Strange Homeland (Otzenrath 3° kälter)

The film Strange Homeland tells the story of several inhabitants of the Lower Rhine village Otzenrath. Within five years, the whole town was resettled. It is the first of twelve villages confronted with the same fate within the next 40 years because they stand in the way of the brown coal open pit mine “Garzweiler II.” Jens Schanze continues the story he began in 2000 with the film Waste Land (“Otzenrather Sprung”). We are reintroduced to the same people from back then as they now attempt to make “Neu-Otzenrath” their home.

“Brown coal is one of the most important energy sources for Germany. I wish you all the best with this project and a bright future for the Federal Republic of Germany,” proclaims German Chancellor Angela Merkel to representatives of RWE Power AG in Grevenbroich-Neurath on the occasion of the groundbreaking ceremony for the most modern brown coal power plant in the world. “Congratulations to you all, you have a snazzy new village here,” declares Garzweiler II’s Director of Operations to the people of Otzenrath during the church fair. “I don’t think our energy problems were so large that all of this was necessary,” says the young farmer Markus Mohren as he surveys the ground where, until recently, the 700 year old village of Otzenrath stood.

There are currently 25 coal plants already under construction or planned for operation by 2012 in Germany. Within the same period, over 1000 new coal plants will go into operation worldwide - in complete disregard to the dire consequences predicted by the UN World Climate Report from January 2007, should carbon dioxide emissions continue unchecked.

RWE Power AG, Germany’s second largest power company, is building a brown coal power plant in Grevenbroich-Neurath utilizing state of the art technology. 6-7 million tons of brown coal will be burned here annually starting 2010. From every ton of coal, approximately a ton of CO2 is released through the smokestack into the atmosphere. The plant is planned for at least 30 years of operation.

The brown coal for this plant comes from the nearby open mine “Garzweiler II”, also run by RWE Power AG. In 1998, the North Rhine Westphalia government gave the company permission to mine coal within a 48 square kilometre area. Garzweiler II went into operation in June of 2006. By this point, most of the 2600 inhabitants of Otzenrath, Spenrath and Holz had already moved to Neu-Otzenrath and Neu-Holz.
During the last years that Otzenrathers were able to spend in their old village, Jens Schanze, together with cinematographer Börres Weiffenbach, made the film Waste Land, a 2001 University of Television and Film Munich (HFF) and ZDF/3sat co-production. Six years later, they revisit the people they met back then. How has the loss of a familiar landscape and the move to Neu-Otzenrath changed their lives? How has the village community changed?
Strange Homeland is the second part of a chronology, that will document the fate of the Otzenrathers over a period of approximately two decades. The film revolves around young farmer Markus Mohren, who unexpectedly, and at first against his will, became manager of the family farm because of the changing circumstances. Back in 2000, a teenager of 14, he still dreamed of becoming a professional football player or working in the investment market. Also confronted with change are the owners of the local pub, a hobby beekeeper and former church deacon, and a farming couple that still farms their old property in the old village even as the gigantic coal shovel draws ever nearer.
Between the episodes from the lives of those relocated, the film follows the public appearances of the RWE representative, which alter between proudly stating their responsible fulfilment of their social contract to produce power and communicating the consequences for the local population as well as for the natural landscape.

While the citizens of Neu-Otzenrath try to accustom themselves to their new location and houses, the last remains of their old village are removed. One of the last buildings to be torn down is the church, a once protected landmark. Simultaneously, the manager of the strip mine tries to maintain good „neighbourly“ relations between his company and the relocated locals.
The film accompanies these parallel running events over a period of 10 months.