Civil Disobedience for Sustainable Energy in Germany: Andreas and Anna von Bernstorff

Peace Award Winner 2013, Categorie "Public Engagement"

The Earl and Countess of Bernstorff are fighting with different means against the planned nuclear waste disposal site in Gorleben. The couple practices civil disobedience, takes legal action against the wrongful use of the salt deposit and, in its own forestry work, implements sustainable alternatives to nuclear power.

Is nuclear power the energy source of the future? Or is it irresponsible towards future generations and nature? These were the questions which the Earl and Countess of Bernstorff found themselves confronted with when the federal state government of Lower Saxony decided in 1977 to build a recycling plant and a permanent disposal site for highly radioactive nuclear waste. The Earl has a degree in forestry. He and his wife realized the destructive potential of atomic energy and started to act against the government´s plans. The Earl and Countess of Bernstorff and their children have been resisting the Castor transportation and nuclear policy for more than 35 years. They refused to sell their share of the salt deposit - a third of the area after all – and turned down a compensation payment of 30 million German marks.

Resistance using wild boar

The family´s activities are both peaceful and creative. When the first nuclear waste arrived in Gorleben, the Earl of Bernstorff had trees felled. He used them to block the roads and sat down in front of them with his whole family. Years later he declared a hunt for wild boar and disrupted the smooth running of the transport. Whenever the containers with the nuclear waste arrive, the family gives its 30 employees time off to protest.

The Earl and Countess of Bernstorff also try using legal means to prevent the permanent disposal site from being built. And they wish to leave clear marks which cannot be ignored. They leased a part of the salt deposits to Salinas Ltd from Wendland who wanted to mine salt. However, the authorities caused difficulties and thwarted their plans.

A sustainable role model

Andreas von Bernstorff with his sonAndreas Earl and Anna Countess von Bernstorff live with their children at the ancient Gartow manor house. It is part of the family´s identity to farm in a sustainable way and preserve its own land for future generations. The Bernstorff forest is one of the largest privately owned forests in Germany to bear the official seal for sustainability awarded by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The forestry business also has its own biogas plant which is connected to a distribution network providing warmth for public facilities and a part of the manor house.

In the meantime, Anna and Andreas von Bernstorff have passed on their family property to their eldest son. The courageous earl and countess will unfalteringly continue to commit themselves to the integrity of creation.

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