Übermensch Undermined Mine Proposal Threatens Nietzsche's Grave

Brown coal mining is a major employer in the most beleaguered parts of the former East Germany but it comes at a high price: the decimation of the cultural and natural landscape. Will Friedrich Nietzsche be its next victim?


The eastern German village of Röcken, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, is home to 170 people, a Romanesque church and a duck pond. As history would have it, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was born and buried there. As geology would have it, though, Röcken sits on a lignite seam that has attracted the interest of the region's largest brown coal producer, Mibrag.

To get at it, Röcken would have to be relocated, including Nietzsche's remains.

In the 1990s, efforts were made to spiff up the stations of Nietzsche's life in Röcken -- his father's vicarage, where the young Nietzsche spent the first six years of his life, was renovated and the former horse stalls next door were converted into a museum. Now a new debate has begun -- and it pits the village's culture against its coal.

Mibrag has a near monopoly on surface mines and power stations in the Burgenlandkreis district and supplies much of the larger region with heat and electricity. It employs 2,100 people directly and 2,800 indirectly in a part of the former East Germany plagued with over 20 percent unemployment. But brown coal mining comes at a high price: the decimation of the landscape -- both cultural and natural.

This Easter Sunday, for instance, a small church that was moved 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) last October because its home village had been sold to a coal mine re-opened its doors, exactly one year after it had been shut for re-location. The move was carried out by wrapping enormous steel corsets around the church and lifting it onto an oversized, multi-wheeled transport bed, which was pulled ever-so-slowly for a week from Heuersdorf to Borna, two small Saxon towns near Leipzig.

But that lignite source's capacity is only expected to last until 2040 at the latest, which is why Mibrag is on the hunt for further ones. The current favorite is the region around Röcken, where test drilling has been going on since 2006.

If Mibrag decides in favor of the region, villages such as Röcken will be effectively wiped off the map, and this as early as 2025. While a citizen's initiative has been formed to oppose these plans, it seems that local support for expansion of coal mining is growing. Since German reunification, the region has lost roughly 36 percent of its population to more prosperous destinations.

For this reason, the three main parties in the area -- the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Left Party -- all support efforts to increase lignite mining. Only the Greens are opposed, and while they enjoy support as high as 36 percent in individual villages like Röcken, their regional following amounts to only 4.2 percent.

It's hard to say what the philosopher himself would have to say about all this. While being disturbed in one's final resting place can't be nice, Nietsche was no fan of what he called "monumental history." In his 1873 meditations "On the use and abuse of history for life," he warned against the kind of history that "serves the life of the past in such a way that it buries further living."

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