GROSSRAESCHEN, Germany — As the sun beats down on a small vineyard by the rippling waters of Grossraeschen Lake, there’s little sign of the vast wound that lies beneath.
Meuro, the brown-black mine that once dominated the landscape, providing jobs to thousands of workers who toiled in clouds of lignite coal dust, has vanished. Only a floating excavator plucking sunken trees out of the water hints at the effort that’s gone into reshaping this corner of eastern Germany over the past decades.
It’s part of a massive environmental cleanup in Lusatia, a region that provided much of the coal that heated German homes and powered the country’s industrial rise.
Unlike its darker variety, lignite seams — also known as brown coal — often lie close to the surface, meaning it is easiest to just remove layer upon layer from above rather than dig underground shafts.
“This is a region that was shaped by strip mining for hundreds of years,” said Kathrin Winkler, a native of Lusatia. “No grain of dirt was left on top of the other.”
As a young woman growing up in communist East Germany, Winkler worked in the Meuro mine for a year. Now it’s her job to promote Lusatia’s lakes as the next big tourist destination, a tranquil retreat for weary city dwellers from nearby Berlin and Dresden.
The idea would have seemed outlandish to anyone looking at the alien, lifeless landscape not so long ago.
But over the past two decades the man-made craters have been slowly re-sculpted to create 26 lakes connected by 13 canals and hundreds of miles of cycle track. Instead of coal-fired power plants, the horizons are now dotted with wind turbines and fields full of solar panels. While about 22 per cent of Germany’s electricity still comes from burning lignite — and a further 12 per cent from hard coal — some 33 per cent is now generated using renewable energy.
At its peak three decades ago, Lusatia’s coal industry provided more than 90,000 jobs. Now, the region only has a few thousand workers at four mines operated by a private company, including the Welzow-South pit that supplies the ‘Black Pump’ power station about 20 kilometres (15 miles) east of Grossraeschen.
Helmut Franz, who used to work in the Welzow-South pit, said miners support the work that’s being done to restore the sites.
“People have been trying to figure out for generations how to heal the wounds,” said Franz, who …read more