Part one of a two-part Shoal report from Germany.
The bus stops remain, but the buses don’t call any more in the little
rural village of Manheim in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
The pub is still there, but permamently shut. The same with the shops.
The village church is still standing but was desanctified in May this
year and will never host another service.
Only a handful of houses show any signs of occupation. The rest are
deserted, boarded up, surrounded by bleak wastelands of rubble where
once stood family homes.
Manheim is, in fact, in the process of being completely demolished.
Why? It is the latest human settlement to get in the way of the massive
Hambach opencast lignite mine, which is busily laying waste to 85 square
km of German countryside to extract “brown coal” used for fossil fuel
Trees, wildlife, communities – nothing can ever be allowed to get in
the way of industrial capitalism and its insatiable need to destroy all
that is living.
Operator RWE, whose entire executive board joined the Nazi Party en
masse on May 1 1933, knows that electrical and political power always go
hand in hand and thus far has been given free rein by the authorities,
despite much local opposition.
The human beings whose homes got in the way of their profits have been
resassigned to Manheim-neu, a new settlement 7km away on the other side
of the A4 motorway.
Just as clear-cut forests can apparently safely be replaced by planting
saplings on a different site, so can people’s lives be neatly rearranged
to suit the financial needs of the ruling industrial capitalist elite.
An environmental activist who has been visiting Manheim for several
years told me of his sadness at the death sentence imposed on the
“You really saw the decline of the village. At some point you could not
buy bread any more. People were really depressed. They said their
grandparents were born there, their parents as well, they had lived
there all their lives.
“There are not a lot of old buildings in Germany because so many were
destroyed in the wartime. Where I live, you need permission to paint
your house – not just the colour but the kind of paint.
“Here, 60km away, they are destroying whole villages. It all depends on
who is wanting to do what”.
There were attempts to protect Manheim. As well as residents determined
to defy the compulsory purchases, supporters squatted some houses but
were rapidly evicted and the buildings immediately rased to the ground
to stop them coming back.
RWE and the authorities insist that that the destruction of Manheim,
with all the human trauma it involves, is for the “common good”.
Passers-by we spoke to didn’t seem to agree. One referred to RWE as
“criminals”, while another preferred to describe them as “the mafia”.
He noted that they ruthlessly threw people out of their homes in Manheim
and then adopted a “human” approach when it came to the question of
destroying Hambach Forest, arguing that the jobs were good for the local
The political situation has shifted a little in Germany in 2019. Rising
awareness of climate change, and the environmental crisis in general,
means there is currently a question mark over the ongoing expansion of
the Hambach mine.
But nobody seems to have have told the people demolishing Manheim. We
watched as their bulldozers tore into the walls of a place that somebody
once called home.
Before long, even the firm soil it stood on will have been ripped away
by RWE’s enormous and brutal machineries.
Is this what progress looks like? Replacing a community with a massive
hole in the ground?