From the outside, the pitched circus tents and colorful figures dashing around look like the fair has arrived at the heart of Germany’s brown coal industry.
But on the inside, Climate Camp is a self-described communal utopia bringing together a panoply of social and ecology movements from across Europe seeking climate justice.
Around 6,000 activists have gathered at camps in Germany’s coal districts from August 18 – 29. The main camp is based near Erkelenz and used as a headquarters for workshops and experimental grassroots democracy.
The “movement” is composed of autonomous groups, ranging from anarchists and queer activists to environmentalists and pro-immigration groups.
In effect, the activists are a coalition whose overriding mission is to “block coal infrastructure, to call for an immediate phaseout” of lignite mining, said Insa Vries, a student from Berlin and spokesperson for Ende Gelände, one of the more prominent anti-coal groups that engages in civil disobedience.
The Climate Camp gathered together numerous groups espousing social causes. These included anti-racism groups, those supporting immigration, environmental protection groups, and people advocating for gay rights.
Organizers set up solar panels to provide electricity to camp. The fog later cleared. A generator was still needed to fully power the camp.
Camp participants prepare food for everyone. Volunteers take on various responsibilities to keep the camp working.
Activists cook food in giant vats. Chickpeas with cumin, salad and bulgar salad with an Indian style hot paste were served up for dinner.
Volunteers clean dishes as part of the camp’s division of responsibilities.
Camp participants throw food waste in a compost bucket. The average German throws away 82 kilos (181 pounds) of unused food every year, much of it preventable waste that impacts the environment and the economy.
Read: The battle for villages and forests in Germany’s coal country
Set in a bucolic landscape west of Cologne, four coal-fired power plants run by the energy group RWE send white plumes of smoke skyward.
The plants are fueled by three massive open-pit lignite mines that have engulfed fields, roads and villages in the name of powering Germany’s economy.
Together they are the largest source of CO2 emissions in Europe, underlining Germany’s continued dependence on coal despite a much touted “energy transition” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Brown coal mines are not a local problem; they are an international problem,” said Eva Weinstein, a protester who rode her bike from London with about 40 other activists.
A satellite view shows the extent of lignite mining west of Cologne.
At a satellite climate camp near Bedburg, about 1,600 Ende Gelände protesters on Saturday donned mock hazmat suits as a police helicopter surveyed the crowd overhead.
The day before, they had spent nine hours blocking the rail tracks that carry lignite to the Neurath power plant, which spews 88,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. The action was one of several by the group during the week.
Setting off through country roads and farm fields, lines of protesters set out to occupy the tracks again.
As a tactic against police, learned from several years of demonstrations, Ende Gelände is organized into so-called “fingers.”
Each finger consists of about 100-300 people who stay together as the larger body of the protest gradually breaks up in a bid to disperse police resources and target coal energy infrastructure.
The so-called “Gold Finger” Ende Gelände group marches across a field against a backdrop of the Neurath and Frimmersdorf lignite power plants pumping smoke into the atmosphere.
A protester wearing a mock hazmat suit and carrying a bag of hay prepares to set off from the Bedburg base. The march to the coal carrying rail line takes about three hours.
Protesters break through the first police blockade. “Many police behave well, others not so much,” said Milan Schwarze, an Ende Gelände organizer. DW witnessed police hitting several protesters with batons at this first road blockade.
On their way to the rail lines, protesters were chanting slogans such as “We are unstoppable, another world is possible” and “Keep it, keep it in the ground, keep it, keep it in the ground.”
Protesters came from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, the United Kingdom and other European countries. Many had joined Ende Gelände protests in previous years.
Protesters from the “Blue finger” Ende Gelände group march towards the Niederaussem coal-fired power plant, seen spewing out smoke in the distance.
Protesters run past a line of police attempting to block them from crossing a potato field leading to the rail tracks.
Protesters scuttle across a potato field to escape police. Minutes later, they are met by a much larger police presence near the rail line.
A protester lies on the ground after being hit by a baton wielding police in the leg. Another man calls for the medic team that accompanied Ende Gelände.
Police corral about 150 protesters who did not make onto the rail tracks. Activists then sat in the baking sun for several hours surrounded by police until they were herded onto buses and taken to a police holding center.
Police carry a protester to a police bus. As an act of civil disobedience, many protesters refusing to go voluntarily to police buses were forcefully dragged away by police.
Three groups of protesters, each of about 70 people, block the rail line carrying lignite. The action lasted six hours until police were able to remove and transport the protesters.
Julia Verlinden, a member of the Bundestag for Green Party, observes protesters and police. The Left Party also sent parliamentary observers.
Protesters on the tracks were taken away by a RWE railcar. Police said the protesters needed to be transported by railcar because it would be too dangerous to drag them down the steep embankment that they had climbed to reach the tracks.
Police carry away a protester who refused to leave voluntarily. Many of the protesters on the tracks had to be carried away. This protester tactic slows down police and keeps the rail line closed longer.
After a game of cat and mouse with police, around 200 protesters made it up an embankment to block the tracks carrying lignite to the Neurath power plant, shutting it down for six hours.
Hundreds of protesters were forcefully rounded up by police and taken to temporary detention facilities.
The fact that so many young people would risk detention “shows how serious are their concerns about climate change,” said Julia Verlinden, a parliamentary observer from the Green Party.
Separately on Saturday, 3,500 protesters formed a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) human chain near RWE’s Hambach coal mine.
Another smaller group of protesters locked themselves to a conveyor belt in the mine before being taken into custody by police.