“We Oppose All This Shit”; An Interview from the Hambach Forest Occupation


Since April 2012, activists in Germany have occupied the Hambach forest to prevent the expansion of Europe’s largest open-cast coal mine. The mine expansion project would mean the clearcutting of the forest and the eviction of thousands of local residents.

On March 27, 2014, the forest occupation was evicted by police. The next day, Sonny, an activist in the Hambach occupation, visited the Earth First! Journal office to tell us about the campaign, the eviction, and what we can do to help:

EF!J: What is the Hambach occupation? How long has it been going, and how has it changed in that time?

Sonny: My pleasure and thanks for giving me the opportunity to present a couple of things here, I really appreciate this!

The occupation exists to prevent the Hambach Forest from getting clearcut, to stop the mining in the area altogether, and as a visible point of resistance and coming together for different parts of the movement against the mining. And we also try to create a focal point for generating a broader discussion on topics like climate, energy, consumption, industry in particular and capitalism, hierarchy, war in general.

Officially it all started in April 2012 with the first occupation of the forest. But of course many people had already dedicated themselves to preparations beforehand and for example formed a Projecthouse in the nearby city of Düren to get things started and provide infrastructure. We are still running this house, named WAA, which translates to “Workspace for Actions and Alternatives,” and there are many interesting plans for the future.

So this occupation grew and stood strong until late November 2012 when it got evicted. It was the longest lasting eviction ever in Germany. There was a tunnel system underneath a two-story kitchen, and the coppers needed special mining rescue units to get the person in the lockdown out of there. Marvelous! Tunnels had not been a thing in Germany but in the UK there’s a great tradition and there has been an amazing exchange of knowledge.

Campaign_Poster_(CURRENT_NEW)+The day after the November 2012 eviction, a new occupation was set up on a meadow at the edge of the forest. And this camp is still there. At the time, various attempts to occupy the forest again fell short because of the instant response of the “authorities.” But with the Climate Camp and Reclaim the Fields! camp in summer 2013 we finally established another occupation site inside the forest with the help and love of many people from many places.

Just very recently, on March 27, 2014, the forest occupation was again evicted and destroyed. But we are preparing to start over again of course.

The camp on the meadow is like a home base, and after the eviction now the place where the primary aspects of the Skill Sharing Camp will take place this April.

And one more thing. Even though the forest did not have any official occupation between November 2012 and the summer of 2013, there was always, since April 2012, at least one person constantly having quarters in the forest. In that sense the occupation never stopped!

In general the occupation(s) are open to everyone and even though there have been many people with the project for the whole time there’s also fluctuation of course. Different activists create different settings, but in general there is a main course: the fight against the damn coalmine and always an anti-authoritarian approach. And while some decisions are made in consensus, other stuff just works with people taking initiative. For most of us this fight is not just an ecological one but part of a more broad picture of anarchism(s) and anti-capitalism.

And then of course us living together is practice for individual and collective ideas on how communities or “tribes” in free association can work. We are all socialized in this mess so how can we know differently if we do not try?

The occupation is many people’s home and we are fighting for our lives externally and internally, so to speak. We live directly next to this fucked up mess but our camp, the struggle and movement that we engage in are very dear to us.

Everyone who has lived in such situations knows that it is all together demanding and magical at the same time! Sometimes you feel on top of the world, sometimes everything feels like it’s crashing down on you.

I do not want to romanticize anything because the balance between theory and practice, between having tolerance, solidarity and respect for each another while also trying to remain an autonomous individual can be quite energy draining sometimes. Even more so if repression from the outside constantly hits all our projects. I just try to maintain a spirit of trial and error.

Make attempts, start something, have glorious times. For a while. Then things cool down, subprojects die, people burn out. In my opinion this is where mutual aid and our collective love is needed the most. To be able to just get back up and try again. It is the life I want to lead for I do not care for any substitute, and I know that even though things can look bleak every now and then, there are always going to be magical times as well!

EF!J: Tell us a bit about the mining project you’re up against. What companies are involved, what is the history and what are the future plans—and why do you oppose it?

Sonny: Where to start?

The Hambach mine is one of five open cast lignite (carbon/coal) mines that are currently running in the Rhineland in Germany, close to Köln and Düsseldorf. It is the largest open cast mining area in Europe. Sadly, there is a tradition in this area of incredible pollution, as well as destruction of land, habitats, and whole villages.

The company running the mines is RWE, and they have ties everywhere. One could consider Northrhine-Westphalia—the part of Germany where this all is happening—RWE country, without it being too far fetched.


The Hambach mine is the biggest human-made hole in Europe—an unbelievably vast wasteland of destruction. RWE is the single biggest producer of CO2 in Europe, ripping 40 million tons of coal out of the ground at just this one mine every single year. Since the mining began in the late 1970s, 55,000 people have had to leave their villages because their houses vanished in the mines, and there are thousands who face the same “procedure” in the future. There is almost no groundwater because the mining has lowered the levels significantly, and many biologists believe that the Bechstein’s bat could go extinct because of the loss of habitat here. Many houses have substantial damages due to mining-related ruptures, and the excessive mining also results in remarkably higher levels of radiation than elsewhere.

The Hambach mine is supposed to run up until 2045, after which RWE wants to create a pipeline and for five years fill the horrific hole with water from the large river Rhein to create an artificial lake of unknown proportions (the second biggest in Germany). They rave about the recreational value of this, and of course people are gonna love swimming in a toxic tepid pool, I’m sure.

We oppose all this shit.

RWE is a big shot corporation in the military-industrial complex. On the one hand there is climate change because of the emission of CO2 and there is no chance anymore that people can just use the land freely like humans did for almost their entire existence because all is privatized, sold, portioned. High bets on the prices of food are a profitable thing and while there’s war over resources, famine and deaths of unbelievable proportions governance also means keeping refugees out of the fortress Europe, incarcerating them in camps or seeing them just fucking drown in the sea while the people in Europe get CCTV cameras pointed at them from everywhere. There are no single issues here.

I do not just oppose, I try to fucking fight!

EF!J: What kinds of tactics have been used in the Hambach occupation?


Sonny: This is a serious question. I mean obviously our main tactic is occupying the forest and keeping the camp (or camps) for the reasons I stated above. Sometimes we also have had sort of anti-rallies or demonstrations when RWE or associated unions have made spectacularly ridiculous propaganda for the destruction of the planet. Then there is local community work done—like freeshops, Food Not Bombs-style cooking, concerts, talks, informative forest walks and the cherished Bring-your-own-vegan-pastry-coffee-meets every Sunday.

Apart from that I of course can only point out what I have heard other people might or might not have done. Rumors, accusations, ravings.

Barricades and trenches to keep “authorities” from roaming the forest have frequently been built; spiking of trees has been a constant rumor; power-outages at the train line which only exists to run coal from the mine to the nearby plants have been reported every so often. I did read about some stuff at these train tracks going up in flames or something, and also RWE employees allegedly getting showered with rocks after trying to run over people in the forest. Anti-police posters appeared last summer and gave a quite picturesque atmosphere in the local villages during the camps. Houses have been squatted, and a local bank lost some windows as well. Weird.

I also heard things about some people personally engaging in monkeywrenching and sabotaging mining stuff that no one would believe anyway so my advice here for you all would be to just use your imagination for further details and ideas on such things.

Another very important part of our tactics is the collaboration with local citizens’ action committees. Of course there are differing opinions on many things but the exchange and solidarity is marvelous and for us the connections to the local people are damn important so that we do not get completely entangled inside our bubbles. As stated our struggle is not just a local issue but it has nevertheless naturally a local focus for the people who have lived here for decades or generations.

And there are upcoming plans for a printing collective, a food co-op and maybe even a radio station. The main goal is to establish our protest on a wider basis inside the “scene” as well as in the general public. Preferably everywhere.

EF!J: Tell us about the recent eviction. What happened, and what does it mean for the campaign?

Sonny: The fucking coppers came in in the morning by the hundreds, cherrypicked everything, destroyed treehouses, spitefully cut down all the trees in the nearer surrounding, dragged people down the trees and put them in jail to forcefully take IDs.

But after the eviction is just before the occupation, you know?

Forest_Eviction2014_2Of course this eviction is a huge bummer. Because of the destruction they created to parts of the forest and dedicated activist’s homes. But there is a sense of this all again being an opportunity as well.

I mean on the one hand one could state that we must be doing something right for them to barge in on us like that, and this I’d consider a comforting and reassuring thing after all.

The biggest problem as I perceive it definitely would be the huge loss of equipment. All the climbing gear and tools are gone and the excessive raid of the meadow occupation just one week prior, when they stole all our computers, flashdiscs and more electronical equipment, surely exacerbates this situation.

Financially we need to stretch enormously at the moment, a topic that we usually are not very interested in because naturally we don’t depend too much on money.

Together we now try to indulge ourselves in anti-repression, we prepare for further events, we call out for action and solidarity to everyone who listens with interest.

The Skill Sharing Camp was announced long ago anyway. We just have to mingle a bit more on the meadow occupation now. And the very day of the eviction the Re-Occupation on April 26 has already been publicly announced.

The “authorities” might see themselves in a position of advantage but they are utterly wrong. They fear us and they sure know why. The general resistance in the area is gonna rise, I am sure about that. The Garzweiler coal mine close by is officially not gonna be expanded up to the initially anticipated point and this is big news and might have been a reason for the eviction. The village of Holzweiler is not gonna be evicted and destroyed by the Garzweiler mine and this means 1,400 inhabitants do not have to leave their homes. I mean they live on the rim of the freakin’ mine and all, but still.

You know, so very often the disillusioned and devastated locals who just see RWE as being a megalomaniac force told us that we are 30 years too late with our protest—for the political decisions had been made way in the past. But now there is proof that things can be changed at this other mine, and it is absolutely possible that this is exactly the reason for the “authorities” to play their game of divide and conquer. While some gain hope, the radical protesters get smashed and criminalized to prevent others from joining and/or realizing that fighting for yourself is worthy living.

It is now up to us to make use of this situation and make another occupation happen, to create an even stronger, bigger, more ferocious resistance!

Yes, I do expect the camp and the Re-Occupation to be a riot. Figuratively andliterally speaking.

EF!J: You mentioned that your group has made an effort to work with locals in the area, including hunters and local farmers. What does this look like? What benefits and challenges have you noticed in working in solidarity with people who aren’t coming from the same background, or who don’t identify as activists?

Sonny: Gosh. Hurtful topic, difficult, mind-boggling, but important, yeah. Some sympathetic and cool people are amongst the farmers, others stubborn conservatives who would rather lose their own land than even get in contact with us. Just the usual I’d say.

With the hunters (overlaps between farmers and hunters are common) it is much more difficult. At least for me personally.

Road leading into the Hambach Forest camp, 2013.

Before I joined this campaign, this particular resistance, I never would have imagined passing along a hunter’s cabin in the night just seeing it there. You know? Big city perspective, single fights, huge bubbles to comfort yourself with. As someone who has fought for animal rights, you see red when you think about it, and others who have been with the movement for a longer time tell you that you sure can do whatever you want but to maybe consider waiting on tearing down all the cabins at once and for a minute reflect on what kind of outcome this might have.

Outcome? Outrageous.

At least this was my initial thinking. But hell yeah, after a short while I did understand something. Still not to my liking though, not at all indeed, but I just took in consideration that I cannot take on everyone as enemy upfront and at once. So yeah, none of us condones the murdering of non-human animals. But many feel like this is neither the time nor the place to fight this horrible behavior constantly, for the farmers and hunters have at the moment an interest in keeping the forest alive, even if completely for the wrong reasons.

EF!J: What does “winning” look like to you? Is the goal of the occupation to stop the mine, or are there other goals?

Sonny: Hm. Winning and losing are just not really issues I deal with too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean of course there are things I want. To name a few, I want to prevent the forest from being clearcut. And for RWE and all other corporations to be dismantled thoroughly. I want the end of capitalism and of this kind of “civilization.” I want a world free of authority and power structures, the end of patriarchy, nations, borders, and a world of free association.

To cut this short. I want a lot of things, and so do others.

Maybe the seemingly easiest of these goals, maybe also the most common denominator amongst all of us in this resistance, is the prevention of the clearcutting.

Can we win? Can we do this? Maybe. There is a perspective.

I do not know. I don’t know if his makes a lot of sense because yes, I live and breathe for that to happen but honestly it is not my main motivation. The winning part I mean.

Promotional photo for the Meadow camp.

Living the way I want to live, doing what I think is the right thing, that is my motivation. So the odds don’t really matter to me, I am not a reformist or a politician, I am an anarchist, a utopian, an uncorrectable romantic. [Laughs.]

And though RWE is a major part of the military-industrial complex, and Germany is Europe’s head honcho of austerity politics in the so-called “crisis,” I feel like even just putting a small dent in their plans of profit and governing is a worthy and fulfilling goal indeed!

EF!J: What can people do to help this campaign?

Sonny: Generally speaking I believe all dedicated people should do as they please wherever they see fit. Everywhere crap is happening so there is no need for looking too far because there are important struggles right in front of you. And to help a specific campaign you do not have to be at the place itself constantly. For example: interviews, articles, actions of solidarity, fundraising, awareness—this can all be done everywhere.

To slow the extraction process during the 2012 eviction, one occupier locked down to a barrel inside a tunnel below the forest.

We have really lovely connections to other projects and there’s always potential to broaden and strengthen that. Back and forth support between different projects is a very vital and important thing. Whoever has know-how can be of help in many different ways. For example, the fact that before the forest occupation in 2012 digging tunnels was not a thing which had been done in Germany, but with the help from people from the UK we are now even able to spread this knowledge on. This is beautiful to me and I am looking forward to all the old and new friends coming to the Hambach Forest soon (or later) as well as myself visiting and participating in other projects whenever I can be elsewhere—like now.

But of course people can just come and help with the Re-Occupation! Spread the word, send messages of solidarity, get and keep connected and so many other things. Or even actually come to the Hambach Forest itself, if you can somehow. Definitely.

Then there is one really, really important thing that I despise even pointing out but there’s no way around it. I said it before, we lost most of our crucial equipment in the raid and eviction. There’s money needed to replace climbing gear and some technical equipment. If anyone has some money that is not needed elsewhere, you find the banking information on the blog: hambachforest.blogsport.de

EF!J: Are there any final thoughts or messages you’d like to get out?

Sonny: Fight for emancipation and liberation however you see fit, wherever you can. Be radical. In every aspect. Be free and do things that make you happy. Be earnest and take nothing seriously. Just be the mindfuck you want to see in the world. And dance or do other jolly things every now and then for the sake of yourselves and Emma Goldman!

Gosh I suck, don’t I? Taken the chance to spit out some pseudo-phisosophical bullshit here. But as a respectable—and for reasons of common sense completely unknown—contemporary philosopher once and twice and more times said: “If you can’t convince them with science, baffle them with bullshit.”

So let’s all keep in mind to always have some of that nice BS close by, it might come in handy…

EF!J: It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for your resistance in the Hambach forest, and for coming to the Earth First! Journal office to share with us. Solidarity!

Sonny: Oh it has been my pleasure indeed, thanks so very much for giving me the opportunity to present the struggle and talk about the past, the present and some of the immediate future as well. See y’all at the camp or at least the Re-Occupation, right? I am kidding of course, even though I do love the thought of having some people from here over there with us. There just can never be enough exchange between dedicated people.

Everyone feel free to stay in contact, write emails to hambacherforst@riseup.net or just, as stated, pop by whenever you like!

Camp_Meadow_3Anarchy is love!