‘Last resort’: Berlin activists go on hunger strike for climate

In late August, six young climate activists set up tents on a stretch of grass between the Reichstag and the chancellery in central Berlin, refusing to eat.

'Last resort': Berlin activists go on hunger strike for climate

More than two weeks later, some look pale and emaciated. One collapsed on Tuesday. Another broke down in tears as medics performed a daily check of their weight and blood pressure.

Neither have they achieved their chief objective – a meeting with the three main candidates vying to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor when Germany goes to the polls on September 26th.

“The climate crisis kills. We are on hunger strike for an unlimited period of time,” a banner strewn across one of the tents proclaims in large red letters.

The activists want to meet conservative Armin Laschet, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz and the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock.

All three parties have made climate policy a key issue in their campaigning, and the Greens have even pledged to make climate neutrality the top priority of the next government.

READ ALSO: Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

But the activists say it’s not enough. For Jacob Heinze, none of the major parties is prepared “to take the necessary measures to protect us, the younger generation, from the catastrophe” that is unfolding.

‘Time bomb’

They also want the next German government to set up a committee of citizens representing the whole spectrum of society to develop measures to protect the environment.

The hunger strike is a “last resort… in the face of the extreme seriousness of our situation”, the 27-year-old told AFP, long hair tied back from his gaunt face.

Just hours later, he was taken to hospital after collapsing.

“We are sitting on a time bomb,” said Hannah Luebbert, a 20-year-old activist who is part of the support team. “If we don’t change things quickly, in a few years it will be too late.”

Hunger striking climate activists gather outside the Reichstag on September 13th, 2021. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP

For evidence of this, according to the activists, you only have to look at the deadly floods that swept through western Germany in July, which experts have directly linked to climate change.

Global warming will also bring famine, they say, hence the idea of voluntary starvation.

“Food security is not something we can take for granted. We are heading for wars over the distribution of food, water and land,” said Heinze.

The school and university students aged between 18 and 27 from all over Germany believe they belong to “the last generation” that can still take action.

‘Grim and hard’

After that, they say, scientific research has shown that the dramatic consequences of global warming will become irreversible.

For them, civil disobedience movements like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future do not go far enough. Some have already carried out drastic stunts such as scaling political buildings or chaining themselves to the streets to block traffic.

READ ALSO: German climate groups plan legal action against car giants

“But we have seen that these different forms of action have not led to any change” at the political level, Luebbert said.

Gathered in a circle on the lawn, some of the activists chose to remain inside the tents that have become their makeshift homes. On the 15th day of their strike, they decided to up the ante by giving up the vitamin drinks they had been taking.

“I think we’re noticing the aftermath and next week is going to be really grim and hard,” says Henning Jeschke, an activist who has posted several videos of the action on Twitter.

The only response they have had so far is a phone call from Baerbock. “But even with the Greens we will not meet the climate targets we have to meet,” said Luebbert.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German city residents sue government over air pollution

Seven residents in Germany are taking the government to court over the poor air quality around their homes, an organisation representing them said on Monday.

German city residents sue government over air pollution

The residents of Berlin, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich believe current government legislation is “demonstrably inadequate to protect people’s health”, according to the organisation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).

Levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Germany are up to five times higher than the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to DUH.

The complainants are calling for immediate action to bring about “a reduction in dangerous air pollutants from, among other things, traffic, wood burning and agriculture”, said Juergen Resch, national director of DUH.

“Politicians are doing too little to protect people like me who live on a busy road,” said complainant Volker Becker-Battaglia, from Munich.

This time last year, a new coalition government was elected in Germany on a promise to make environmental concerns one of its top priorities.

READ ALSO: Germany should ditch Christmas lights this year, says environmental group

The Greens entered power for the first time in more than two decades, promising that Germany would end coal power and generate 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

But since then, climate concerns have been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, an acute energy crisis and record inflation.

Germany has accelerated plans to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) by sea and has even decided to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants.

In 2021, climate activists won a landmark victory in Germany when the constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate plans were insufficient and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

German environmental groups also last year announced a legal offensive against car giants Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW over their emissions.