Germany: The Forest Occupation Movement – Tactics, Strategy, and Culture of Resistance

Lignite mining, express highways, gravel mining, parking decks, lime pits, and candy factories all have something in common that might not be obvious at first glance. Capitalists need to cut down forests to make way for them. But all around Germany, people are mobilizing to stop them. Over the past decade, forest occupations and forest defense actions have proliferated to such a point that we can now reflect on the movement as a whole.

Since February 26, 2021, people have been occupying a forest near Ravensburg called Altdorfer Wald. A gravel pit is threatening the forest’s existence and some activists who had earlier built climate camps and tree houses in the inner city of Ravensburg decided to live in the forest to protect it. At the moment this occupation is not facing eviction.

On the day of the occupation near Ravensburg, all the way at the other end of Germany, police began the eviction of an occupied inner-city forest. In Flensburg, in October 2020, people had begun building tree houses and platforms to save the trees, which were slated to be cut down to make way for a hotel and parking deck. A matter of days before the end of the legal cutting season, the investors sent cold-blooded mercenaries with chainsaws to attack the trees despite the risk to activists. The city politics rewarded the investors’ misdeeds by ordering more police to attack and evict the occupation at the very moment that Flensburg was one of the COVID-19 mutation hotspots in Germany.

Speaking of the pandemic, the Green Party in Hessen has lost support even among middle-class people, as they not only argued for the new express highway A-49 and as a result for large cuttings in Dannenröder Forest, Herrenwald, and Maulbacher Wald, but additionally initiated an eviction that lasted weeks in November 2020 even though the region was a COVID-19 hotspot, as well. The occupations in these forests had started in 2019; some protesters still remain nearby, as the highway is not yet constructed even though the trees on the future trail have been hacked down. On of the most spectacular actions involved a 300-meter-long traverse of rope connecting Danni and Herri.

Likely to the surprise of many of those involved, another occupation has been successful: On February 21, near Halle (Westfalen), demonstrators occupied the Steinhausener Forest where the candy factory Storck intended to expand. Less than a week later, while the occupiers were awaiting eviction, the company decided to change plans. At least for the present, the forest is safe.

In Wuppertal, at Osterholz, five hectares of forest are endangered because of a lime pit. The Kalkwerke Oetelshofen aims to store the earth that they excavate where there are trees. People have been occupying the area since August 2019. Just as occurs everywhere else, the capitalists who are profiting from destroyed forests seek to frame their propaganda as “objective discussion,” they complain about alleged “defamation” and emphasize that their business is of systemic importance. Indeed, any capitalist business is of systemic importance—but as the system itself is the root of the problem, this argument is not convincing for those who want to change the system. In any case, at the moment, they are not being permitted to cut down the forest.

In Wilhelmsburg, in Hamburg, in a forest called WiWa (Wilder Wald, wild forest), people constructed tree houses because the city declared the area a potential development area. The activists in the forest developed platforms in the trees—but this is probably not the kind of development politicians appreciate.

Furthermore, people are maintaining forest occupations in two villages in Rhineland that are threatened by lignite mining. The occupation in Keyenberg dates to September 2020, while the one in Lützerath just began on January 16, 2021. The resistance there is closely connected to those people who are trying to save the villages by occupying houses that the coal company RWE wants to destroy or by squatting construction equipment.

Finally, the most famous forest defense occupation of all, in the Hambach Forest, is still occupied. First squatted in 2012, it has been evicted and reoccupied several times. In January 2020, politicians decided that Hambi should not be completely destroyed—after most of it already had been—but the occupation still remains. Recently, some people from Hambi published issue number 5 of the bilingual zine Shitbarricade.

And for those who like to travel internationally, there are occupations in Poland, Switzerland, and France as well as fights in Sweden and Belgium that are networked with the fights in Germany.

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