von Alina Pogoda, Polish Green Network

Open-pit Lusatia region as an inspiration for Eastern Wielkopolska

Konin miners, activists and entrepreneurs went to Lusatia to see what the transformation in the German coal region looks like. Some solutions may work in Eastern Wielkopolska. 

Lignite has been exploited in Lusatia for many years, but everyone is aware that the era of this fuel is ending. It is similar in Eastern Wielkopolska. Therefore, on March 30 – April 2, a team of representatives of this region went to Germany on a study visit. The trip organized by the Polish Green Network was attended by representatives of the Institute for the Green Future, the Regional Development Agency in Konin, the Konin Chamber of Commerce, miners from ZE PAK, a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza Poznań and a journalist from the eastern Wielkopolska portal 

For 4 days, stakeholders from Wielkopolska had the opportunity to learn how the Lusatian region is coping with the transformation that has been going on for over 30 years there. They had the opportunity to meet local representatives of the German government, local governments, non-governmental organizations and scientific circles involved in transformational activities in the region. 

On the first day, there was a meeting in Gubin with Andreas Stahlberg, a local activist, who pointed to serious environmental problems resulting from the exploitation of local mines. The extent of the mining damage caused by the Janschwalde mine is serious: roads that are more than a meter deep, or dry wetlands that can no longer fulfill their role as drought and flood protection. A local activist indicated how and where the affected municipalities can apply for funds to rehabilitate the damaged environment and repair the damage. On the same day, a meeting with Klaus Freytag, Plenipotentiary of the Prime Minister of Brandenburg for Lusatia, took place. Freytag shared with guests from Wielkopolska the knowledge about the creation of new production plants in coal regions, creating jobs for people leaving the mines. He emphasized that green energy may be the driving force behind many investments. 

On the second day, in the town of Welzow, near the mine of the same name, Polish stakeholders met with the mayor. They learned that the smaller towns of the region have a problem with writing appropriate projects that would support local transformation, because most of the money for these activities goes to larger cities. In addition, the mayor indicated that the process of just transition must be fast. Determined action by the administration is needed. Therefore, it is important that coal regions are included in the Act on Accelerated Planning, so that administrative activities do not unnecessarily extend the entire process. 

In the second part of the day, a group from Eastern Wielkopolska met local residents and activists from Raddusch. The village undertakes many grassroots initiatives and tries to host the changes that are taking place due to transformation. Establishing permaculture gardens or adapting abandoned buildings for social and artistic purposes strengthens local ties and makes Raddusch a better place to live. This is especially important in a region that is struggling with demographic problems following the closure of mines and industrial plants. According to the local NGO, this work is paying off. More and more Lusatians are returning from exile, seeing that the region has started to develop again, this time in a more sustainable way than when its only wealth was coal. 

On the penultimate day, the group went to visit the F60 – the world’s largest transfer bridge, which was used to put the overburden in the mine. The structure is over 500 m long and has been open to the public since the 1990s. Then, stakeholders from Eastern Wielkopolska went to the headquarters of IBA Studierhaus, where the urban planner, Professor Rolf Kuhn, talked about how the Lusatian space has changed over the last 20 years. Thanks to the cooperation of town planners, architects, local governments and artists, the region has gained new social, economic and tourist functions. Today, hundreds of thousands of tourists come to Lusatia every year. They visit the former coal basin eager for industrial attractions, such as the aforementioned F60. Tourists are also attracted by the lakes which were created as a result of flooding open-cast mines.

The study visit was an opportunity to exchange Polish-German experiences and laid the foundation for further cooperation. Lusatia turned out to be a real – nomen omen – a source of inspiration for transformational activities in Eastern Greater Poland.

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