

This file photo taken on November 28, 2019 shows the Garzweiler opencast mine of German energy giant RWE in Juechen, western Germany. AFP

Other villages have already disappeared, while some now sit empty, awaiting their impending destruction. 

“It makes you really sad, leaving behind a world that is just being destroyed,” said Fritz Bremer, an elderly Keyenberg resident. 

The 86-year-old believes there is little hope of saving any of the villages.

“I think it's a lost cause. You saw it with the road. People protested, but they dug it up anyway,” he said. 

Yet protester Dresen still holds out hope that Kuckum could be spared such a fate.

“We hope that by 2027, we will have a new government at both federal and regional level, with the Green Party in the coalition,” he says. 

“But if we continue to have a government which doesn't care about climate goals, then it's probably curtains for our village.”