Activists block Rhineland coalfield: Ende Gelände climate action
By Enno Schöningh – Kleve, Germany
*Some names are changed to protect the identity of the interviewed persons.
After approximately one year, the alliance of anti-nuclear and anti-coal movements, Ende Gelände returned to the coalfields in North Rhine-Westphalia to block the power plants energy supply. The coalition blocked the supply of lignite to the coal-fired power plants in the Rhineland coalfield with a sit-in on the supply line train tracks. Hochschule Rhein-Waal (HSRW) students were amongst the activists.
The organisers planned for five days of camping and action from 25 to 29 October. Trainings and plenary sessions were held on 26 October to discuss the upcoming action. On Saturday, October 27, approximately 6,500 activists left the camp on their way to the legal protest close to the Hambacher Forst. The legal demonstration was a separate event supported but not organised by Ende Gelände. Parts of the group proceeded toward the legal demonstration, but then spread out aiming to occupy the supply line. Others were surrounded and stopped by the police, an action called ‘kettled’ amongst the activists.
The first group arrived at the supply line successfully occupied the train tracks. A large group of activists, previously stopped by the police, followed later. After an overnight stay on the train tracks, around 2,000 activists were still blocking the supply line on the October 28. Except for approximately 100 activists, the others voluntarily returned to the camp on the next morning. In total, the activists blocked the supply line for more than 24 hours.
What did the HSRW student-activists experience?
Jakob, a Life Sciences student participated in the protests. According to Jakob he heard about Ende Gelände the first time in 2015. He says he was impressed by how dedicated people were fighting for climate justice.
“Not all laws are just, to challenge them in a way to generate media attention and create a public discourse can speed up the process of transformation,” Jakob said. “Since time is what we are lacking most in our struggle to fight climate change I found this form of action efficient and legitimate.”
Jakob says the action was very successful. He and his friends were taken by the police and later stopped by water cannons. Nonetheless, he says that hearing about the success of the other activists kept him in a good mood.
“It got a bit chaotic in some places, and not everyone reached their destination,” Jakob said. “However, I am happy with the outcome. These actions are of symbolic value mainly, creating pictures and drawing attention to influence the discourse in our society.”
According to Florian, a former International Relations student, after observing the government’s inability to act against climate change, to join Ende Gelände was the logical consequence.
“Ende Gelände is about using our bodies in a non-violent manner to block critical infrastructure,” Florian said. “The overall aim is to speed up the coal phase-out process, to temporarily shut down the coal production to ultimately influence the public discourse.”
Florian says that the police held him in custody after surrounding him on a meadow. He was later released.
“It is a lot of stress, the police tries to intimidate you,” Florian said. “But in the end, you know you are there for the right thing.”
After he was released he went to the supply line blockade on the train tracks with a bag containing warm food, water and sleeping bags to support the activists who were blocking the tracks.
“We went to the tracks and dropped some supplies,” Florian said. “When we wanted to return with sleeping bags the police discovered that people were bringing food and water to the activists – so they blocked access to the supply line and we returned to the camp.”
Florian says he was astonished by the amount of police in the area. According to Florian there were helicopters, many police vans and spotlight caste in different directions.
“You feel like a criminal when you are bringing food and water to the activists,” Florian said. “It is rather ridiculous to see how much effort was put into stopping us.”
Klara, a 20 year old HSRW student says she was introduced to Ende Gelände at a climate conference in Bonn, Germany last year. She stayed in the Ende Gelände camp last autumn, though not joining the civil disobedience action. This October, she says she wanted to participate more actively and contribute to the action.
“Ende Gelände is not about the individual, but about the group,” said Klara, who was also taken by the police. “That’s why, although I was not able to contribute to the blockade myself, I am happy. We bound the police, which enabled other activists to move more freely to the supply line tracks.”
According to the October 27 Ende Gelände Press Release, the German electric utility company Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) operates three open-cast lignite mines and four coal-fired power plants. The release also states that the lignite mines are Europe’s biggest source of CO2 emissions, and that the government tasked a commission to set up an agenda and date for a coal phase-out. However, RWE plans on clearing the old-growth forest in Hambach for the expansion of the lignite mine. The protests took place against this background.
According to Jakob, Klara and Florian the activists agree to adhere to an action-consensus: actions are not directed against the police or RWE; all actions are executed in a non-violent manner and without material damage; no one shall be endangered. The full document is available in English via the following link: https://www.ende-gelaende.org/en/action-consensus/