Leave the church in the village! Divided communities in the lignite mining area

A film by Karin de Miguel Wessendorf
and Caroline Nokel

On behalf of WDR
In the series Echtes Leben

Ingo Bajerke stands in front of the closed church door in Keyenberg. His home village is one of the last five villages at the Garzweiler open pit mine in the Rhenish lignite mining region that are still to be demolished despite the coal phase-out. Ingo Bajerke has a hard time with having to relocate. He doesn't want his home village to be razed to the ground along with the historic Heilig Kreuz church. Together with other residents, he is campaigning against the demolition of the church. They want support from the parish and the diocese. In the neighbouring village of Kuckum, Marita Dresen lives with her parents and children under one roof. She refuses to sell her farm to the mining company RWE and demands from politicians that no more villages be dredged for climate-damaging coal.

Echtes Leben accompany people in the villages for over half a year and show the rift that runs through the communities. The rescue of Hambach Forest in 2018 has given the conflict over resettlement a new dynamic. While half of the villagers from Keyenberg have already relocated to Neu-Keyenberg, where they are building the new St. Peter's Chapel with a community centre, Ingo Bajerke and his fellow campaigners have regained hope: can they keep the Holy Cross Church in the old village of Keyenberg after all? But the chapel board, its chairwoman Agnes Maibaum and pastor Werner Rombach, do not want to go back: Holy Cross has already been sold to the energy company RWE and the construction of the new community centre with the St. Peter's Chapel is in full swing. For the laying of the foundation stone of the new church, they want the old church to be deconsecrated.

A plan to which the Bishop of Aachen, Helmut Dieser, surprisingly refuses to give his consent. He is waiting for the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia to take the lead decision. But this does not bring clarity for the local people in March 2021. The decision on whether or not to demolish the villages is postponed until 2026. Bishop Dieser's course takes another turn: He makes a concession to the Neu-Keyenbergers and finally agrees to the deconsecration of the Holy Cross Church in the old village. At the same time, he demands that politicians preserve the villages. Ingo Bajerke feels abandoned by the church.

Editorial office SWR: Angelika Wagner
Camera: Gerardo Milsztein,  Frank Kranstedt, Adnan Hodcic
Sound: Ralf Weber, Ralf Gromann, Christoph Schnüll, Martin Hinz, Rüdinger Leipold
Film edit: Kawe Vakil
Speeker: Claudia Mischke

On 7. November 2021, 17:30h, ARD

Other broadcasts:
8. November 2021, 11:00pm, WDR
9. November, 9:45pm, Tagesschau 24
13. November, 11:00am, alpha Kanal.

Available in streaming from the following providers:

The film is available in the ARD media library for one year.