The end of the world’s capital of brown coal


Germany is slowly shuttering its prolific lignite mines, which produce the least efficient type of coal. The ghostly towns in the mines’ shadows may hold a lesson for how to move on. I’m standing in the middle of Old Manheim village, but my phone is telling me otherwise. On one side of me I can see the old church, its windows boarded up. On the other, there’s the village pub looking similarly abandoned. But Google Maps is adamant this place doesn’t exist. The little arrow on my phone can’t even pick up the street I’m on. It thinks I’m in a field. Since the late 1940s, around 50 villages like this have been cleared to make way for coal mines in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. Old Manheim – or just Manheim, as it was once known – is on the edge of Hambach, one of three open-cast mines in the region where lignite, a soft brown coal used almost exclusively in power generation, is extracted. The majority of Old Manheim’s residents have had their houses purchased by energy company RWE, which operates the mines, and have moved to the freshly constructed New Manheim just down the road.

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