No man’s land.  Daniel Chatard has been documenting the coal mining conflict in North Rhine-Westphalia for many years.

Daniel’s curiosity is sparked when he hears of villages threatened to be forced into lignite mines in Germany. He decides to drive there and learn more, determined not to leave without understanding what is at stake for the people living near the mines of Hambach, Garzweiler, and Inden, some of Europe’s biggest CO₂ polluters. But it isn’t easy: activists are suspicious of the media coverage they feared would threaten their cause against deforestation – only agreeing to be photographed hooded.

The photography student keeps driving to the Rhineland and spends the nights in the forest. He even helps build tree houses, and he quickly earns the trust of the activists. They also teach him how to climb into the tree houses: you secure yourself to two loops and pull yourself up, piece by piece.  

While working on the “Niemandsland” project, Daniel also develops a book dummy. He asks affected people from the villages to write their thoughts on the displacement. The meaning of his images changes in this dialogue. 

Daniel Chatard now lives in the Netherlands. His work has been published in ZEIT, National Geographic, and the Washington Post. Both his exchange during his studies and the solidarity of his fellow students were vital to him. “Even if you were stuck on something, someone could always explain it to you”, the photographer says. His project “Niemandsland” was nominated for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2018 and exhibited at the FOTODOKS Festival in Munich the following year.

Manheim-neu, Kerpen

In February 2020, residents of the resettlement site “Manheim-neu” wait for the passing carnival procession.

Bedburg, North Rhine-Westphalia

Demonstrators of the action alliance “Ende Gelände” evade a police blockade during an action in August 2017 and climb a hill back onto the road.

Erkelenz, North Rhine-Westphalia

In November 2021, the new German government announces its intention to save Keyenberg and four other villages threatened by the Garzweiler II opencast lignite mine. About 80 per cent of the inhabitants have already been relocated by this time.

Hambacher Forst, Kerpen

Activists carry a tree trunk through the forest to build a tree house with it.

Hambacher Forst, Kerpen

“Robin” inhabited the Hambach Forest for several months. Almost no one here knows the real name of the others. For fear of repression by the police, aliases are used.

Hambacher Forst, Kerpen

Meanwhile, the Hambach Forest is occupied by dozens of tree houses, the highest at about 25 meters. Almost all tree houses can only be reached by climbing, making them difficult to clear.

If you want to get into the tree houses, you have to learn to climb. You secure yourself with two loops. Like a caterpillar, you then pull yourself up, piece by piece.

Erkelenz, North Rhine-Westphalia

In January 2021, the alliance “Kirche(n) im Dorf lassen” organizes a blessing of the houses still standing in Lützerath. A few months later, some of them will be demolished by RWE.

Immerath, North Rhine-Westphalia

For the expansion of the Garzweiler open pit mine, the parish church of St. Lambertus, popularly known as “Immerather Dom”, will be demolished in January 2018.

Erkelenz, North Rhine-Westphalia

Marita Dresen is involved in the alliance “Alle Dörfer bleiben” (All Villages Remain) to preserve the villages threatened by the Garzweiler II open pit mine, whose resettlement began in 2016.

Garzweiler open pit mine, Kerpen

Several hundred activists entered the Hambach open pit mine during an action by the “Ende Gelände” action alliance in November 2017.

Bedburg, North Rhine-Westphalia

Police officers carry away a demonstrator after they have surrounded him with hundreds of others in a field in front of the coal railroad tracks. All demonstrators are taken away in buses.

Lützerath, Erkelenz

Fred, along with many other local activists, is fighti to preserve the village of Lützerath.

Hochneukirch, North Rhine-Westphalia

In the Otzenrath House Museum, Inge Broska, a former village resident, exhibits found objects. They were left behind during the resettlement of Otzenrath.

Manheim-neu, Kerpen

The Manheim-neu resettlement site is located a few kilometres away from Mannheim. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 2011, and today, about 1,000 people live there.

Keyenberg, Erkelenz

Activists Robin and Jillie live in the tree houses even in sub-zero temperatures.

Hambach open pit mine, Elsdorf

The Hambach lignite mine is 400 meters deep, and a residual lake will be created from it one day. Filling the lake with water from the Rhine is expected to take several decades. However, environmental groups doubt the feasibility of the project.

Hambacher Forst, Kerpen

“Clumsy” was already present at the first forest occupation in 2012 and has lived in Hambacher Forst almost continuously for over five years since then.

Hambach Forest, Merzenich

The last remaining tree house settlement “Lorien” in Hambach Forest is cleared by police and SEK officers during the evictions in September 2018.

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