Living above the coal

Dispatches from the Lausitz Brown Coal Fields In light of recent debates and developments concerning the use of renewable energy technologies, chances for a fundamental policy change seem as good as never before.

In Germany, the nuclear phase-out is a done deal, the efficiency of renewable energies is less and less in question, and the ecologically harmful mining of brown coal has come under fire. But what is really going on in the brown coal regions like the Lausitz, the hidden southeastern corner of the state of Brandenburg next to the Polish border? Here, on one hand, you find an undisturbed and unique natural landscape and tidy towns without the typical post-socialist grey, on the other hand a history of more than one hundred years of brown coal mining. Since the mid-1990s, the Swedish energy coperation Vattenfall has been making millions of Euros in this region - and will continue the exploitation of new strip mines, the demolition of villages and landscapes, and the future resettlement of its people. The entire region is threatened with irreparable ecological damages and severe health hazards – despite the fact that the state of Brandenburg will be able to sustain itself exclusively via renewable energies already in 2020. Also, the largest potable water reservoir of Berlin, located in the Spreewald area, is threatened by mining residue from chemicals used to dissolve heavy metals. Based on several month of research, a powerful story containing texts and images portrays life in the shadow of strip mines and power plants. Local residents talk about the need for jobs and the destruction of their towns and villages, the incapability of politicians, and how profit takes its toll on democracy when there is no future in sight besides the prospect of being turned into an endless desert-like wasteland. Text: Claudia Krieg

Mark Mühlhaus