A yearly activist ecological camp, taking action against climate change, located in the region of Rhineland, not far from Cologne (Köln), North-East Germany. “System change not Climate change”, direct action for direct results, a chance to get involved away from the safety of a keyboard. This is what Klimacamp (Climate camp) represented for me in a nutshell. And all of that happened almost by chance!
The camp took place just a few hundreds meters far away from an open cast coal (lignite) mine, this mining area being the biggest emitter of CO2 in the whole Europe! With constant supervision of police surrounding our camp and even helicopters. Quite scary isn’t it? But it actually was a truly connecting and fulfilling experience if you can believe me!
Despite the dysentery epidemic and conspirational theory as you’ll find out later.
Disclaimer: We’ve only published photos taken in public places and during legally-authorized actions. In case you recognize yourself and you still don’t feel comfortable about it, please let us know.
Everything started by chance
A couple of summers back, Me and Oti were hitchhiking in the south of Germany, when at a gas station we met another hitchhiker and we started the usual conversation. It doesn’t happen that often to meet fellow hitchhikers, so when it does happen, we are always eager to exchange some stories and hugs! We found out that he was about to go to this almost 2 weeks long ecological activist camp, that we had no clue it even existed before. Long story short, we already had some plans [no entertainment unfortunately, I had to meet a specialist in holistic dentistry for a (failed and expensive) surgery].
But once we were done with it, we thought: “Hey why not?”
I’ve always tried to follow a strict ecological lifestyle as far as my knowledge and capabilities go: eating mostly vegan, travelling overland hitchciking or cycling, buying only necessary items, second hand clothes and electronics, avoiding as much as possible packaging and plastic bags.
At the same time it might feel strange to say, but I’ve never been too much involved in the topic of climate change. In the sense that “why should I care if the climate is changing because of human interaction or not, if either ways I would follow the same ecological approach?” Basically the answer to this dispute didn’t affect too much my choices. But it did affect the others’ choices, the ones of the people that were not too committed to it and the way they perceive the consequences to their actions. And given the actual urge we are in, that’s quite a big deal! Even if it was a fake news (and almost certainly it is not) it was still aiming at the same positive, final goal.
So we took the decision to follow this “sign” and we hitchhiked to the activist camp, knowing very little about the event and its magnitude.
Reaching the activist camp and passing through a ghost town
We easily got a ride to the area, but we had to walk the last 3 km, since there were no cars whatsoever: this came to no surprise, we would find out later why!
While the sun was setting, we started walking through what looked like a ghost town: all the doors were shut closed, often with wooden planks nailed in, not a single person in sight. Out of the 1 km long stretch through this abandoned village we saw just a couple of inhabited houses with dim lights on, visible through the windows, giving a touch of humanity to this unexplained mystery.
We would later find out that Immerath, the actual name of this small village, was forcibly abandoned to make space for the expansion of the coal mine that had already swallowed the fist rows of buildings of the municipality.
Not far away there was also the occupation of the Hambach Forest, or actually what was left of it, after it had been cut down almost completely, sacrificed to the same Profit goodness. Or course we didn’t know all of these stories before, and with feelings of an untold truth and a bit of unease, we rushed our pace to reach the activist camp and escape from this stalking madness.
Oh what a relief! Once we arrived the atmosphere was so much different! We left behind this trail of death and destruction to dive into colourful people, action, joy and hope. The camp was so much bigger and alive than what we expected! There were about 1000 people coming from all over the world: of course almost every European country was represented, but there were activists coming from as far as Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, and so on.
Klimacamp in a nutshell: the camp and the activities
KlimaCamp is organized according to an anti-authoritarian self-organisation. The camping space is divided into districts (named Barrios), each one having its own thematic focus: gender equality, racism, agriculture, etc. and neighbourhood meetings are held regularly.
Outside the camping area there were many medium sized tents to host the several free workshops and discussion groups, and a huge Circus Tent to host plenary meetings.
If you are picturing a bunch of punks and anarchists, drinking beer and smoking, that’s totally wrong. Everything looked professional, all the speeches were translated live from translation booths in a multitude of different languages and headsets were provided to the participants. There were a variety of grassroots movements and organizations from around Europe and beyond, and the speakers came from a variety of different of backgrounds: activists, writers, journalists, scientists, etc.
As you can guess in such a sensible and supervised event, there were also several undercover agents. That’s why every speaker was invited to never use the first person when speaking but rather say “I heard somebody saying that there will be this and that at that place... or that this or that has happened today”. This way, nobody would take legal responsibility about what was mentioned.
I was positively impressed to see so much care and such a smooth and peaceful organization.
Nothing I would have ever guessed before of a self-organized ecologist camp! In contrast to this reality, the images and adjectives pictured by the media to discredit such actions in similar events, were coming to my mind: illegal, violent, anarchist, communist, black block, hippies and so on. Nothing further from the truth in this case, since what I experienced was a sincerely committed and peaceful gathering of dreamers doing hard work for they fellow human beings!
All the camp activities and the workshops were free, on a donation basis, food included! A professional Dutch crew of cooks came on purpose to feed the 1000 activists with delicious food, and all the participants volunteered on a spontaneous basis to help in the food preparation. Basically a fully working community of people, voluntarily helping each other without any money involved!
And let’s speak about dirty things... toilets! That’s an important detail behind the “conspiracional theory” as you’ll find out in a bit as the story develops. There were dozen of professionally built compost toilets and hygienic standards were very strict, with separated toilets for the kitchen crew, for normal participants and for sick people so that the chances of any disease spreading uncontrolled were minimized. After all we were in Germany and German standards applied even to self-organized activist camps!
While the atmosphere inside the camp was really relaxed, collaborative and peaceful, it was not so outside: a disproportional amount of police vehicles permanently patrolled the sides of the camp, and sometimes even a helicopter would come and start circling above us.
Direct actions during the camp!
Apart from the informative workshops and discussion meetings, some actions were organized during the week.
“I heard that” one of those actions consisted in occupying the abandoned village school that had been closed because of the lignite mine expansion, and bringing it back to life with activities, classes and celebrations.
We also went on a “legal walk” authorized and escorted by the police through the village and around the perimeter of the coal mine to see the “beasts” in action, huge, skyscraper high machine digging and swallowing the land and the leftovers of the village.
Surprisingly what touched me the most was the humanity of the policemen. Once again so far away from what is shown on the media (at least on the Italian ones)! No violence whatsoever from either side and mutual respect, with funky hippie activists walking side by side with public officers and sincerely discussing about the coal mine and climate change. It was really a memorable experience!
The final action, occupying and blocking the lignite mine: how it turned out?
“I also heard that” the final goal of the camp was actually a huge unauthorized action, planned to take place in the last day of the gathering: the invasion of the coal mine by hundreds of activists and the disruption of its operation. Are you wondering how it ended up? Success! The goal was achieved and the coal mine remained inactive for 24 hours. But the funny fact is that no invasion was needed!
In fact the administration of the RWE company controlling the mining site, knowing what was going to happen (remember the undercover agents?), decided to shut down the mine for 24 hours! It was probably still an advantage for them, since the mine was shut anyway, but they decreased the media visibility of the action, so quite a smart decision in a way.
And now let’s get back to the conspiracional theory. The last days of the camp there was a dysentery epidemic, despite all the hygienic measure taken. Some of the participants, attending every edition of Klimacamp, told us that it was probably a planned sabotage from the side of the authorities, maybe contaminating food or water on purpose to make people sick enough but not permanently, not to be able to attend the final event. In fact it happened almost every year with the same dynamic, exactly before the big action day. Truth or conspiracy? Who knows!
Because of the disease spreading, and us being still healthy enough, we decided to leave in advance the site, before the planned end of the camp, to preserve the normal functioning of our guts.
We had to leave Klimacamp, but what we experienced in Klimacamp will never leave us! A feeling of unity, unison, collaboration, potential put into action, of people that cares about mother earth and their inhabitants, and are ready to put their own safety and freedom at risk to protect it!
“System change not Climate change” is the motto. Or at least I heard so...