Germany’s disappearing villages
16 November, 2017
Norbert Winzen’s family has been living in the village of Keyenberg for generations. His late father was a farmer, but with him gone the farm is no longer running.
Last year, Norbert and his family of 11 people were told that they are being forced out of their home to make way for the expansion of the vast Garzweiler surface lignite mine.
The mine was once 30 kilometres away, but now it has begun to eat into the town limits, 800 metres from the Winzen farm. Unless stopped, it will not be long until it swallows the village whole, like others nearby.
The German government has heritage listed the farm, so they are not allowed to change anything. The mining company, however, is allowed to take the entire village, including the farm.
The company offered a 1,000sq/m piece of land elsewhere and money as compensation for the 8,000sq/m farm, but this is not workable for the family and their animals.
“If we are lucky and find another farm like this and it is not too expensive for us, and we are psychologically able to move earlier, we will do this I think. But, my feelings are saying stay as long as you can as ‘you will not have any chance to have life quality like you have now’.”
If they cannot come to an agreement, Norbert Winzen fears that his family will be removed from their property by force. This weighs on his mind, and many others in the town.
“The talking in this village the last years is always about “what are your plans? We have to move. I’m sad. I cannot deal with this.” There are also people that say “well I have to move now, I’m 60 years old, and have the power, but I won’t when I’m 70.”
While Norbert estimates that it will still be four or five years before the edge of the mine arrives, the toll on the community is already evident.
“When I go out of my door, I see people from the mining company. Building pumps, cutting trees, closing houses. Keyenberg had 950 inhabitants, and now I think there are 50-70 who have gone. I think in two years there will be 400 left, and in four years – 20 left.”
“My mother has lived in this village for 73 years, and she always says: “I hope I’m going to die before this mining company really starts.”
Even the local church – the heart of many small towns such as Keyenberg – will not survive the quest for more dirty lignite, which has made Germany one of the worst coal polluters in Europe. Like others in the area, the church will need to be deconsecrated and made “unholy” before it is demolished. This includes taking down the crosses, making a final blessing, and removing the bell.
Norbert Winzen wishes to stay on his family’s farm and try to maintain their quality of life as long as possible, but he acknowledges that they are facing a powerful mining company with little chance of keeping their family home.