This approximately 50 kilometer long route has always been one of my favorites. It just felt right from the beginning to the end. It offers a bit of everything. Some areas are challenging, others relaxing, beautiful, fun, thoughtful, historical, sad, interesting or impressive. Some segments are perfect for fast rides, others include nice inclines. Maybe it’s also its length of 50 kilometers that always felt perfect to me. Or the destination Garzweiler which I found very fascinating in a morbid kind of way.
Garzweiler is (or used to be) a district of Jüchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, which in the 80s became a strip-mining site for brown coal of the Rheinbraun AG (now RWE Power AG). Despite a lot of protest by residents and environmentalists, the entire town was moved to a new location that is now called Neu-Garzweiler (New Garzweiler). The old Garzweiler disappeared from the map and made room for strip mining. This happened in the period between 1984 and 1989. I still remember news-reports about people who didn’t want to leave their houses.
For decades, brown coal has been major energy resource and fossil fuel in Germany. Somewhat similar to what oil is for Saudi Arabia, Russia or the US. Garzweiler alone produces 35-45 million tons of coal every year. So it does not surprise that the administration supports extreme measures to move giant bucket-wheel excavators across Autobahns and high voltage pylons, or even relocate entire cities. Although Garzweiler is not the only town that was relocated in the past few years (other included Priesterath, Elfgen in Grevenbroich, Belmen and Königshoven) it has become a synonym for strip mining in Germany.
In 1995 the administration approved the new mining region which is also known as Garzweiler II. This project started in 2006 and will continue until 2045. Other towns that are currently relocated or will be relocated in the coming years include Otzenrath, Spenrath, Holz, Pesch, Lützerath, Immerath, Borschemich, Berverath, Holzweiler, Keyenberg, Kuckum, Oberwestrich, Unterwestrich – some of which used to be part of our old cycling routes.
Looking at the unbelievable scope of this mining undertaking, I have to wonder how much time is left until all natural resources are used up. We really seem to live on borrowed time. Even if it might not affect our generation, it surely will become a problem for the following. I have read several times before that the natural oil-reserves will only last for about 40 more years at the current rate of (increasing) consumption. How much longer will coal and natural gas last?
Every time I visit Garzweiler it leaves me with mixed emotions. There first was the joy of riding a favorite cycling route, then it was followed by the sad and worrisome sight of what man has done to what once was a town and home to generations of people. But at the same time the grand scale of this operation, the equipment and the giant hole are very fascinating – perhaps a bit like visiting a different planet. This site is definitely one of the strangest, saddest and most thought-provoking, an impression that lasts during the whole way back.
The route starts at the Niers river Bridge toward Trietenbroich and Giesenkirchen Schelsen, leads through Schlich, Wallrath and Stessen. It continues to Muermeln and New Garzweiler to the strip mining site which is a rest spot and viewpoint with benches and tables. The route leads back from there via Herberath, Gierath back to Stessen. It continues east to Hemmerden toward Busch, Im Damm and Rubbelrath, Liedberg, Giesenkirchen and ends near Schloss Rheydt and Zwölf Morgen.