On a rainy November day in 2021 in the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s mining heartland, I sat with Helmut Kehrmann in his family home, in the village of Alt-Keyenberg. The room was empty, with the exception of a chair and a few boxes lying in a corner. Marks left by furniture and fixtures were still visible on the dusty wooden floor. This was the last time Helmut visited his house.
Residents of Alt-Keyenberg are under eviction orders. The nearby Garzweiler open-pit mine, producing brown coal, or lignite, is expanding. RWE AG, the mine’s owner and Germany’s largest energy company, has purchased most of the village. Demolitions will begin once the acquisition is complete, razing the village by 2024 to make space for the lignite mine.