“Such a rush in the summer, everyone wants coal, we’ve never seen anything like it,” says Frithjof Engelke, a Berlin-based supplier of this disused fuel and once again coveted in Germany due to the gas crisis, which is expected to worsen in the coming months.
The dreaded shortage of Russian gas due to the Ukrainian War is causing unusual demand for this form of heating, despite its harmfulness.
For Engelke, director of the century-old family business Hans Engelke Energie, “the holidays will have to wait”.
Now he needs to place orders, organize truck deliveries – he already has routes scheduled until October – and prepare the product for those who buy directly at his store.
In Berlin, between 5,000 and 6,000 homes are still heated with coal, a tiny fraction of the 1.9 million that make up the housing stock, the city says.
They are usually older people, sometimes totally dependent on this fuel and living in old houses that have never been renovated. Or lovers of the intense heat that emanates from old stoves.
But this year, new customers have arrived in droves, says Engelke, whose small business also sells pellets (fuel from granulated wood) and fuel oil.
Now, “those who used to use gas, but still have a stove at home, want coal,” a phenomenon, he says, that is widespread in Germany.
Coal is booming in the country. The German government has decided to increase the use of power plants to meet the enormous energy needs of its industry.
Despite this, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently declared that he will not give up on his goal of abandoning this polluting energy by 2030 and rules out “a resurgence of fossil energies, particularly coal”.
But with all these new residential customers booming, it is difficult to respond to the high demand and many small coal dealers in the capital have nothing left to sell.
“We produce at full capacity during the summer, with three shifts, seven days a week,” Thoralf Schirmer, spokesman for Leag, a company located in Lusatia, told AFP.
The other factory supplying the market in Germany, based in the Rhine basin, will stop production at the end of the year, further reducing supply at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has already partially cut off the gas tap. to Germany.
“I’m a little afraid of winter,” admits Frithjof Engelke. These days, people seem more reassured when they find out they will have to wait at least two months before receiving the order, he says. “Things will be different when it starts to get cold out there,” he says.