“Forest instead of Asphalt”

Von Matthias Bartsch (by Matthias Bartsch ) For Der Spiegel (German magazine)

01OCT.2020, 7:13 PM

Translation from German to English by Google Translate.

At around 6 a.m., several hundred police officers had left a Bundeswehr barracks in Stadtallendorf in Central Hesse.  They parked their emergency vehicles on the northeastern edge of the city, secured a piece of forest with red and white tape and surrounded three improvised tree houses on which around ten environmental activists were waiting at the time.  They then accompanied workers with heavy equipment onto the site.  The first trees fell about three hours after the start of the mission.

 Strong police forces from Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria as well as federal police officers are to secure the further construction of the A49 motorway near Gießen and Marburg on a large scale.  According to a police spokeswoman, they are preparing for weeks or months of clashes with forest occupiers and demonstrators.  The environmental activists want to hold their position on platforms in the treetops that are more than 20 meters high in some cases until the end of March, after which the tree felling work would have to be interrupted until autumn 2021 for nature conservation reasons.

For the start of the clearing, the police and construction company have chosen a place that expected relatively little resistance: They did not begin in the Dannenröder Forest, where more than 150 activists are currently believed to be living.  Instead, the trees are first felled in a forest further north, the Herrenwald near Stadtallendorf.

The “altitude intervention team” in the treehouse

 “Danni stays, forest instead of asphalt,” echoes from the three tree houses in the forest.  “People in the tree houses, you are great,” a young woman calls back from the barricade.  Meanwhile, a police “high-altitude intervention team” is preparing for its mission on a meadow in front of the forest.  The tree houses are cleared in the late afternoon…

Around a hundred meters from the tree houses, around 30 men and women block a forest path at noon, on which a police clearing vehicle wants to drive to its next location. The officers first separate a few demonstrators from the group, then they carry the others one after the other into a clearing on the edge of the path. People are shouting and protesting, but the operation remains peaceful.

You don’t want to endanger people, says an activist who calls herself Lola. She speaks for an alliance called “Auto Correction” that supports the forest occupiers. She hoped that the same would apply to the police. But you have to expect that the disputes will get tougher if the clearing soon also begins in the Dannenröder forest, says Lola.

This forest is about 1000 hectares in size. 27 hectares of which are to be cleared for the motorway. It is an intact, species-rich mixed forest with over 250-year-old oaks and beeches, criticize protest camp residents, citizens’ groups and environmental associations such as BUND. In addition, the concrete runway endangers the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. The region around the Herrenwald and Dannenröder Forest is one of the most important drinking water reservoirs in Hesse.

This is another reason why the construction of the A49 has been disputed for decades. Opponents of the expansion call the slope a “planning dinosaur”, which is neither contemporary nor approvable in view of climate change. The first drafts come from the sixties. Since then, routes have been repeatedly rejected, shifted and, in some cases, re-planned.

Supporters also demonstrated

In the meantime, more than half of the route, which should better connect the north Hessian Kassel with the center and the south of the state, has been completed or is currently under construction. The aisles through the Herrenwald and Dannenröder Forest are part of the last two construction sections, which are around 31 kilometers long. The southernmost part of the route through the Dannenröder forest to the A5 motorway was approved by the traffic authorities in 2012 and subsequently confirmed by several courts up to the Federal Administrative Court. Construction should be completed by the middle of this decade.

There are also numerous supporters of the motorway among the residents in the region. Many residents, companies and municipalities hope that the new route will relieve the heavy traffic on the federal highways and provide a faster connection to Giessen or the greater Frankfurt area. At a rally with a few hundred participants last weekend, the supporters of the Autobahn in Stadtallendorf described themselves as a “silent majority”.

The opponents of the slopes, however, have supporters from many parts of the republic. Among them are tried and tested forest squatters who had already cobbled together barricades and tree houses in the Hambach Forest. Or high school graduates like Lou, that’s what she calls herself, who has lived in the forest since May. In mid-September, with a camouflage-colored cloth in front of her mouth, she led the left-wing Hessian parliamentary group through the branched resistance settlements with names like “Oben” or “Unterwex” and raved about life in the Dannenhöfer forest. When she wakes up in the morning and hears birds chirping and the wind rustling in the leaves, then she knows that she is in the right place, Lou reported, the forest is her “home”. The left-wing politicians expressed their solidarity and donated containers for water treatment to supply the protest camp residents.

Carola Rackete wonders about the greens

“The human rights activist Carola Rackete, known as the captain of the rescue ship “Sea Watch 3”, has also moved into a tree house in the “Oben” part of the village and has called on Twitter to come into the forest when the eviction begins. It is absurd that such a beautiful old forest should fall for a highway, says Rackete. She is surprised that the state government in Hesse is involved, although the Greens co-governed the state and even provided the transport minister.

“For the Greens in Hesse, the dispute over the “Danni” has actually turned into a credibility problem. The Green Transport Minister Tarek Al-Wazir is currently using every opportunity to explain that he has always been against the motorway and still rejects it. Only: he could no longer prevent the building. The motorway had been decided by other political majorities before his term in office, the building rights had been granted and approved by the courts up to the last instance. After all, even a minister must obey the law.

“Not all Greens see it that way. The Homburg city councilor Barbara Schlemmer, who maintains close contact with the forest occupiers, is “deeply disappointed” by her party friend. “Tarek Al-Wazir should stand here in the forest with us,” she says, and actually also the federal chairmen Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock. Instead, the left is the only party from the state parliament on the side of those who are fighting in the “Danni” against the destruction of nature, climate change and an outdated transport policy. “It’s a scandal for me,” says Schlemmer.”



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