Düsseldorf – Hambacher Forst (89km)
28 riders. Average speed 15.4 km/h. Time pedalling 5h47m
On an icy morning we said goodbye to our friends (Caro, Martha and Jacob) and set off from Düsseldorf. The meeting point with the day riders was in one of the landmarks of the city: the Rheinturm, a big communications tower overlooking the Rhine, located next to the regional parliament. Among the people who joined us today were members of North Rhine Westphalia´s parliamentary Green Party.
We took some pictures, switched around some bikes (Coni got to try the tandem with Theo) and we were ready to go. We crossed the Rhine over a huge bridge and under blue skies, pondered how sunlight influences what we understand what we see. This particular morning it made Düsseldorf look pretty nice. Signs of what lay ahead started appearing on the horizon in the form of gigantic plumes of smoke.
Despite this, we enjoyed the sunny rolling that brought us the 37km to Hochneukirch, where we sat outside the train station and shared fruits, sweet bread, spreads, salads, Caro´s delicious date cookies and leftovers from last night’s dinner. Some locals stopped by to say hello and we handed out a couple of flyers. It was sunny and warm (warm at the moment is anything above about 6°C, so no penguin pogo was necessary. There we met with Gabor, a local activist, who would guide us for the rest of the day.
He took us first to ride around a vast open cast coal mine, Garzweiler, owned and operated by RWE. The first thing to remark about this kind of mining is the sheer scale. You can be standing several hundred meters, with the gulf in the landscape stretching further ahead than the eye can see – this is in part due to the dusty haze in the air – and wider than your eye´s panorama is able to take in. In a very simple sense, it´s overwhelming how enormous it is. Within the hole, behemoth digging machines whirled way, long conveyor belts and 4x4s that look like toy cars. The individuals working down there, in hi-visibility overalls, were specs. It´s hard to describe,take a look.
Gabor explained the devastation that is being played out here, how the ground water is pumped out to keep the whole dry and how local people are suffering from the air pollution. Depressingly, lignite coal is the dirtiest form of electricity there is. As Gabor put it, rather generously, “it is as if RWE forgot to innovate from their methods for the last 50 years”. For those of us who were witnessing the scar of open cast mining for the first time, the scene was little short of horrific. Here in front of our very eyes, the principal cause of humanity´s destruction of the biosphere, industrial coal, was marching onward unabated. Adding to the sense of despair was the scattering of huge power plants on the sky-line; we could see emissions pouring directly from the mine out into the atmosphere and the skies were clear with the exception of these massive trails. We understand this as violence occurring against local people in the form of air pollution and against future generations, small island nations, artic communities – and many more – in the form of greenhouse-gas emissions. It was a stark reminder of what the Cooperide is against.
The local resistance to the coal mine is long-running and vibrant, but it is up against a tough opponent in RWE who are determined to expand their operations, including into settlements. Gabor took us through abandoned ghost villages that are right at the edge of the pit where, despite opposition, residents have been paid to re-settle their homes. We cycled through these abandoned villages that are being torn down and where maybe one or two families still live in an act of rebellion. We heard stories of RWE deploying a variety of underhand tactics to achieve their objective – ranging from brutal security to undisclosed resettlement payments; essentially bribing people to move out of their homes without fuss.
We then rode on to another enormous pit, Tagebau Hambach, the scene of an inspiring 5-fingered occupation this August. Several of our group shared stories of this action, organised by ‘Ende Gelände´, in which the operation was shut down.
It was a devastating tour that ended with some cold but pleasant outdoor conviviality with local activists at their occupation camp, the meadows, on land ear-marked to become part of the pit. We had soup and chatted around the fireside with some of the people there. It was an amazingly impressive commitment made by those there to continually resist the mine. They´ve been there for over 3 years now and we hope that they succeed in their struggle to halt the mine´s expansion. The meadows hosted half of our group overnight, with the rest of us staying with kind private hosts in the nearby town of Buer.