Germany, Europe’s industrial behemoth, has an ambitious plan to de-carbonise its economy by as much as 50% by 2030. Sadly, for the village of Immerath, that plan is not ambitious enough. The families that once lived there have already left, while the opencast mine of Garzweiler relentlessly proceeds towards the now abandoned village. The colossal bucket-wheel excavators will soon swallow Immerath up, leaving no trace behind. If Germany is weaning itself off from coal, it doesn't feel like it here.
Immerath is (or was) a small farming village, lying on the flat, fertile lands of the Niederrhein. Families have lived here for generations, deriving their income from the surrounding land. It is, in that sense, pretty typical of most villages in the area. The church towers over the village, its spires visible from any and every vantage point. There is a sole pub, a small row of shops, a school, a fire station – all very normal.
But Immerath today lies empty. Some of the buildings -- most notably the church -- have already suffered some damage, and a bit of decay is noticeable. The streets are deserted, There are no cars, all the shutters are down on the houses. There is evidence that environmentalists have recently been here, as anti-RWE posters have been stuck to the walls of several houses. There are a few anti-brown coal placards standing in some of the now overgrown garden lawns. But these are the only clues as to the fate that led Immerath to become deserted.
Garzweiler – the mine itself – takes its name form the first village that was cleared and demolished here in order to make way for the brown coal. Since then, many other villages have suffered a similar fate. Immerath is just the latest victim. Even the Autobahn towards the Netherlands had to be rebuilt, and now sweeps the perimeter of the mine in a large arching motion. German Autobahns are preciously-straight, but not this one. When there is coal involved, there are exceptions.
'Immer', in German, means 'always' or 'forever.' It is a perverse irony, for Immerath will no longer be forever. It will soon be gone. We all have our addiction to coal to thank for that.