In A Light That Is Leaving

Photography by Neha Hirve

Eco-anarchists are fighting for the preservation of Germany’s forests

In the woods between Cologne and Aachen, secrets are whispered, communications are encrypted, meetings are arranged by nightfall, and barricades are constantly built and destroyed at every entrance point. Here, it always feels like the apocalypse is about to occur.

There are people living in this forest—somewhere between ten and one hundred, no one will say—and they are waiting it out until the inevitable “Day X,” when they will be evicted, their treehouse homes destroyed by the police, and the last of the forest will be cut down forever.

Hambacher Forest in Germany is home to a group of eco-anarchists fighting against Germany’s second biggest power company, RWE.

The threat of the neighboring lignite mine being expanded looms closer as more and more trees are cut down every year. The occupation is reflective of a larger ongoing political and environmental conflict over brown coal in the country. While generating 35% of its energy from renewable resources and planning to phase out nuclear power by 2022, Germany still deforests to mine lignite.

But there is no big battle scene to be found in “Hambi” as it is affectionately known, just the slow tedium of a constant struggle. Treehouses are built and evicted every few months. People come and go, and in between arrests and clashes, there is a lot of waiting around for the end of the world.

On September 13, 2018, what the activists have named “Day X,” or Eviction Day, finally arrived. The police began a massive eviction of the area in what is estimated to be one of the largest and longest police operations in North Rhine Westphalia. Special forces and police systematically evicted and destroyed the treehouses and arrested activists for 5 days before a journalist accidentally died, halting the process temporarily. The area was marked as a danger zone, which restricted the rights of the occupants, and prevented civilians from entering the forest.

At the end of the eviction, the activists were already planning to rebuild the occupation and continue resisting, but the future of Hambacher is worrying. Day X will probably come eventually.

Already, there is just 10% left of the 12,000 year-old natural resource it once was. Much like the rest of our planet, it walks a critical precipice. “In a light that is already leaving” is more the story of the frustration we feel when we look at the state of the world around us, when it isn’t enough to share a Facebook link or stand in the street with a protest sign. What else do we have, if not our need to keep fighting in the face of the end of the world? And why must we wait for the end of the world to act?

‘So we wait, breeding

mood, making music

of decline. We sit down

in the smell of the past

and rise in a light

that is already leaving.’

– Rita Dove, November for Beginners

This story, originally published by Are We Europe, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters.