Listen to the Episode — 97 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Hello, and welcome back to the Ex-Worker. In this episode we’re going to share an audio documentary about the Hambacher Forest occupation in Germany. The interviews you’re about to hear were recorded live in the occupied forest and the nearby squatted meadow back in the spring of 2014. We’ll return to our usual format with news, event announcements, reviews, listener feedback and so forth in episode 38 in a couple of weeks. For now, we want to take this full episode to focus on an inspiring example of anti-capitalist and ecological resistance taking place in the Rhineland coal country of western Germany. So come along with us across the Atlantic, and let’s see what we can learn from these woodland squatters who have dared to take on one of the largest polluters in Europe and the full power of the German state.
Clara: The Hambacher Forest has been called “the last primeval forest in Europe”. It has existed continuously for some 12,000 years, the largest forest in the region between the city of Cologne and the Netherlands, although now only a fraction of its original 5,500 hectares remain. Since 1978, energy companies have been devouring it tree by tree, in order to mine brown coal to fuel Germany’s industrial expansion. The remaining chunk of forest, populated by massive hornbeam and oak trees along with several rare or endangered species of animals, has been targeted by the European energy giant RWE. The company has begun digging an incomprehensibly huge open cast mine, displacing entire villages and clear-cutting the last remnants of this once great forest.
But in 2012, a coalition of angry locals, environmental activists, anarchists and squatters began an occupation intended to stop the destruction and protect as much of the remaining forest as possible. Despite extensive surveillance and repression, including multiple waves of evictions, the occupation continues, and has catalyzed widespread support around the region and beyond. In these interviews, two occupiers from the camp describe the political context and recent history of the struggle as well as their personal experiences of the relationships they’ve built with the land and those struggling to defend it. We go beyond the slogans into the intimate life of the forest and its inhabitants - human and otherwise - and into the day to day realities of life under surveillance in a squatted camp. And perhaps most inspiringly, we hear how the necessity to continue resisting goes beyond winning or losing this particular battle - the logic of resistance as a way of life.
As you’ll hear in the interviews, the effort to defend the Hambacher Forest exists at the intersection of many major themes of anti-capitalist, anti-state, and eco-defense struggles. Like the anti-airport occupation at the ZAD in France and the NO TAV campaign of resistance to a high speed train line in Italy, this campaign goes far beyond a single issue or the attempt to defend a specific area from destruction. Instead, it marks the convergence of a cross section of distinct movements, seeking pressure points to interrupt global flows of oppressive power. And in these spaces of cross-pollination, we see the emergence of new strategies, tactics, and visions of resistance and liberation. Whether or not you’ve ever been to Germany or have any particular love for the woods, the Hambacher Forest occupation offers powerful lessons for anyone interested in the struggle for a free world beyond capitalism and authority.
INTERVIEWS FROM THE HAMBACHER FOREST OCCUPATION
Clara: This is Clara from the Ex-Worker, and I’m here in the Hambacher Forest in Germany. It’s springtime, and it’s incredibly beautiful; everything is green, and we can hear birds chirping and animals; we can also hear the sound of the highway in the background. We’re gonna talk today about why folks are occupying the forest and the history of resistance in this area and what folks can do to show solidarity. So…
Occupier 1: This was the way I was walking when I went to bed. It’s a small path going directly to the old occupation, what was evicted now.
Clara: And that was just evicted a couple of weeks ago?
Occupier 1: Yeah, two weeks I think, on the 27th of March. And they also cut the trees instead of just cutting out the treehouses. That was the most horrible thing for me, to hear the trees falling on the ground. Of course, many of them were really, really old, like 250 or 300 years old. It was growing for more or less 250 years, and they cut it off in just 10 minutes, more or less. You cannot really believe that, because you were always touching it with so much love and respect, like… with so soft fingers, you know? Because you really love it and you don’t want to destroy what you love. And it’s so much harder when they just destroy it with such an unrespectful way.
Clara: We’re coming to some kind of clearing. I see…what is that little tower?
Occupier 1: It’s a hunter’s watch. But they don’t hunt anymore in this part around the meadow. Because of us.
Occupier 2: They don’t last long…
Occupier 1: Yeah. The meadow and the forest occupation are also hunting sabotage, indirect and also direct. That’s also one point why I like this way of action - to occupy natural areas, so to say - because it’s not just one action.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FOREST
Clara: Can you tell us about why people are occupying this forest?
Occupier 2: One of the main reasons for occupying this forest is basically to make it as hard as possible for the police and for the company RWE to cut down the forest. Because what they want to do is to extend the hole which is right, actually at this very moment, in the process of swallowing the whole forest and also some villages around it. The purpose of this hole is basically only to get brown coal to produce energy, which is among the most dirty means there are to produce energy. Because it produces a lot of CO2 - carbon dioxide, I mean - and it also produces a lot of toxic dust, which is flying around here making people sick and destroying the nature. Another big side effect of the brown coal mining here is that a lot of the ground water, or actually all the ground water, needs to be pumped away, because otherwise it would fill the mine, since they are digging below 400 or even 500 meters deep. And so they pump up all the water, which is drinking water that is not useable any more because of this, and also it’s drying out the landscape.
Occupier 1: Here you can see the paths of the animals. We are standing in the front of a field - I don’t know, you know how the plant is named? In German it’s farn.
Occupier 1: Ferns, yeah. Right now it is just brown, and you cannot see the young ferns, but you can see a lot of the paths of the animals who are walking through the ferns.
Clara: What kinds of animals live here?
Occupier 1: A lot! Like… I think I don’t know all the English. Wild pigs?
Occupier 2: Wild pigs are among them, wild pigs and deer.
Occupier 1: Deer, deer are here.
Occupier 2: What are those animals with the black and white stripes, but not zebras?
Occupier 1: And the long nose…. hunters really like to hunt them.
Clara: Not zebras?
Occupier 2: Of course, now you have the zebras in the spring!
Clara: There are zebras in the Hambacher forest! defend the endangered zebras of Germany!
Occupier 2: So these, like zebras, only like…
Occupier 1: Not like zebras! They don’t look like horses!
Occupier 2: They dig holes, and live in holes…
Occupier 1: Yeah, right, they are living in holes. They do not look like horses, to make this clear.
Clara: If you see one, please point it out! I’m fascinated. I don’t think we have these zebras that live in holes in the United States.
RWE AND THE BEGINNING OF THE OCCUPATION
Clara: So who is RWE, and what is their role in all this process?
Occupier 2: RWE is in fact one of the five biggest energy producing companies in Europe. They even claim themselves they are the biggest cause of CO2 pollution - even though they would name it a bit different - but they claim that they emit the most carbon dioxide in Europe. They are involved in different ways in producing energy, but also distributing energy. Their biggest focus is on coal mining and coal power plants, and also nuclear power plants. They are a really big force in the area, because they have been here for such a long time and they are such a big player. And also they did remove a lot of people from their homes, which is I think not the easiest thing a company can do. But what they do is they are splitting the communities by different means, such as finding out who are the leaders by taking secret photographs at parties, or things like this, and then getting into individual negotiations with the people about their houses and their property, so that each one of us has the feeling that he is somehow a winner in this whole negotiation, but can’t tell the neighbor because he might have a bit more and doesn’t want to cause any jealousy, stuff like that. Just as one example.
And also RWE is the biggest, or one of the biggest employers in the area, which in total causes a big feeling of disillusion among the people and hopelessness, because they feel that they are so dependent on them and also are fighting against such a big enemy.
But still there all people who are very much outraged and also people who somehow found hope in seeing that the people from other villages or also from cities coming here and occupying and trying different tactics. That also raised a lot of interest among people, but also a lot of controversy. There are definitely as well people who are hostile towards us as occupiers or squatters.
Clara: How did the occupation here begin?
Occupier 1: The occupation, the first occupation, started in 2012, on the 12th - no, the 14th of April. And it started together with a “forest fest” where a lot of people came - I think like 300 people from all the villages around, and also from other cities and villages. And some people, like six or seven people, just got up the trees and were putting some platforms inside, some hanging platforms. And from that date on, the forest was occupied. Many people showed a lot of solidarity. And RWE, the company, also came the first time, and said, yeah, OK, we tolerate you here; we are very open for communication and for criticizing us, and so on. They tried to keep their image of being tolerant.
We were there for seven months, and especially in the first time we could do nearly anything we wanted. The first time I wasn’t there, but I heard about a person who was just climbing on a digger, and nobody tried to get him down again, or something like this. They just observed him that he don’t do anything. Stuff like this. Then there also happened some direct actions, especially in October when the cutting season starts, there happened a lot of direct actions to stop the cutting, and showing direct resistance.
Then in November 2012, on the 13th, they came to evict us. It was 500 cops for 23 people, I think, and many people locked themselves on. Yeah, then there was a big surprise for the police: there was a tunnel. And in the first moments, or at the first day, in the first hours, they didn’t really believe in it. They thought that we were just making fun of them. And in the newspapers it was also written down that maybe we installed a very intelligent language computer who can communicate with them. Yeah, it was quite funny. Then they had to realize that there’s a person inside, really. It was a situation which didn’t know how to handle, because there wasn’t something like this before in Germany. They know the action form of locking on, or of lock-ons [lockdowns], but they never had something like a person who was in a tunnel. They absolutely didn’t know how to handle it.
Clara: And is that a tactic that was developed in the UK from the anti-roads movement?
Occupier 1: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, there were a lot of ideas and introductions from the UK. So the tunnel was digged proper, really proper. Also, the special unions from the police said that the tunnel was digged very safe and very professional. And at least it took them four days to get the person out. With this, it was the longest eviction in Germany, until now.
“A HOLE IN THE FOREST”
Occupier 1: Now we are coming to the first tree. Here I was building my treehouse. And it was an old oak, it was like, I think more than 250 years old.
Clara: How long did you live there?
Occupier 1: I didn’t really have the time to live on the platform, because there was just a platform, not a house on it. But I spent two nights there, at least. And I’m really thankful for these two nights, because it was really very important… remembering. It is very important remembering.
Directly next to the oak there were standing two cherry trees, small cherry trees. They just had the flowers when they evicted. They also cut them. And when the flowers were still growing, like open, you had seen the flowers out of this part. I cannot really describe it, but you know what I mean.
It’s now like a hole in the forest.
SQUATTING AT THE MEADOW AND CONFLICTS WITH PRIVATE SECURITY
Clara: Now there have been three different occupations of the forest that have been evicted, but there’s also a protest settlement in a field just on the border of the forest that you are allowed to stay in, because you have the permission of the person who owns the land?
Occupier 1: Yeah. It was a quite big luck; when the person from the tunnel came out, or when they got the person from the tunnel, two days later we managed to occupy a meadow close or directly next to the forest. And the person who was owning the meadow was really in solidarity with us, and he really spent a lot of energy to let us stay there. Because police tried often, so often, to evict us from there, with simple building laws and stuff like this. But because he was always going against that, with a lot of letters and writing formulas [appeals] and whatever, he managed to bring it to the next higher court, so now the higher court has to decide how to deal with it. So for the first time the meadow is quite “safe,” so to say. It doesn’t mean they cannot come there, but they cannot evict us for the first time.
Occupier 1: Where the platform was? No, it was a bit more on the top. Here, look at this one. You remember this one? so it was over there.
Occupier 2: Unbelievable. It’s like… like a dead person. it’s in a different state. somehow you realize it’s similar, but at the same time, it has no similarities. It looks totally different.
Occupier 1: Especially because of the broken branches.
Clara: So as we were standing out in the meadow today, we saw one of those trucks driving by, full of employees of the company that drive around and take pictures of everybody at the occupation. Can you talk a little bit about the kinds of repression and surveillance that are happening, both from the police and from the company employees and private security?
Occupier 1: RWE ordered a private security company; or, now there are two, not just one any more. When the occupation started the first time, they had the mission that they don’t feel provoked by us at all; if we don’t really do something really “hard”, so to say, that they should not do anything about us. But then it started slowly that they also started to provoke us. It reminds me of the situation on a schoolyard: like, I’m stealing your backpack and throwing it to another person and I always try to get it, but I’m too small. It was a little bit like this; not really important stuff. They sent people in the wrong direction when they were asking them where they have to go to get to the occupation, for example.
I remember one situation when people were getting something sand to insulate the hut with clay. It was in the “dead zone,” so we called it, the zone between the forest and the hole. We sometimes went there to get the sand. So there were three persons who went there with the wheelbarrows. And on the way back, when they had the full wheelbarrows, two security cars came and stood in their way and waited for them. And then they said - there were three securities - and they said, “It’s our wheelbarrow and we’re gonna take it, because it’s ours and you stole it from us!” So it was a little bit like dancing; everybody had one person in front of him or her. And the securities throw the sand out of the wheelbarrows and took the one wheelbarrow. Then we just wanted to pass, but they still didn’t let us go, and started to hit one person who was male-associated, and the other were female associated. so one of the others took pepper spray and sprayed it into the face of one of the security guys, so the people easily got away. Yeah, I think this was the point when the security guards started to be more hostile and more aggressive.
Clara: Shall we walk a little more?
Occupier 1: Yeah.
“LIKE MORDOR!”: CONFRONTING THE HOLE
Occupier 1: From the top of the platform or the tree, you had a really beautiful view from all around. Especially this part I liked very much, where the tents are. And when the sun went down, you had a wonderful view of the sun… sunrise? No.
Occupier 2: Sunset! I always get it wrong.
Clara: Mining for brown coal is an incredibly destructive process. Can you describe a little bit about the hole and the machines that are there and what it’s doing to the forest?
Occupier 1: Yeah. The hole is like… eight to ten kilometers [across], and 500 meters, no, 450 meters deep. And yeah, when you are at the right point to have a view on it, you can also see five power plants around there. For me, actually, that was one of the points when I decided, OK, this is a struggle which I want to fight.
People can feel the results also in the Netherlands and Belgium, and cities which are quite a bit away from the hole.
Clara: I wish there was some way to convey just how fucking horrifying it is. Because I think it’s one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s really hard to describe to people who haven’t seen it that it’s the size of a city; you know, you could fit a town in it. And that it’s just a complete and total wasteland with nothing left alive.
Occupier 2: In fact I think it’s even something which is even hard to realize when you are actually standing right in front of it. Because it just looks so different; it’s like standing in front of a screen, and you’re not really integrating it in your environment. Especially if you come out of this forest, and you still might realize, OK, now this is the part where the trees are being cut down; and you see the clear cut, which already looks quite destructive and quite frustrating or sad, depending on what your general mood is in that moment…. Mostly it’s also anger. But beyond this, you just have the edge and then… nothing. Like Mordor, or whatever! I always like to compare it with that. You see a line and after this, just nothing. Only soil. And it looks like a huge wound in the ground. But you can’t even see the other end, because it’s so huge. And even the diggers, which are a few hundred meters long and I think almost one hundred meters high, they appear just as tiny toys in this hole.
Occupier 1: Yeah, I think that is one detail that you cannot realize the size because the digger there is a machine like a snake - it looks like a snake a bit - because it’s more than a hundred meters long and it’s going through the whole open cast mine, and they are transporting the coal on it. So it’s always working, running, to bring the coal to the bunker. And you cannot really think or know what size it has. When you’re standing on the edge of the hole, you think it’s like [gestures] that high, like to your breast more or less, maybe smaller or maybe a bit higher. But in reality you can walk through it when you’re standing upright. And also the diggers look quite small. The only point where you can imagine how big it is in reality is when you see the cars or the normal diggers, when they are driving next to them. Then you realize,“WHAT?” It’s more huge than you thought.
Occupier 2: Also, there was a very nice action happening, when something like a political orchestra came and placed themselves directly at the edge so as to blockade the digger, exactly in front of the digger. So when the digger came there, it had to stop there. But there are also pictures of that which make you realize how big this digging wheel is. It’s - yeah, it’s like a wheel, which has a lot of teeth and is constantly one after another digging, each one of them a ton of soil. And… yeah, a car could fit in it. And seeing this then, directly behind the orchestra, was a very nice picture. I’ve only seen it on pictures.
Have you been there? Can you explain a bit more about the situation?
Occupier 2: Yeah, it was like, we just went there and two people costumed themselves in suits; one had a cowboy hat and the other had a turban. They were looking quite official. And the securities were first like, “Who’s there coming? Maybe they are very important!” They were a little bit confused. So we just went there and built everything up. And this time, some police, some village police officers already came. Yeah, they didn’t really know how to deal with it because some people just started to play. And then they said to us, yeah, we have to go. We tried to stay there as long as possible, and at least the digger was standing for two hours, more or less. And then we just went off when more security and police came.
FRIEND OR FOE?
Clara: Shall we walk?
Occupier 2: Yeah, I would like to see the rest of the destruction, it’s the first time for me to be since the last eviction.
Occupier 1: You wanna go the old way or the new way? Because here it was just forest. And we always used to go that way…
Occupier 2: To be honest it’s really hard to recognize, to have the orientation again, because the destruction of the diggers and the bulldozers really made a lot of difference in the whole picture. They destroyed so much of the small trees and the plants…
Clara: There’s a person.
Occupier 2: It’s masked.
Clara: We saw someone walking and weren’t sure if maybe it was maybe a a security patrol. But they were wearing a camoflauge suit and a face mask. So it’s a friend!
Occupier 2: He was also afraid of us!
Occupier 1: And they also thought that we were maybe security… There was a tree where I was living for some months in a treehouse.
Occupier 2: What about the glass windows which they threw down?
Occupier 1: They’re still…
Occupier 2: They didn’t take it?
Occupier 1: No, of course not, how can they? they left a lot of stuff, like small things, small details, and…
Occupier 2: Shall we go a bit into this direction?
[sound of chopping]
IN MEMORY OF TESTIMO: MOURNING AND RAGE
Clara: Can you talk a little bit about how the occupation of this forest connects to other anti-capitalist movements here in Germany and elsewhere in Europe?
Occupier 1: I think for me the occupation or the occupations are on the one hand solidarity actions for people who are affected directly, who have to move, that they know that there are some people who are behind you and like to support you when you say no completely, you know? And who want to resist. Because there are many who don’t… oh, I hadn’t seen that yet.
Because there are many people who… Oh, I cannot concentrate right now.
Clara: This is the stump of one of the trees that had a treehouse that was just cut down, and… What does that say?
Occupier 2: Somebody put a little piece of wood which appears to be part of this tree which was cut down, and placed it on the stump. And it has something written on it, which is: “My name was Testimo; on the 24th of March, 2014, I got killed by RWE.” Next to it there’s a candle and a small piece of glass or a small piece of mirror.
Clara: And I can still see some ropes up in the trees that are severed but still attached high up.
Occupier 1: That was the walkway to the other treehouses that were not finished. And this tree, the second one… I was talking with the one police climber for a while, and he was saying I really respect what you are doing, and I also don’t like what they are doing… and asked also some questions, but less like taking information, more like having this small talk. Yeah, for me he seems like being OK, but just loyal to his job of course, like they all are. And the same argument like all of them are using: I have to do it, it’s my job, and I cannot do anything against it, and I have to get some money for my family, and stuff like this… always this.
Occupier 2: And I think at the same time, police often, when they get into conversations like that and try to be really understanding, I think often they are just realizing that their job might get a little bit easier if they have better communication with their victims, let’s say.
Occupier 1: And I also have had some conversations with some police guys where they couldn’t argue any more, when I said some stuff to them. Of course, at some points I was really really angry. Not because of the treehouses, of course - because that they evict the treehouses, it’s part of the action - but that they cut the trees, which was something that makes me really angry and really… Yeah, like close to the point where I cannot control myself any more. So I put a lot of anger to them, and said everything to them.
Alanis: You’re listening to an audio documentary about the struggle to defend the Hambacher Forest in western Germany, recorded live in the spring of 2014 at the occupation. For a full transcript of the interviews, along with links and references to learn more about the struggle, visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast. You can get the latest updates on the occupation from their website, hambachforest - that’s HAMBACHFOREST - dot blogsport - BLOGSPORT - dot DE. Now, back to the interviews.
BONDS OF RESISTANCE: CONNECTING TO OTHER EUROPEAN STRUGGLES
Clara: Can I ask you again about the connection of this occupation to other anti-capitalist and environmental struggles in Europe?
Occupier 1: I think also one important point about this kind of action is the possibility to meet each other and connect to each other, and talk about what’s going on in the world. And also learn a lot of stuff in different ways, like theory and practice, what is for me a really important point for political activism. Yeah, for me it was also a very important point to get here and to spend this one and half years here. Because I really learned a lot about what I want and what I don’t want and who I am, and I think this is also very important point in political activism, that activists learn about themselves, what is important for them. Because then you can get stronger and build a tactic or an idea of how you can work or fight against capitalism and all the shit around us, and how you can build a new society or a new construct of living together. So I think this is also one very important point.
Occupier 2: Since a few years there’s a meeting called… if I would translate it something like, assembly… Whoa, what the fuck? This looks terrible.
Occupier 1: Yeah, and I still didn’t really figure out whether if this was the tree where the treehouse was on, or this one.
Occupier 2: Wow. But anyway…. There are serious attempts, or people are trying to connect the different struggles against useless huge projects, such as the No TAV movement against the train railway from France to Turin in Italy, or “Stuttgart 21,” the new train station in Stuttgart in south Germany, or la ZAD, the struggle against the big airport. And also others, like gold mining in Rosia Montana [in northern Romania] or Greece. Yeah, so people a lot of people know each other and have visited the different places and learned from their tactics, but also learned about the differences, because there are a lot of differences. Like for example, in NO TAV there is a lot of history of partisan anti-fascist struggle in or before World War II, I think, and in World War II. Yeah, the situation is very different at each place, but people also realize they have a lot in common and have a lot to learn. I actually hope that these big meetings that take place on a regular basis now will bring people more together, and also people who are not involved in anarchist militant struggles or such, so that they get some sort of inspiration if they see how the people at NO TAV, for example, react to the threat of this big project, or how people in Bretagne at la ZAD are somehow getting closer and closer together with the squatters and somehow adapting their tactics, like using their tractors to build big barricades and such things.
Occupier 1: These two were where the first treehouses were. So here the occupation started. And the first time I was living in this tree.
Clara: And this was cut down in the fall of 2012?
Occupier 1: No, this one, these trees are from the third occupation and eviction. And here was the beginning of the third occupation.
Occupier 2: These trees were actually closely connected. You could only climb on the one tree and then you had to get to the other tree, and on both trees there were two platforms. So in total it was a connection of four treehouses.
Clara: There are severed limbs and branches lying all over the ground from the remains of the tree that hosted this platform, but you can still see the knots of the rope that held up the platforms, which are still solid, still tightly tied around the different forks of the branch, holding together the carved limbs of other fallen trees that helped to support the structure. And it seems like these bonds, these connections of resistance, are holding strong, even when repression is weighing down on people, driving people crazy; even when more and more of the forest is being destroyed every day; that these bonds of action, of solidarity, these relationships are sustaining, and sustaining through struggles across the continent to different kinds of projects, different kinds of infrastructure and destruction that are being resisted. And I don’t know if hope is the right word; I don’t know if we can talk about the occupiers here being hopeful. But we can talk about these bonds, these strong connections of resistance being forged that I think are laying the foundation for the resistance of the future and alternatives to the misery around us.
TAPPING THE PHONES AT THE ANT PALACE
Occupier 1: Do you want to see an ant palace? Actually, my treehouse was named “Ant Palace”.
Clara: So what are these mounds called?
Occupier 1: We both are not really sure about the English word for that. I thought that there’s maybe… “ant palace?” But maybe it’s just…
Clara: In any case, it’s a massive anthill…
Occupier 1: Anthill!
Occupier 1: Wow, look… they kidnapped a beetle! I think it’s already dead. I never had trouble with them, actually. Because the tree where I was building my treehouse, there were a lot of them; not up there, but down there there were a lot of them. I never had that they were biting me, or stuff like this.
Occupier 2: It’s really difficult to hear them now, because the birds are just shouting too loud
Clara: But if you get close, you can actually hear the sound of the ants moving around?
Occupier 2: We’re trying to tap into the phones of the ants…
[soft undulating sound is the buzzing of the ant colony]
Occupier 1: I think now you have some visitors…
[sound of Clara frantically blowing off ants]
Clara: Are there any more crawling on me?
Occupier 1: I don’t think so.
There is a road where they normally and also during the eviction came from, going to the street. I saw this road before they started to use it. Of course, now it looks totally different. This is the way to the main road.
They totally destroyed the ground. And before they could evict us, they had to ground it a little bit more; they put a lot of sand on it and came with this huge machine, which has this huge roll like making a pizza, for example…
Clara: Yeah! What is that called, a steamroller, or something?
Occupier 1: Could be, I don’t know the English word. Yeah, they had to make it flat.
Clara: I think we should start to walk back.
“ALL THE FIGHTS AND STRUGGLES TOGETHER IN ONE”
Clara: So that sound in the background is… military planes?
Occupier 1: Yeah, they have learning lessons here - training. There are two big weapons factories, and they have their main factories here in the Rhineland. And they get a lot of the energy from the hole.
Occupier 2: Yeah, but I mean, there’s this one factory which is directly connected to the power plant, it’s directly situated next to one of the power plants of RWE, which is run by brown coal.
Clara: So it seems like this forest occupation and this energy company struggle ties together anti-militarist campaings and anti-nuclear campaigns, environmental defense, anti-infrastructure - so many different movements are coming together in this particular space.
Occupier 1: Also one of the reasons why I stuck here is because for me, it’s like having all the fights and struggles together in one, more or less. That’s one of the reasons why i think this struggle is so important here.
Clara: There used to be barricades on this road?
Occupier 1: Yeah, but they always evict them. Then there come some new ones, and they evict them again.
Clara: Cherry trees? Oh no, here… so the cherry trees are just in bloom now, recently I guess. Those are… pines?
Occupier 1: Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
Clara: Do either of you want to say anything about how you got involved personally, or what in your own life led you to get involved in the occupation?
Occupier 2: I think how I came here because of friends of mine who got stuck here, and I visited them and got stuck here as well. But before that, I guess I was basically searching for ways to have an amount of contradiction in my life which I can somehow stand, which is not tearing me apart. And also living somehow in closer connection with a nature was a quite important thing as well. But also to live a life where I don’t have to choose each day between what’s my personal stuff and what’s political, but to live in a framework which is political in itself and also is always connected to my own needs.
Occupier 1: Before I came here, I didn’t really have anything to do with energy struggles or climate change or brown coal or stuff like this. And I also was not really that interested in it. I was more involved in animal rights and animal liberation struggles. But I was fighting for that in the cities; it’s also not that easy. I came here because a friend of mine was living here, they said you have to come here it’s really really nice. I said OK, for at least three days I will come here. At this time I was in a really desperate mood, since half a year or something like this because i always try to fight somehow, or find a way how I can fight. and also have the feeling that it is successful somehow. And then I came here, and it was really like a revolution in myself. And I felt quite fast that this is a place where I can do what I have the feeling is good and right somehow and that I can be useful here, because it depends on every single person and on his or her character. And yeah, now I am here since one and a half years… also stuck here like some other people!
PANCAKE HOUSES AND TRASH BARRICADES: THE SQUATTED MEADOW
Clara: So we’re just coming out of the forest now and back on to the meadow where the occupation camp exists. Can you tell us about some of the stuff that we’re seeing?
Occupier 1: So on my right hand there is the kitchen and fire space, and also the space where we store the wood. And on my left hand there’s the monkey tent where many people who used to live in the forest occupation have their stuff. And next to it there is the material tent.
Occupier 2: In fact, the meadow has a very long and thin shape. And as we’re going further we see the workshop hut - something between a hut a self-made tent. And we see our office bauwagen - what is “bauwagen” in English? Something like a caravan with office stuff.
Occupier 1: We just passed the fire pit, main fire pit around where people can sit, and some tables.
Clara: There’s probably about fifteen bicycles here.
Occupier 1: More or less. And only three or four of them are working!
Occupier 2: That’s embarrassing!
Occupier 1: Maybe there are some people who really like to repair bikes. They should come here!
Occupier 2: Coming back to the point of how you can show solidarity… come here and fix bikes all day long!
Occupier 1: On the right hand, there’s a “technic” caravan; we got it donated by some supporters. There are two solar panels and some car batteries which we always load off the solar panels, so we have enough energy to load, to charge the mobile phones and the computers and stuff like this.
Occupier 2: And for all the stuff we need power for, we charge car batteries, so it’s transportable. But all the power we’ve got here are these two solar panels. And it works quite well, actually; we never have any shortage problems. Rarely.
Occupier 1: Once, but not often. We also have the sound system, which works with the car batteries. It’s really nice.
Clara: So you can have techno parties late at night?
Occupier 1: Not really techno parties, more crust parties.
Clara: Of course…
Occupier 1: It nearly never happens that any techno is played here.
Occupier 1: Oh, I think it happens when you are gone.
Occupier 1: On the right hand, there is a prototype of somebody’s mobile bike kitchen. Somebody gave it the name “pancake house.”
Clara: How did it get that name?
Occupier 1: Because the person who’s building it really likes to make pancakes and really often does it in different ways. But I think he wants to give it the name ACAB…
Clara: Fair enough!
Occupier 1: That it has the license plate ACAB… All cooks are beautiful!
Occupier 2: “Anarchist Cook and Bicycle Kitchen!”
Clara: Very nice!
Occupier 2: So it’s a bike which looks like a hut for ten people.
Occupier 1: Like a pirate ship!
Occupier 2: It’s really hard to imagine it, I think, if you can’t see it.
Clara: About how many people are living here on the meadow right now?
Occupier 1: It’s always hard to say, because every day there is somebody gone or two people came, or stuff, like this. But right now there are always around between ten and twenty people here, more or less. The winter time was like, sometimes like five people, ten…
Occupier 2: But mostly more, I think. It was mostly around ten or fifteen people.
Occupier 1: Yeah, that’s true.
Occupier 2: And at the moment, right now today it’s nearly thirty, don’t you think?
Occupier 1: Yeah.
Occupier 2: By the way, on the left hand we have a hut; that’s actually the only really closed wooden building which we have here. And in front of it there’s a brand new clay oven, which has only been tested once… and it didn’t work. But it has been improved since, and hopefully it will work tomorrow. But I’m quite optimistic, because… I’m quite optimistic.
Clara: And I’m glad to see that black flag with the circle A flying on the top of the house there!
Occupier 1: Yeah, we rescued it from the evicted place. It was such a nice moment when the person just found the flag under all the wood.
Clara: Are most of the folks participating in the occupation anarchists?
Occupier 2: My feeling is that most of them are anarchists, but I’m also quite glad that we don’t so much categorize ourselves as that. I mean, there are certainly some people who are pretty clear about it, but there are also others who don’t say it like that but relate a lot to anarchist ideals.
Clara: So your relationships with the supporters in the neighborhood are mostly pretty positive?
Occupier 1: I think most of them don’t really have a problem, because they feel that we are quite nice people. And there are some who really fell in love with us, and really said more or less like this, that they totally like us and so on. And there are some who just seem to be in solidarity with us. And I think people who don’t like the anarchy sign, they won’t come here anyways. I think we don’t really meet those people.
There are two people who put a tent up. They were here last weekend the first time. They’re from the close village. I’m really glad that they put up a tent here. It seems like they want to stay here for some days.
Clara: It sounds like you have quite a bit of support from the local area, and I guess from other parts of Germany too, in terms of donating things to the struggle, and other kinds of support?
Occupier 1: Yeah, definitely. There is support; I mean, you cannot really say if it is much or not, because it always could be more. But yeah, there is a lot of support. Yeah, and all of these caravans, like this one and this one and also one which you cannot see right now; they also are donated. I think there are just two “private” caravans, so to speak, caravans we brought here. I think if there wouldn’t be this support and this solidarity, we couldn’t stay here.
Yeah, we have a small garden here; it’s grows since the last year. Last year we already harvested some vegetables.
Right now we have every morning at nine o clock a “to-do” meeting. There never was really an agreement to have regular plenaries [meetings or assemblies], so some people were desperate about that and some people were quite happy about that. But I think with a nine o’clock “to-do” meeting there are many people who are really happy about having a time where we can talk about what has to be done.
Occupier 2: And there are also some tents standing around here where people are living in, or here visitors who are coming for maybe just a week or so, living here.
Do we need to introduce the big trash hill? We can leave it out…
Clara: We can leave the big trash hill out.
Occupier 2: Standing right in front of the meadow, it’s in a very prominent place. Do you say that in English, “a very prominent place”?
Clara: When we first drove up, I actually thought that it was a barricade.
Occupier 1: Yeah, sometimes it’s used as a barricade.
Occupier 2: We don’t produce trash, we only build barricades!
“SOLIDARITY IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST WEAPONS WE HAVE”
Clara: The last question I want to make sure to ask is: what can folks who are listening to this do to show solidarity with the occupation here and with stopping the destruction of the Hambacher forest?
Occupier 1: I think there are a lot of ways, like making solidarity actions, making demonstrations spontaneously, information events, for example; or just drawing a banner and putting it out where people can see it, for example. Or just printing some flyers, or just writing an email like I heard about that and I’m really in solidarity with you.
Occupier 2: Or showing the movie in the local cinema… right now there’s a new movie out about the Hambacher forest; it’s around 40 minutes long. It shows quite a little bit about what life is like here and what life was like in the last forest occupation and a little bit of the background. And it’s possible to download quite soon from the homepage, hambachforest.blogsport.de.
Solidarity actions… yeah, the greatest of solidarity action would be to come here and get involved. Create new places, I think that’s a very important thing to do; decentralize the whole struggle. Squat another part of the forest, making a new collective there. squat houses - there are so many houses here because of the forced resettlement, and all of the houses there’s no research to be done about who’s the owner; it’s all owned by RWE. And it will definitely be the right place.
Oh yeah, and tell your friends about this place. it’s a thing which I think is not to be underestimated.
Occupier 1: Maybe one of the most important things you can do.
Clara: So far, RWE has destroyed quite a lot of the forest, though there are still the woods we’re looking at now. What do you think will happen with this struggle? Do you think any of this forest will be defended? What do you think will come of this occupation?
Occupier 1: I think it’s really not possible to say or to answer. And everybody is different, optimistic or not optimistic. When the forest was complete it was about 6000 hectares, and now it’s less than 800 hectares. So, yeah… the part of the forest that still stands is more like quite young forest. Of course the ground is quite old; from the ground structure you can say that more or less around 12,000 years old. It was one of the oldest and biggest connected forests in Europe, and especially in Germany. Yeah, you cannot really say if the forest will stay or if part of the forest will stay. I think it will depend on what we do, and it will depend on the solidarity which people will show. Because I think solidarity is one of the biggest weapons we have because it keeps the resistance alive. And the other big weapon we have I think is information to give, information to give to the people all around the world. And that is happening a lot and I’m really happy about that. I think there are some chances. Or at least there was the decision directly after the eviction there came the news that RWE will not dig a part of another open cast mine, what is also in this area. So at least one village will stay. And I think that was something for a lot of people which they didn’t expect and maybe gives some of them hope and also some strength or energy to take part in the struggle.
Occupier 2: I think there are some chances to keep the rest of the forest and to make this whole insanity stop. But I also think that it really depends on a lot of different things. And I don’t believe that occupations and direct actions on a scale which are in sight at the moment can stop the whole thing, not alone. But I do think that it’s a very important part. But it would need a lot more; it would need a lot more for the people who are somehow involved in the struggle and the people who are confronted by the consequences themselves, they have to see what means they can establish in taking action and to connect these different actions where it’s possible and it’s useful. I think that’s a very important part. Yeah, so it really depends on how we get different tactics together where it’s useful, and accept and tolerate different tactics. I believe there is a slight chance, but I wouldn’t count on it.
And that’s also because I don’t think that this is the most important question for me to be here. Because however it ends - and at some point it will end - at least in 2100, if it goes the way RWE wants it, all this will be a huge lake, a huge artificial lake, flooded by a branch of the Rhine, which is another insane project. Or if it ends a little bit more our way, it will probably be a smaller lake with a little bit of forest left. It’s by no means a big victory; that’s not possible, not with these measurements. But however it ends, I think it would be important what experience people made and what the feelings are which people are left with afterwards: if they collected a lot of anger which they can use for a fight against the whole system, or whether they understood a bit more and it didn’t leave them only frustrated and didn’t leave them stagnant. And also the human connections. I mean, the struggles is not mainly about making friends, but it would be about nothing if this were not a part of it. So I definitely hope there are strong connections being left at the end, and people who trust themselves and have some hope because they share some experiences of what is possible and get some new ideas.
EPILOGUE: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Clara: In the year since these interviews were conducted, RWE has continued to decimate the remaining forest, slowed but not stopped by the resistance. The occupiers have continued to use every tool they can to interrupt the destruction, disrupt the company’s operations, and spread information about the struggle.
Just days before this episode was released, a massive barricade that was home to several occupiers was evicted by a combined force of around 100 police and RWE security personnel. The barricade had existed primarily to protect the tree houses and other squatted parts of the forest from evictions.
We wrote back to some of the occupiers we spoke with last spring, asking what has happened since we visited. Here was the reply we received:
Alanis: "A few weeks after the interviews, we reoccupied the Forest in at least 3 different places, in several trees at each. Meanwhile the occupations spread a bit, until there were at least 7 fully grown tree houses plus a few platforms. Last winter was we tried to disturb and delay the cutting as much as possible, with several lock-down actions stopping the cutting machines and two tree occupations directly in front of the mine. In order to go on with cutting, they had to evict these, which led to clashes with the private security companies hired by RWE. People on both sides where injured. Also, two comrades were arrested and held in custody for a whole month for violence against the security people. A huge flood of letters from all over the world kept them going until both were released: the evidence provided by the security and police was so poor that they couldn’t hold them any longer. After another escalation, some of the security employees quit their job or expressed their solidarity with the struggle. They work under really poor conditions and a lot of them without a legal contract.
Tactically, the occupiers increasingly make use of living barricades. When the time comes, people lock themselves on to something inside or on top to delay police from coming into the forest. But those barricades face attacks by police and security more often. Meanwhile, there is a court battle going on concerning the legal status of the camp on the meadow. The authorities want to evict it, arguing that we don’t have permission to erect buildings; but the owner, who is an enemy of RWE himself, goes to court against it, arguing that this should be under protection of the constitution as a long term demonstration. Also, several small scale blockades of the brown coal railways and the digger occurred, as well as acts of sabotage on the railways and on RWE machinery."
Clara: We’ve also heard about monthly public walks led by occupiers around the forest, which continue to grow, with around 120 people taking part each time.
Also, a book about the squatting has been written and is scheduled for release in July - an English translation may be in the works, our sources tell us, but it will probably take a while.
We also wanted to know about events coming up where interested supporters can plug in. And it sounds like it’s going to be a very active summer at the occupation! Here are some of the upcoming actions they mentioned:
Alanis: “This summer, from the 20th through 26th of July, there will be a culturally focused camp on the meadow called ‘Kukuk’ with art stuff and music and so on, in addition to the action-focused skillsharing camps that happen twice a year during the spring and the autumn on the meadow. Also, there’s going to be another climate camp from August 7th through 17th at a neighboring coal mine, as well as a mass action of civil disobedience involving the blockade of a digger. This event, called ‘Ende Gelände’ (August 14th–16th) is prepared by a large alliance of an anti-coal network, local initiatives and political groups as well as leftist parties and environmental NGOs like Greenpeace (unfortunately). It has a non-escalative-action consensus. Of course, not everyone agrees with that, and we are excited to see what else will happen around this date that the police and RWE can’t predict. A few days later, on August 19th through 24th, an action orchestra called ‘Lebenslaute’ will play a concert in from of a huge digger, forcing it to stop. The action is called: ‘Andante an der Kante,’ which means ‘Andante at the edge.’ Everyone who sings or plays an instrument is invited to join the rehearsals and be part of the action.”
Clara: And finally, we asked what kinds of support the occupation needs. Here’s what they had to say:
Alanis: “How can people support us? Personally, I think what’s most helpful is to come here, alone or with small groups, to take actions or establish new squats in the nearby villages. Also, spread the word about all this. Make screenings of our film and other smaller videos. Donations for our Anti-Repression Structure are also welcome, since there are always costs for court cases, etc.”
Clara: We’d also like to add that RWE has subsidiaries active right here in the USA, including a wood pellet production plant in southern Georgia, a 50% stake in the Texas-based company Excelerate Energy, and an energy trading company based in New York City. We encourage any listeners who live near those areas to strategize solidarity actions that could bring the struggle to defend the Hambacher Forest across the Atlantic.
Alanis: You can stay up to date on the latest developments at the Hambacher Forest occupation through its website, hambachforest.blogsport.de. We’ve posted several links on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, with more information about the struggle, upcoming events, the music you heard, and more.
Clara: If these interviews moved you, I want to urge you to see what’s happening in the Rhineland coal country not as some exotic far-off culture of resistance, remote from your daily reality. Of course, we encourage you to show whatever solidarity you can for the specific struggle in the Hambacher Forest. But even more importantly, take a look around you, wherever you are, and let that inspiration motivate your resistance to the destructive workings of capitalism in the place where you live. To change everything, start anywhere: we can never be sure where the next front of beautiful struggle against authority will open up. It just might be that the development threatening the woods you love, or the infrastructure project displacing you and your neighbors, could be a flashpoint to open up unimagined possibilities for life beyond the misery of capitalism and the repression of the state. Let struggles like the one profiled here exist not on a pedestal far beyond our ordinary lives, but as provocations to remind us that resistance is possible everywhere. Let the spirit of the Hambacher Forest bloom and proliferate, a spark to ignite defiant hearts across the world.
Until next time, thanks for listening.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
The best source of ongoing updates and information about the Hambacher Forest occupation is the campaign’s website at hambachforest.blogsport.de (primarily in German, but with plenty of English-language material).
To learn more, you can watch this 40-minute documentary film (in German, with English subtitles) featuring interviews with occupiers, activists, and displaced locals, as well as dramatic visuals showing the mine’s destruction and colorful resistance to it. For a quicker introduction, this five minute video documentary from 2013 offers a powerful and concise summary of the issues at stake and the trajectory of the first year of the occupation. You can also listen to an interview with a Hambacher Forest defender on The Final Straw from April 2014.
RWE, the Germany-based energy corporation that is the villain of our story, has some subsidiaries right here in the USA! If you’re anywhere hear southern Georgia, Texas, or New York City, perhaps you can come up with a creative solidarity action. Check out this info on RWE’s United States operations.
Upcoming opportunities to gather in resistance to brown coal mining in the Rhineland include the Climate Camp in the Rhineland Coalfield from August 7th–17th, including the Degrowth in Action Climate Justice Summer School (August 9th–14th) and the “Ende Gelande” civil disobedience action (August 14th–16th), followed by the Lebenslaute “Andante an der Kante” musical action on August 19th–24th.
In addition to our usual selections from Underground Reverie, all of the music we used in this episode comes from supporters of the occupation, including songs from Mona und Hummel, Klaus der Geiger, and others, all available through the “Music/Audio/Radio” section of the occupation’s website.