Police reinforcements poured into the besieged region designated as Germany's nuclear dump yesterday but even the beefed-up army of 20,000 proved powerless against a handful of environmentalists. It took four activists to force the nuclear train into retreat by burying themselves in concrete in its path.
The six containers of reprocessed waste had been less than 20 miles from the railway terminus when riots erupted on Tuesday night. The train backed a few hundred yards into the safety of Dahlenburg station, where it was stranded for most of yesterday, brought to a standstill by people on the track.
A few miles ahead, four members of the environmentalist group Robin Wood had chained themselves to pipes driven in among the gravel and set in concrete. Police engineers set to work with hammers and chisels, followed by power drills, and eventually pneumatic drills.
The first protester was soon freed but the remaining three proved to be harder to dislodge, because they had chained themselves to each other. Ten hours on, they were at last carried away on stretchers, suffering from exposure. It had been minus four degrees Celsius during the night.
Another few hours went by as the police filled in the hole left behind. While the train idled, the diesel locomotive belching out black smoke, the two opposing forces regrouped and tried to catch some rest.
The last time the train rolled to the nuclear storage facility of Gorleben four years ago, hundreds of people were injured in clashes on the final day. Much of that was attributed to judicious violence by police who, after three days of back-to-back shifts, were on a shot fuse. This time the unscheduled respite was used to replace those on the front line, especially the thousands pelted with stones and assaulted with flares on Tuesday. Their numbers were also boosted, from 15,000 to 20,000.
The protesters also tried to relax, in their own inimitable way. At the level crossing by Dahlenburg station, a couple dressed in immaculate black danced tango on the rails, followed by an amateur magician and a juggler. "It is very important to reclaim the streets, because they have tried to ban us from here," said the juggler, Torsten, who is studying to become a natural healer.
Preparations were meanwhile being laid for the next stunt. The local nerve centre is a tent on a vacant plot next to the supermarket in Dahlenburg. This was where Torsten received his instructions after arriving from a night of rioting in Dannenberg.
Organisers plotted their next move on a map, dispatching volunteers to various sections of the railway track. When a decision was reached, dozens of volunteers jumped into cars. After a journey of three miles, they parked on the verge and started running across a field towards the track. "It's to keep the pigs guessing," said one. This time, the police do not take the bait although the protesters, by penetrating the exclusion zone, are breaking the law.
How many of the estimated hundreds sitting on the rails last night were fastening themselves with chains and concrete would soon be known. As darkness was falling, the train was setting off again, this time forward, in the direction of Dannenberg. That is where the real difficulties would begin. The containers must be loaded on to lorries to embark on the trickiest part of the journey, by road to the nuclear dump in Gorleben. Another eventful night was approaching.Reuse content