The Red Line – Resistance in the Hambacher Forest
Victory against the diggers
Karin de Miguel Wessendorf has spent years documenting the resistance in Hambacher Forest for her film „The Red Line“. Phil Butland watched the film for us.
The victory in Hambacher Forest was an important win for our side. When the energy company RWE learned that they could no longer destroy the biggest source of CO2 in Europe for profit, climate activists throughout Germany celebrated. Who knows how many extra people took part in the Fridays for Future protests because of Hambi?
Karin de Miguel Wesssendorf‘s new film shows that the victory wasn‘t inevitable. In 2015, she began to film the protests of the occupiers of 3 tree houses and a handful of local residents. In particular she accompanies 4 protestors of different backgrounds.
Clumsy is a tree house occupier from Austria. He feels compelled to act, and is prepared to break the law, as long as no people or animals are harmed. Michael Zobel is a nature guide who organises nature trails through Hambacher Forest. The first stop on his tour is always Clumsy‘s treehouse.
Meanwhile Lars Zimmer stays in his home from protest, although nearly all residents have left his village, a victim of the opencast mine. As the film develops, Lars‘s partner also leaves the ghost town, together with their kids. Although she fully understands and supports his action, she can‘t sustain it herself. She asks whether she can sue RWE for the costs of their marriage counselling.
And then there‘s Antje Grothus from Buir, who organised the large human chain against coal mining 10 year ago, and has been appointed to the government coal commission as a representative of the region. Antje notes that „in the whole process, its become clear that we citizens simply don‘t have a lobby“.
The protestors work together – for example, the tree house occupiers are fed and clothed by local supporters – but they don‘t always share the same understanding of how you should be active. Some villagers have the tendencies to condemn „violence on all sides“ and to try to win the police over to their side. After the cops randomly deploy pepper spray, some start to change their beliefs.
At first the struggle appears to be hopeless. RWE is too strong – and has the full support of the black-yellow (Conservative-Liberal) local government. Immerath Cathedral is destroyed – the first in Germany in 200 years. Although a couple of demonstrations with a few thousand participants are organised, only a few people hold the daily activities together.
But slowly, the demos become bigger. After NRW interior minister Herbert Reul slags off the demonstrators, thousands of people take part in one of Michael‘s walks with flags and banners. Antje says „Minister Reul called the G20 radical activists and the people came“. At the mass demonstration Michael says „in Chemnitz there were no police, but they are here around the clock”.
The size and the breadth of the demonstrations make the police insecure. Heiko Müller, deputy leader of the police union says that the police are being deployed „with mixed feelings, because they don‘t know if it makes sense.“ A policewoman throws a bottle of water to demonstrators. Nevertheless the police violence carries on as before.
Then the turning point comes. At an eviction, a journalist falls to his death. The police say that this has nothing to do with their deployment, but it soon becomes clear that the journalist had been trying to film the police. RWE chairman Rolf Martin Schmitz says that the journalist „died for an illusion which was never going to be realised“. Shortly afterwards, the Münster high court orders that the clearance of Hambacher Forest be delayed until 2010. 50,000 people join a demonstration to celebrate.
The victory was not possible without 3 factors – the activists in the woods, who delayed the clearance, the local residents who coordinated local actions, and the people throughout NRW and Germany, who put RWE and the local government under pressure. The locals have a certain scepticism towards parties who „turn up to be photographed shortly before elections“, but they understand the need for a political solution.
The struggle is still not over. At the end of the film, Michael says „the court decision was sensational, but that doesn‘t mean that the work is over. The diggers are still there. Elsewhere in an interview, Antje urged the people in Hambacher Forest to stay „because we simply can‘t trust RWE“. As recently as 8 May 2019, BUND (German Friends of the Earth) noted that RWE and the NRW government still haven‘t given a clear commitment that Hambacher Forest will be preserved.
The victory in Hambi was unexpected, and for this reason it is still fragile. But the subsequent actions of Fridays for Future show that this win can be extended – although the problem will remain as long as companies like RWE are allowed to exploit the Earth.
The original version of this review (in German) will appear in the next issue of marx21 magazine.