Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

The dirtiest fossil fuel

Huge excavators extract brown coal - also called lignite - from the earth. This is the first step in getting energy from lignite, among the fossil fuels that emits the most carbon dioxide when burned. This fossil fuel still amounts to almost about a quarter of the German energy mix.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Labyrinth with a crucial role

The raw material is then transported to the nearby power stations. Kilometers of conveyors across the mine enable the transformation of raw lignite into coal ready for burning. From some spots, the mine seems to be a labyrinth of giant structures.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Staying put

Garzweiler is home to some of the largest machinery in the world. This conveyor, out of operation, gives a sense of the scale. When these machines need to be repaired, the maintenance service comes to them. Would you dare driving it to a shop?

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Stark contrast

The energy company RWE also runs several wind parks, one of them visible from the mine itself. Although the company is preparing to adapt to renewable energies, for now its main goal is to extract the remaining lignite from the soil.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Fifty shades of brown

Brown tones dominate the landscape at the Garzweiler mine. The machines above this varied palette are fixed to a rail that enables them to stably move back and forward. At the lowest level, conveyors cross from one end to the other.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Future recreation area

The view from any point in the open-cast Garzweiler mine is desolate. However, RWE says once the mine is depleted, it will be filled with water to one day become a recreation area. But for that, coal mining first has to be phased out completely.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Protecting the forest

Meanwhile, activists have been living for more than two years in what remains of the Hambach Forest. They oppose RWE's plans to extend the Hambach mine - close to Garzweiler - which would see the remnants of the ancient forest go.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Raising awareness

Jus is one of the activists who has made the forest their home. They welcome interested visitors, providing them with information about their efforts. Support is constantly growing, Jus said.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Sustainable lifestyle

Living in the forest is not only a way to stop the mining activity, it is also the perfect way to demonstrate a more sustainable lifestyle, activists believe. They say they build with sustainable materials, in harmony with nature and respecting wildlife.

Green Germany: Home to brown coal

Future prospects

Climate and energy experts believe the 2017 elections and the formation of a new government will be the turning points in reaching a final phase-out of coal mining. And if the Hambach mine invades the forest, activists fear the next generations will face a desolate panorama.

Although Germany has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, the country still relies on coal. Mining company RWE wants to expand its mines; activists oppose it. A visit to the region, in photos.