Between Highway Extension and Occupation

4 mins read

By Nina Happ

Hessen, Germany, November 2020 – in the midst of a healthy, 300 year old forest a protest in the shape of an occupation is accompanied by the sound of chainsaws and falling trees. Starting October 1, 2020, forest workers escorted by police are cutting down trees just a couple of meters away from activists sitting in the canopy. They are occupying the forest, building barricades, and risking legal consequences to protect the woods along with the vision of a future worth living in.

The aim of the clear cutting is to extend the highway A49 in Hessen, Germany, going through a fresh water reserve and Flora Fauna Habitat, FFH, area, inevitably dividing a valuable habitat and endangering freshwater resources that provide drinking water for half a million people. The groundwater level in the region has been sinking drastically over the last few years as the reserves do not only provide water for the immediate surrounding but also for the metropolis Frankfurt. In the face of global warming, hot summers in Germany will result in severe water scarcity. Moreover, dividing the habitat of animals and plants leads to genetic isolation which makes the ecosystem extremely vulnerable and adds to the air-, noise- and light pollution. 

40 years ago the German government agreed on extending the highway, last year, in autumn 2019 they decided to proceed with it. The plans to build the highway were established in the 1980s. Since then they have not changed much and are therefore old and outdated. As the construction plans violate the EU Water Framework Directive, which is in place to ensure water safety, they would not be approved in the present day according to contemporary jurisdiction. Moreover, the new road will increase traffic volume and traffic jams. It is also expected that the highway will result in up to 40% of train users switching to private transport in some parts of the region. 

The motive for people in favor of the highway is an expected traffic relief in the surrounding villages since the current traffic routes are used for freight transport. Particularly, the chocolate manufacturer Ferrero, who has a production facility in the nearby town Stadtallendorf, has been lobbying strongly in favour of the highway extension. Traffic analysis, however, shows that actual significant traffic discharge is rather unlikely. 

Shortly after the announcement in 2019, activists started occupying the forest supported by protesters of the citizen initiative which has been opposing the construction plans for decades. In contrast to the occupiers, the citizen initiative supports the idea of a compromise between the authorities and residents. A road layout that bypasses the forest and water protection area could prevent the clearcutting by using and improving already existing roads, as suggested by the German society for conservation, BUND.

Nevertheless, the official approach of the forest occupation is an ecological traffic turn which promotes a change from individual transportation to public transport while renaturating and reducing Germany’s already extremely dense traffic network. Thereby it supports the creative and sustainable development of public transport and encourages its use. They state that the current transport policy is outdated, as it is mainly based on fossil fuels and exploitation. Furthermore, it supports CO2 emissions not only due to fright and private transport but also through car production and street construction.

The rural regions in Germany particularly lack sufficient public transport besides other important infrastructure such as stable internet and telephone connection. Especially considering the current pandemic it becomes more and more clear that communication infrastructure and social issues need much more political attention than economic gain through street extension. 

The Greens, a party that was founded in the early 1990s to give sustainable visions of the future a voice, is divided by the extension of the A49. On the level of the German Bundestag, they demand a stop of the clear cutting, while the state government of Hessen, which includes the green party, is supporting the environmental devastation. 

Looking at the human made climate change, habitat destruction and CO2 pollution are severely damaging our planet. According to the Paris agreement, these aspects are just two out of plenty that need to be mitigated to achieve the goal of maximum 2°C of global warming. Overlooking Germany’s political decisions over the last few years, they are miles away from sustainable approaches. In July 2020, the decision of continuing mining and burning coal to produce energy was made in form of the Kohleausstiegsgesetz a law that allows the practice until 2038 ( 

Climate political ideals are lived within the occupation and the support structures as the activists and protesters try to live as sustainable as possible. Despite facing police brutality every day, solidary structures remain in the form of volunteers providing warm vegan food (mostly donated or saved), donated clothes, upcycling of broken material, medical care, free and warm sleeping places, concerts, and workshops. The community around the Dannenröder Forest, or the “Danni” as many people call it, is creatively expanding and improving every day with more and more people joining the movement. Whether at the front line or in the supporting structures, each person is supporting a greener future. Forest clear cuts are a major environmental issue not only in Germany or in Brazil, where rainforest logging destroys hundreds of hectares of habitat each day. It is also an issue in Sweden and especially in Uppsala where protests similar to the occupation of the Dannenröder forest already exist, looking at the so far successful treehouse occupation in Blodsten Skogen. However, there are more major projects endangering natural habitat. Just recently Uppsala University announced the planned logging of 8 ha protected forest in Hågadalen-Nåstens naturreservat, which is inhabited by many red-listed species. Deforestation is a large global issue, as well as it is a local one. It is time to become active, protect our forests and support our local occupations. We have the power to stop the destruction here and now.

Cover photo: Philipp Kiefer

Nina Happ is a student at Uppsala University, where she makes her best efforts to finish her master’s degree in ‘Ecology and Conservation’. Recently she discovered her ambition to go into climate activism and now experiments with finding the balance between natural science and political interest. Moreover, she is interested in all kinds of sports so that you might find her rope climbing around Uppsala or diving in the baltic sea.

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