Hotday is a merciful day, because the haze that lies over the land swallows the excavators. You can imagine that the meadows just continue behind Norbert Winzen’s farm, that what they call “the hole” doesn’t begin there. Norbert Winzen turns around, away from the cliff a few hundred meters away, over which bucket-wheel excavators are towering. It robs him of his strength, but he needs it. In front of him lies his village, which for many years seemed doomed to become a thing of the past and which he now wants to give a future to.
What has meant pain for years, for those who left and for those who stayed, is to become an opportunity: five villages, almost empty. Large and small houses, listed and newer, shops that are empty, churches that are no longer.
What does a village need?
Since June 2022 it has been clear that the lignite under Kuckum, Keyenberg, Oberwestrich, Unterwestrich and Berverath will not be mined and that the nearby towns in the Rhenish mining area will remain standing. But most of the residents had already moved away, to the newly built settlement a few kilometers away or somewhere else entirely. Some of those who were still there got together and considered: What does a village need? How do you bring life back? What would have to be different than before, what should be preserved?
Norbert Winzen and Marita Dresen describe what a village can do in a similar way: giving a feeling of belonging and, if you are a child, of being safe and free at the same time. Marita Dresen also belongs to the “Village Community of Cultural Energy” and is one of the few residents who have not sold their houses to the energy company RWE until recently.
At their dining table in Kuckum, they both talk about life in the village, how it was and how they imagine it to be in the future. “You take care of each other, are there for each other,” says Marita Dresen. Knowing this gave her peace of mind when her own children, now grown, were traveling alone. She last experienced it herself when she expanded the former stable next to her parents’ house for herself and her family and many people lent a hand.
Stop, but also rigid
She has never lived anywhere else and worked at the local hairdresser for many years. Norbert Winzen, who grew up and lives in neighboring Keyenberg, remembers the joy of being independent, roaming around with friends and the pride of being part of the community as a member of the Musikverein. However, the nutritionist also says that after a few years in smaller and larger towns, he would no longer have been able to fit into village life as before. Because the supporting structure was always accompanied by rigidity and constraints, there were hierarchies, certain groups had sovereignty of opinion, and those who had moved there stayed that way forever.
When Norbert Winzen returned, the village was already preparing for its end. RWE organized the resettlement from 2016 onwards. The kindergarten closed, the pub, one shop after the other, land in the new location was distributed, the dead were reburied, and finally the church didn’t even have a bell anymore. But Winzen and his family decided not to give up the proud 160-year-old farm and to fight for Keyenberg to stay.
A shop by day, a bar by night
Shaping future coexistence in a new way is an important point in the vision of the village community, it is about “real participation”, which should be possible. There is the idea of a village campus, a place where all concerns and plans are discussed, everyone feels heard and new perspectives are welcome. There is also the idea of a meeting place for everyone, which is a shop during the day and a bar in the evening.
Winzen and Dresen envision projects that will radiate beyond the region: there could be theater performances and exhibitions in the mighty, desecrated church in Keyenberg. A new building complex that is only twenty years old could be converted into a village for people with dementia, modeled on the De Hogeweyk care facility in the Netherlands. An SOS Children’s Village is also being discussed. Hiking trails along the opencast mine could be linked with information about the place where the farewell to fossil energy production in Germany picked up speed.