Actually, says David Klammer, he wanted to tell a story about life in the forest in his documentary, the portrait of an “alternative concept of life”. The photojournalist spent several weeks in the occupied Dannenröder Forest in Central Hesse and filmed how environmental activists live there in trees. Their goal: to prevent the clearing of the forest for a motorway construction. But Klammer’s story grew bigger.
When the police began clearing the occupied forest in November, suddenly there were also questions of law and conscience, obedience and disobedience, the present and the future. This shows a key scene at the end of Klammer’s film. A police officer from the Special Operations Command (SEK) with a balaclava and helmet climbs into one of the protest tree houses and meets activists in thick jackets and cotton hats. They call for the eviction to be stopped.
“In the end, nature always wins,” says one.
“Definitely,” replies the policeman.
“Then why fight against it?”
“Because the law and the law have to be enforced.”
He’s also in favor of the climate change, says the policeman. “Only a climate change will not happen overnight.” The activist says: At some point he will have to explain to his grandchildren that he has cleared the forest for a motorway. “I’ll say I resisted it.” Without a word, the officer puts a safety belt around her upper body, then she is roped off.
The film documents up close how the evacuation of the protest camp in the Dannenröder forest took place. An almost intimate glimpse that was only possible because Klammer was able to film undisturbed. It isn’t always like that, he says. Shortly afterwards, David Klammer was involved in two more evictions, on December 3rd and 4th, 2020. This time he himself was suddenly the first on both days that the SEK had pulled out of the trees, says Klammer. No chance for further recordings. The Hessian police recently sent him two requests for payment for the “rescue”: he is to pay a total of EUR 1236.16. “Costs for police official acts” is written above the two letters that the SZ has received.
Through his work, Klammer is said to have violated a general decree that declared the occupied forest in Hesse a restricted area. He shouldn’t even have been in the tree house, it says in the explanation. Now he should contribute to the costs of the operation – just like the protest participants. The fact that he was there as a journalist and not as an activist does not play a role in the writing. The process raises the question of what freedoms journalists have when reporting on unconventional forms of protest, for example occupations, and where the state draws the line.
Klammer is convinced that they did not behave wrongly. As a documentary filmmaker, he has to be close. In addition, he had always identified himself to the police as a journalist, carried his press ID visibly on his body and attached “press” patches to his helmet and jacket, photos prove this. That the police determined his personal details after both evictions and him on December 4th Klammer believes it is inappropriate even to search an activist. He called the police press office to describe his situation. But the officials on site weren’t particularly interested in that, says Klammer. “I should have protested harder. I’m not an activist, I’m a journalist.”
When the first hearing on the incident arrived in the spring, he tried again to classify his role and wrote a letter to the police. He works as a photographer for media like that mirrors and the Time and will be represented by the Cologne agency Laif. “As a press representative, it is important to be close to the people I have to report in the interest of the public for balanced reporting.” He enclosed a copy of his press ID with the letter.
That didn’t help either, on August 10th the requests for payment finally arrived. David Klammer is now suing the Wiesbaden Administrative Court. The police operation, argues his lawyer in the lawsuit, was “unlawful on the whole”. Just a week ago, the Cologne administrative court had declared the evacuation of the Hambach Forest to be unlawful in a similar case. In addition, Klammer was “active in exercising his freedom of the press”, after all a basic right.
The responsible police headquarters in Central Hesse does not want to answer any specific questions about the events on December 3rd and 4th and refers to the ongoing legal dispute with brackets. However, it announced that during the evictions there were repeated requests to those involved to leave the tree houses. Attention was also drawn to the operational costs incurred. The police are also not aware of any rescue cases “in which the person concerned clearly identified himself or herself to the emergency services as a journalist”. Representatives of the press had the opportunity to enter the restricted area “accompanied by the police”. “In our opinion, we have guaranteed the highest possible transparency for the press,” said the police headquarters.
Klammer says that in one case he couldn’t leave the tree house because the environmentalists had boarded up the only exit. In the other case, he simply no longer understood the police announcements from a height of 25 meters. He did identify himself to the officers as a journalist, and even called the police press office. As proof, he sends the screenshot of his call list, on which a two-minute conversation with the press phone of the police in Central Hesse is saved. However, the exact date cannot be determined. But apart from the details, one thing is clear: if accompanied by the police, the filmmaker would not have come so close to the activists. The close-up of the tree house clearance would never have happened.
If he has to reckon with high cost demands in similar cases in the future, it will be “difficult to report authentically,” says Klammer. He hopes his lawsuit will send out a signal for freedom of the press. The protest in the Dannenröder forest is an “important topic of contemporary history that has to be documented”. Incidentally, his 83-minute film entitled “Barricade” premiered in early November. It is the photographer’s first major film. And who knows, says Klammer, “maybe I’ll be a documentary filmmaker now”.