Once upon a forest (2018)


The Bürgeforest (or „Die Bürge“) was and is one of the most naturally growing forests in Central Europe. It exists continuously for 12000 years. Before the beginning of the mining, it covered an area of 5.500 hectares, the largest forest of the region between Cologne and the Netherlands. Today, only around 500 hectares are left, as the rest was cut down by RWE to mine lignite. 

For several years the Bürgeforest is occupied by coal mining opponents, to prevent it from being cut down and to protest against the influence of RWE in the area. To establish a steady occupation of the forest, the activists started to build up little camps of tree houses and sheds around the remaining part. Living a daily sustainable life in the forest, the activists devote their lives to the protection of the forest.

The open mine (Hambacher Tagebau) located now where the other part of the forest grew before is part of the Rhenish lignite mining area, the biggest mining area in Europe. This mining area is also the biggest single emission source of CO₂ in Europe. It produces more fine (respirable) dust than all traffic in Germany. This dust has a very negative influence not only on people in close surroundings, but also in Cologne and the Ruhr area. Especially because this fine dust is radio active. By digging up to 450 meters deep in the ground to reach the 2,5 billion tons of lignite that lay under the 8500 hectares large area, an entire landscape has changed. Not only the forest but even whole villages, highways and varied landscapes get destroyed for the open mine.

The conflict is not only about the forest though, but also about the climate, health, resettlement, and about the question: “Who decides?”


All photographs © 2020 Lukas van Bentum