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Police Evict Protesters from German Village to Clear Way for Coal Mine Expansion

Two activists spent days in a tunnel they’d dug themselves as thousands of people rallied in the rain over the weekend.

Police face protesters during a large-scale protest to stop the demolition of the village Luetzerath to make way for an open-air coal mine extension on January 14, 2023.

The way was cleared for the complete demolition of the German village of Lützerath and the expansion of a coal mine on Monday after the last two anti-coal campaigners taking part in a dayslong standoff with authorities left the protest site.

The two activists—identified in media reports by their nicknames, “Pinky” and “Brain”—spent several days in a tunnel they’d dug themselves as thousands of people rallied in the rain over the weekend and hundreds occupied the village, which has been depopulated over the last decade following a constitutional court ruling in favor of expanding a nearby coal mine owned by energy firm RWE.

As Pinky and Brain left the 13-foot deep tunnel, which police in recent days have warned could collapse on them contrary to assessments by experts, other campaigners chained themselves to a digger and suspended themselves from a bridge to block access to Lützerath, but those demonstrations were also halted after several hours.

Protesters and their supporters have condemned the actions of law enforcement authorities in the past week as police have violently removed people from the site, including an encampment where about 100 campaigners have lived for more than two years to protest the expansion of RWE’s Garzweiler coal mine.

The vast majority of protesters were peaceful during the occupation. German Interior Minister Nancy Fraeser said Monday that claims of police violence would be investigated while also threatening demonstrators with prosecution if they were found to have attacked officers.

“If the allegations are confirmed then there must be consequences,” said Fraeser.

Fridays for Future leader Greta Thunberg joined the demonstrators last week, condemning the government deal with RWE that allowed the destruction of Lützerath as “shameful” before she was also forcibly removed from the site on Sunday.

“Germany is really embarrassing itself right now,” Thunberg said Saturday of the plan to move forward with the demolition of the village, as thousands of people joined the demonstration. “I think it’s absolutely absurd that this is happening the year 2023. The most affected people are clear, the science is clear, we need to keep the carbon in the ground.”

“When governments and corporations are acting like this, are actively destroying the environment, putting countless of people at risk, the people step up,” she added.

Campaigners have warned that the expansion of the Garzweiler coal mine will make it impossible for Germany to meet its obligation to reduce carbon emissions and have condemned the government, including the Green Party, for its agreement with RWE. Under the deal, the deadline for coal extraction in Germany was set at 2030.

RWE’s mine currently produces 25 million tonnes of lignite, also known as brown coal, per year.

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators in the Netherlands said last week that the protest in the village “is not so much about preserving Lützerath itself.”

“It symbolizes resistance to everything that has to make way for fossil energy while humanity is already on the edge of the abyss due to CO2 emissions,” said the group.

Correction: This article was updated on January 17 to include the correct link to the Mapping Police Violence database.