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Eco Pilgrimage in the Ahr Valley September 2023

A Report from Ulrike Great Trust Berlage

From 8 to 10 September, with eight people, we spent a weekend together in the Valley of the river Ahr in the German region called the Eifel. In July 2021 this valley was hit by massive flooding of the river Ahr, due to prolonged and intense rainfall. Where the Ahr normally is a small, peaceful river, meandering through a landscape of wide planes alternating with steep hills, it suddenly became a huge mass of water, in some places rising up to 7m above it’s normal level.

We wanted to see and hear what had happened in 2021 and experience how people, animals, the land and other beings are doing, two years later and at the same time there was the wish to see if healing could be done, otherwise than rebuilding houses or offering psychological help. The Ahr Valley was chosen because of concern about our changing climate; the idea being that the massive rain and flooding were a result of global warming and increasing unpredictable weather. Maybe no coincidence that because of this theme, the weekend we walked, brought exceptionally hot weather for the month of September with temperatures rising to a blistering 34 Celsius in the afternoon and causing us to pause and take a dip in the lovely cool water.
One group member who has family roots in this region, told us that in the second world war, the Ahr Valley had been used to train fighter pilots because of the steep hillsides along the river, causing many families to leave.
To the people we met on the road, we said we were on a pilgrimage, this word easily being understood, we noticed.

The first night we slept in the parish hall of the church in Schuld. The church sits high above the village, which during the flood had been completely shut off from the outside world, being divided into three islands due to the river becoming many times its normal size and overrunning bridges and roads. This was told to some of us by the lady who opened the building adjacent to the church for us. Her husband and son are local carpenters and lost all their machinery during the flood. Her story was still full of unresolved trauma and rage about people from the local community not being honest in the relief goods being delivered after the flood.
The first morning sit outside, in front of the church of Schuld, before breakfast, was beautiful; the sun rising from behind the mountain ridge across the valley and the fresh green carpet of grass and herbs that we sat upon.

There are many perspectives from which to look at the aftermath of the flood; my personal perspective being always to look at plants, especially the flowers. What I saw was the recovering of existing trees, shrubs, greens; perennial wildflowers like comfrey and malva. In the lower plains I saw pioneering flowers like poppies, wild amaranth, thornapple, evening primroses, various thistles. Among the butterflies only cabbage whites, but that isn’t any different from elsewhere in Western Europe this summer I guess. What we didn’t see, but what we were told by people living very close to the Ahr, were the big old trees that had been torn loose by the flood and were transported further on, damaging houses and bridges on their way. For this reason it isn’t allowed to plant new trees close to the river, but the people who told this, had planted new trees anyhow, saying the old chestnut tree in their garden was an essential part of their garden they didn’t want to miss.
Al along the bikers way we followed though the valley blackberry bushes were growing, giving us their ripe, sweet berries. One of the group members saw spiders everywhere; saying she’d never met so many spiders along the road in all her life. We saw a kingfisher and some big birds of prey circling high above. I wonder what stories nature, the rocks included, could have told us about their experience of the flood and I regret not being able to hear them speak.
To me one of the most powerful rituals we preformed along the road, was the naming out loud of the species that are going extinct or already have become extinct. They might be lost, but are still remembered this way. What would happen if humanity would focus its attention in this way to all living beings around?

All along the way there were damaged bridges, some being temporarily reconstructed so they could be used, some still in ruins making detours necessary. As we came closer to the village of Altenahr, the effect of the flood on buildings, roads and railways became increasingly visible. Things culminated in seeing how a railway bridge, under which previously cars and caravans had passed (the indication of the height of the vehicle still visible in paint on the bridge) had been lifted by the water, carried on some length and then had been smashed down so hard upon the ground, that the previous car openings were only about man high.
During the whole walk we passed several beautiful little whitewashed old chapels and churches, nearly all of them situated higher up the slopes of the valley, leaving them undamaged. Did people in earlier centuries know that from time to time the Ahr could rise and that therefore it was wise to build their most precious buildings so high, the rising river would never be able to reach them?

Walking into Altenahr by dusk where we intended to spend the night, we took a shortcut, using yet another damaged (and actually barred) bridge . In the village the annual “Weinfest” was going on with music and people walking the streets in their best clothes carrying a glass of white wine. If this gave us a slightly surrealistic feeling, this became even greater when we discovered we could walk straight into a previously flooded, and afterwards abandoned hotel. Exploring the empty building as a possible place to sleep was spooky; the ground floor being entirely empty, but on the second floor all the furniture was still in place in the hotel rooms covered under a layer of dust. One room was full of empty bottles as if someone was using as a hide-out sleeping place. We were saved by a man calling us back downstairs, telling us about the danger of collapse of the building and the three people who died there during the flood. After that encounter, finding a place to sleep that wouldn’t become too damp and cold during the night took some time, but we finally settled on a small sloping parking lot in an residential area behind the village church higher up. Although not sleeping very much, this turned out a magical night for some of us: the night sky full of bright stars, forever changing throughout the night; first the quietness, later in the night hearing two owls crying at each other (they sounded like Uhus) and in the early dawn a small bat flickering low above us (I must admit the bat intrigued me but also frightened me a bit). To my frustration I also saw airplanes in the morning sky flying over every two minutes – someone later said they were taking off from Frankfurt airport.

We left the parking lot shortly after sunrise and before the inhabitants of the houses around us started to wake up on Sunday morning. After a quick sanitary stop we sat down on an empty lot in front of a café being renovated with the sign “Saloon” on it. It was a dusty place, in the middle of town, windswept and swiftly changing from cold to very hot during the time we spent there. Meditating here, made the freshness of the morning for me suddenly change into gloom and despair. The place didn’t just feel sad; it felt devoid of any form of livelihood, very empty in a deeply unsettling way. At the same time after we’d finished breakfast on the same spot an Atlanta butterfly emerged out of nothing, fluttering around the damaged building. Later on that morning, behind a house being rebuilt and close to the Ahr, we did a ceremony to feed the hungry spirits. After that the gloom lifted a bit, but it felt as if there still needs a lot work to be done, to make the place truly alive again.

A friend of Svenja’s and member of the regional green party joined us in the final circle before leaving. Her presence was a bridge reaching from the world of pilgrimage on the road we had been in for nearly two days, to the everyday world of talking a taxi back to the car in Schuld and driving home to the Netherlands.

Although being familiar with sitting outside at home in my garden, the practice of sitting and sleeping outside in the middle of where things happen, was new to me and truly a deepening of practicing outside of a zendo or my own place. I’m curious about a possible next time.
As for the pilgrimage: a documentary film maker walked with us, almost unnoticed doing her filming work, so hopefully somewhere in the future it will be possible to watch some images of the weekend.

Gassho to Svenja, Dieter and Patrick for organizing the weekend!

Ulrike Great Trust Berlage

Fotos by Svenja Wildflower Hollweg

Eco Pilgrimage in the Ahr Valley by Ulrike Great Trust Berlage (2023) Read More »

Day of Refection near Lützerath - 30.4.2023

A report by Kathleen Battke, originally published in German at the Website of the Zen Peacemakergemeinschaft

It was a moving scene and time a few months ago when the last residents and solidarity activists had to abandon the old village of Lützerath in the Rhenish lignite mining region. In “contractual loyalty”, something was carried out here – the destruction of an entire village, and it was not the first – which is not good for the climate, which is against better knowledge and understanding.

Friends from of the Belgian sangha of Frank de Waele Roshi, as co-initiator and organizer our companion Svenja Wildflower, bore witness in the region in August 2022 as part of a eco-retreat – to the wounds inflicted on the earth by our civilization’s energy gluttony, but also to the strength and passion of the people fighting for their homeland.

On April 30, some of the retreatants returned to the field. Four members of the Peacemaker community from Bonn and Tilburg – Dorle, Claudia, Reiner and Kathleen – joined them for this day of reflection. So on this enchantingly beautiful last day of April, 20 peace friends gathered at the Holzweiler cemetery: People from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, four of whom live in the region and have been involved locally for years.

A short round to get to know each other – then we set off in silence. Not with a destination this time – not “to Lützerath”, “to the edge of the precipice”, but “into the void”. The disappearance of Lützerath opened the gates to the void. We honored this by setting off without knowing, letting ourselves be guided by the paths, step by step, in silence.

We found ourselves at a red and white barrier again. Behind it was Lützerath. Now: torn up earth, a hole, a shovel excavator in operation. The barrier couldn’t stop the former inhabitants of the village who were walking with us; they went into their village and settled down in places they still knew when they were full of life. Some others from the group went with us, the others settled down on this side of the barrier to meditate. – The plant security guard, who was responsible for guarding the site, immediately became active and asked everyone to come back outside the barrier. When this did not happen, they called for reinforcements. So the meditation of those expelled from the village was guarded in their old places – and allowed. In brief conversations, we were able to maintain the unbalanced peace. During the meditation, many of us felt the heartbreaking tension of simultaneous beauty and destruction: skylarks sang their cheerful melodies into our silence, while the bucket-wheel excavator tore up the earth with a stoic bass tone…

Finally, we were all gathered in front of the barrier again, and one of the local representatives recited the lament she had written about the disappearance of the village into the silence of our meditation. The skylarks accompanied the words of helplessness, pain and anger with a crescendo.

After the next section of the trail, we settled down for lunch – once again we were amazed at what comes together when each brings just a little something…

Back to Holzweiler – here we sat down on a piece of grass to listen and share our thoughts in the council. Two six- or seven-year-old girls immediately appeared, put their hands in their sides and asked loudly: “What are you doing?” – we explained it as best we could, and in the end they generously let us. Between numerous motorcycle excursionists and the beginning festival fair on May 1st, this was, according to Frank Roshi, “the loudest council I have ever experienced”. Nevertheless, the quiet tones, tears and gestures reached our hearts.

We ended the day at our starting point, the parking lot at the Holzweiler cemetery, with the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony, in which we make ourselves a great meal for all hungry spirits with chants, recitations, sounds and symbolic offerings.

Source of the Report and photos by Kathleen Battke:
Translated with the help of deepl.

And an impression of the Day of Reflection in form of a photo slideshow by Svenja Hollweg

Day of Reflection near Luetzerath by Katleen Battke (2023) Read More »

Bearing Witness to the Earth (2/3)

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area

Then there is the so called “Sophienhöhe” (Sophie’s height), a 300 meters high huge hill protruding from the flat landscape. I am reluctant to call this artificial hill Sophie’s hill, not only because its very existance has nothing to do with wisdom at all. But also because my daughter’s name is Sophie, something to do with future and beautifully aliveness!

Once here used to be villages, forests, fertile fields. Then brown coal was extracted and a huge pit emerged. Finally the pit was filled with the overburden of the next excavated hole. Especially the Belgians and Dutch delt a lot with the word “Abraum” (overburden, mining waste – The German verb “abräumen” means to clean up, to clear away, to strip off.). We met the alienation expressed by this very word during our whole hike. Everywhere shreddered earth and stones, of no use any longer. There was something absurd about it to walk this ground. It was hot at that, abover 30 degrees, blazing sun, rarely shadow.

I had not even mentioned that I was present with a broken foot, mostly in a wheelchair. So there I was, learning devotion, especially showing up as a visionary & organiser so vulnerable and in need of help, really challenged me and was put to the test especially on the climb to “Sophienhöhe”. With broken foot on broken, shredded ,injured (earth)body. 4 people (!) pulled and pushed me up the monotonous, graded path along small freshly planted trees. Remaining in the wheelchair on this path, I got a tiny taste of what enormous power and energy it takes to manage these gigantic earth movements, as they happened on and under this hill. A huge reshuffling of huge masses of earth – a reshuffling of the earth’s history that has grown in peace over thousands of years. Slowly matured by the growth and decay of organisms and life.
As a friend said: “A brainwash for Mother Earth’s brain”. Once here, it only hurts.


At the same time, we have gathered on the artificial hill at various stations during the ascent. Huddling together in the little shade available.
The trees are simply still too small to provide ample shade, as perhaps the old village lime tree of Alt-Lich-Steinstraß would have done, one of the first villages to be demolished because of open-cast mining “under the Sophienhöhe”. Yes, I know, it sounds confusing, with the consequences of the earth’s re-layering, the under and over – it is! 
Here we listened to each other, argued, sweated, did small ceremonies and made music again with guitar, violin, voice and landscape.We said the Thanksgiving Greetings to the Natural World prayer of the indigenous Haudenosaunee tribe and interwove it with some violin playing.
Our Catholic priest gave a short devotion, with reference to the prophet Jeremiah and the great drought….we listened, prayed and we sang “Heaven Rises Above All”.

“To stand in front of the hole has something attractive, almost beautiful.”, a friend told me, “The earth shows her inside. She is naked, 400 meters deep, thousands of years deep. This is rather intimate, isn’t it?”The hole is huge, to big, reaching to the horizon. It is inconceivable to stand in front of it. It needs a lot of inner space to get to grips with the ungraspable. But not to try to apprehend the real and global extent, the connection of life and death involved in it, would be dire and life-threatening denial in my opinion.

I realized how the denial feels at a place called “Terra Nova”, New Earth, created by the energy company RWE. What an ignorance and mockery made of the injury of the earth: to create an observation deck with permanently installed beach chairs and sunshades, plus event location where you can even celebrate your wedding. “Enjoy the view” a sign invites at the entrance. Are they serious, new earth? This is disaffection! How can I stay in relation to it? That’s why we need each other, I sense now. Because it is so big, too big. A wound area on so many layers. It needs the contribution and care of all of us. This wound area is not only at the Rhenish mining area. But here it is absolutely acute and open. The wound is gaping.

In the villages around the Garzweiler hole I experience exactly this devotion and care for one another and the earth. Especially in Lützerath, the next village on the coal companys list to be dredged away. While we visited Lützerath the last farmer of the village spent his last weeks in the heritage-protected house his family has inhabitated for 4 generations. Meanwhile, on 13th January 2023 the farm was knocked down. It is different when you were there, got to know the place. How must it be now for those who used to live there? A friend wrote to me: “Peoples memories hang around homeless between here and there.”

To make connections where they are broken, to enter a relationship where alienation prevails: between humans and landscape. A little bit further, step by step along the edge of this enormous, unfathomable hole of the brown coal opencast mine. Here alienation is reigning, absolute unrelatedness. Instead the lignite excavators, removing and shifting the soil, are mechanistic monsters enough.

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown Coal Area 2/3 (2022) Read More »

Bearing Witness to the Earth (3/3)

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area

The camp was established by activists over 2 years in the middle of remaining houses. It had a livable infrastructure with everything heart, mind and body need. To explain the outer and inner structures, remarkably growing at this place, would fill another book – again one that should be written! A woman by the forest name Schildkröte (Turtle) guided us openheartedly through the village, enriching us with background information, experiences and later with her enchanting singing voice.

I have deep respect for what was created in Lützerath. The people living here are using their bodies right now to prevent the village being excavated. Already for two years they have been making sure that Lützerath lives and thrives inspite of the daily uncertainty. Here an exerpt from an email a friend wrote me from Lützerath on 22 October 2022:

At the moment I am in Lützerath. It is beautiful, too warm and too dry weather. A peaceful saturday. I kneel in the memorial on the mattress in front of my laptop. From afar I hear some guitar music, light hammering, from time to time a passing car and flying by flight object. A child’s voice, other voices and laughter. Beneath me it is tinkered in the Bicycle Castle and the wind is rusteling through the poplar leaves glimmering in the sun.
 (…) In the morning we had prepared vegetable beds. They have brought seeds and sowed spinach, radishes, bulbs and mache. Knowing that with some luck we will see these living
creatures germinate but not grow. Up to the highest “realms” they say it is now sealed that Lützerath, the plants, the earth, the insects, the worms, that all of us here must give way to the coal.(…)
 RWE keeps excavating in depth in front of
Lützerath. They started to dismantle wind turbines now. I ask myself how it can be more obvious, more visible what is happening here right now. All the beings preparing for the winter as it was field tested for them for millenials or even millions of years. All this will be a manmade nothing. A non-livable space. And it is also a place of music, full of conflict and life and something new, surprising and touching. Almost every day people come by who haven’t been here at all or for a long time. It is nice to be in the shit brigade with them, to swear for night watches, clean vegetables, be asked where help is needed. It is also a space of many expectations and disappointments, a place of finding yourself again, standing up again, of reconciliation and rest.”

How to respond to so much beauty? I am left with the words of Václav Havel..

“Hope …
is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.”
Václav Havel

Here we were now at the edge between deadly destruction and self-effectiv created aliveness. In Lützerath. Everything at the same time. Split and Wholeness and the rhythm in between. Here in Lützerath I could here it. Especially in the Yew Chapel.
From the Yew Chapel, the remnant of an old wayside cross chapel, I watched a bird. It left from a tree and flew towards the hole. I don’t know what happened to it. Was it a wall of heat rising from the hole and let it bounce off or a sudden change of heart because it realized that it was approaching a territory hostile to life without a landing spot in sight. For a while it faltered, then bobbed up and flew straight back to its known tree. What made the bird turn around? Was it by habit from a time when fields and trees used to be on the other side of the road – not too long ago presumably. Or was it out of a shock or simply a thermal updraft because the heat is more extreme at the hole. Or a combination of all of it. I gave myself a treat by imagining a contest among the birds: “Who dares to go the farthest?”. What tricks your own mind is playing, particularly at the edge.

May the bird and its tree giving shelter and all the others in Lützerath facing the clearing right now be well

“You have dreamed me, God.How I practice walking upright and learn to kneel downmore beautiful than I am nowhappier than I darefreer than allowed over here.Do not stop dreaming me, GodI don’t want to cease to rememberthat I am your treeplanted at the watercourses of life” Dorothee Sölle
(During the retreat a friend wispered this poem into my ear, heartwarming)

Later we listened to an inspiring service held by our KiDl friend, celebrated our Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony in front of sceptically marveling people. Before we could start we were surprised by an Attac demonstration of 300 people in red. With a lot of noise and vigerous resistance they walked along the red line, the line marking the 1,5 degree climate goal. A total A total contradiction? Yes and no – just life.

Life channeled through our guitar player. He flooded our heart and minds with Jewish songs we celebrated. Yes really, we celebrated life at the very edge. He also sang a song by Rabbi Shir Yaakov. We got to know it at the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats in Auschwitz. Good to sing it also at this place. Here an exerpt from the text:

“Healer of the broken-hearted
binder of their wounds
Counter of uncountable stars
You know where they are
Healer of the broken-hearted
Binder of our wounds
Counter of uncountable stars
You know who we are
Ha·le·lu YAH
Ha·le·lu YAH”
Shir Yaakov

We stopped off at one of the rural storage houses formerly used for harvests or machines. It was dark, silent and empty. Only a couple of straw bales and a big selfmade swing in the background. Together with our violinist we played with our voices. The halls acoustics resounded superbly. A space for voices. Later when we wanted to leave, a part of the group stayed and seesawed in intense joy. It looked like they were on the high sea. Frank Roshi shouted into the hall: “Come peacemakers! Come!” – this sentence reverberates. Even after the storage house was knocked down yesterday, “Come peacemakers! Come!”.

At the very edge, in the Yew Chapel, we celebrated later that evening my Jukai, a traditional Zen Buddhist ceremony to receive the bodhisattva vows. I got my second dharma name, Wildflower.
A Zen friend gave me later a broken, painted thin piece of wood she had found at the Yew Chapel. Maybe it was once a tinkered sign from the camp. There is so much lovingly and colorfully painted in the camp.
The wood was a fragment of it. She presented it to me with the words: there is the color. It reflects the color of your eyes, the patterns of wildly climbing flowers, the Wildflower. The white dots are the stars that shone above us and bore witness to everything.

This journey as well as this report can only be fragments of the whole. But everything is included in this fragment.
Yes, the stars at the night sky, the depths of the naked earth and every single human, bird, tree and beetle who were with us witnessed this.

“Sometimes you must look.
Otherwise you don’t see.
Sometimes you must listen.
Otherwise you don’t hear.
The glaring pictures, the piercing sounds don’t suit me.
I come quietly.
Love always comes quietly.
Unlock all senses!
Unlock your heart!
For I am here.
And I’ll stay”

Jürgen Werth

Sign in Lützerath „I stay“

This is a piece of my raku, a traditional Zen Peacemaker “robe”, which I stitched for the Jukai ceremony and will wear from now on during my meditations and pilgrimages. The small embroidery represents a green broken pine branch: A green broken pine branch:

“This is our life
The length of our days
Day and nightWe meditate upon it”

From the Gate of Sweet Nectar liturgy

In deep respect and gratitude to Roshi Bernie Glassmanfounder of the Zen Peacmakers with whom I experienced the Bearing Witness training & Roshi Frank De Waele spirit holder of the ecoretreat and my Zen teacher

Information about us:
Zen Sangha Gent with Roshi Frank De Waele:
about myself:
black and white photos by Harry Aaldering:
colored photos: Wildflower
drone picture of Lützerath: www.lü

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area 3/3 (2022) Read More »

Bearing Witness to the Earth (1/3)

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area

21.August 2022 in the Spirit of the Zen Peacemakers
A report from Svenja Shinsen Wildflower, Zen Peacemaker
You can download a german language version of the report in PDF-Format here.
lack and white photos by Harry Aaldering:
Colored photos: Wildflower

I always seem to find it a bit of a challenge to put a Bearing Witness retreat into words. Every time I remember the Ecoretreat the atmosphere comes up – filled with the experience, the direct encounters with and around the open pit mine. I feel a tremendous respect for meeting the place as it is as well as for the whole issue connected with it. Complex and confusing crises are threatening. They are lurking to dart at all our life with all their force and stir it, to rattle the very basis of our existence. They are already doing this in the global South.
Was I afraid to go to the edge? I was. To be honest the fear had not settled due to the retreat – how could it in the view of the violent extent? But everything in my life has changed since the Ecoretreat. Since then I have been feeling the immense power and the subtle vulnarability of the earth, as simultaneously in a new way. Above all I experience this synchronicity even closer, directly an radically right under my skin.To stay present with it seems to me to be the real challenge of bearing witness. I even dare to say that it is exactly about to stand this immediacy of power and vulnerability, to be with it, to stay with it, to let it live through us. And that’s the reason why we need each other, why it’s time to create warm places of life-serving gatherings: life wants to be heard, doesn’t it?

May be urgency invites us to slow down. To listen. To see who is here with us to give us advice. And then to respond to insights of the possible that shine through the fabric of the moment.”
Bayo Akomolafe

Probably a local resident or people who have been dealing for years with the complex topic of climate justice could write a more substanciated report about the incredible situation. What I risk here is simply to share my bearing witness as I experienced the days around the brown coal field. Preceding were almost two years of preparation, some visits to the place, getting to know people and circumstances, a “deep diving”. The ecoretreat grew out of me as it were. It was not something “thought up, which could be done some time”. Already in my childhood and youth the fact of the immense destruction of our livelyhood drove me. And I know I am not alone. The again and again appearing enigma how we humans are really in relation with the beauty and the destruction of our natur became the guiding question for me.

I wrote this report over 5 month piece by piece. Meanwhile it is 14 January 2023. Today was and still is the big demonstration in Lützerath. 35.000 people were there. The village is being cleared for days under partly devastating circumstances. But better I start with the ecoretreat in August 2022. A retreat that lasts longer for me than five days.

On 17 August 2022 the time had come. A small group of 17 people was courageous enough to engage together into something I am still grateful for. We were a wildly mixed bunch of people from the Zen Sangha Gent, from the Netherlands and from Germany. New and familiar faces. Among us were two activists from the organization “Kirchen im Dorf lassen”, a catholic minister from Krefeld and two young people from the activist resistance, who lovingly cared for us by creating nourishing vegan food for us, partly from saved groceries. That was really good. Two gifted musicians were part of our group – I still see them with their violin and guitar always at hand, have their special voices in my ear and how they interwove the landscape, of which more later.

Our accomodation was the “Feierabendhaus” a simple guesthouse mainly used as lodging by workers employed in the pit or a power plant. It was situated handy only one kilometer from the Hambach hole. There we spent the nights, cooked, ate in the mornings and evenings and had our meditations and council circles every morning. We all got involved with the diversity of the group. At least it seemed so. We experienced a familiar and peaceful togetherness. But familiarity and peace was not all we got involved with: There was also the destruction of our natur immediately before our feet.

There is the Hambach forest a 700 years old old-growth forest – especially worth protecting because of its primeval beauty and biodiversity. Due to Europe’s biggest surface mine it is already destroyed to a large extent. When we arrived the heat was baking. Drought was steaming from the dusty soil as it were. The blackberries were producing fruit in abundance this summer – what a stubborn will to live! Though the fruits withered before ripening and hang shriveled on dryed up twigs. The forest gets the existential groundwater extracted by the surface mine. The energy company RWE is pumping the groundwater away to prevent it flooding the pit. Whereas 2018 the remnant of the primary forest was saved by courageous activists it is dying of thirst now – that was perceptible.

Two of the activists who are living in the forest, Stick and Omega were their forest names, gave us an extensive tour through the forest up to the edge of the pit. They had substantial information and background knowledge for us. For some of us it was the first encounter with the complex topic of climate justice, ecological and political contexts. I often feel outrage, when I read about the hard facts about the state of our planet. This familiar outrage turned into something best described as holy anger. It feels good to give home to this holy anger inside of me and to nourish inner clarity with it. To look into the faces of Stick and Omega and to listen to them kindled an almost shaking clearness and at the same time something I would call wild originality… may be even a wondrous seed of lively hope.
It’s not at all comprehensible what all this has to do with hope. Some experiences are deeply disturbing. Like the visit to the little memorial for their friend Steffen Meyn. Steffen fell to his death during an attempt to evacuate the forest by the police in 2018. We stood there, sounding together with our musicians accompanied by violin and guitar, offering flowers and incense. To pause at such a place, to give the situation time and space, interweave it with sounds and listen to what there is to listen to changes everything. It is an Acknowledgement.

“That a gentle thing might happen to us,
when heaven touches us,when its breathing nearnessseduces us completely into being here.”
Jean Gebser

Hope? Beneath one of the numerous photos of Steffen was told his birth date. I realized that he had the same birthday as I only another year. We had celebrated birthday on the same day for 27 years.

Later Stick and Omega invited us into their treehouse settlement, from ground perspective of course. We sat around the fire pit, that had probably warmed many an activists hands and served as campfire hearth. A good place to eat our brought along food. Living hope!

Humans need cultures and structures of living together, common good. School pathways for kids, community centers, bakeries baking fresh bread – humans need good places to live. For everyone. In short: humans need villages. These villages are destroyed by the open cast mines. People are (forcibly) relocated. In total 300 settlements were devastated and about 100.000 people were relocated for open cast lignite mining alone in Germany. We visited the almost totally extinct village Alt-Mahnheim. There were only the street lights of the old streets left. Houses already torn down or, if still standing, with barricaded windows. As the former church. Here we stayed in silence. At the church, or better, it’s hull, we celebrated for the first time the “Gate of Sweet Nectar”. This Buddhist ceremony, which I am devoutedly fond of and which Zen Peacemakers use to do at hungry places like Auschwitz. May it nourish all hungry ghosts, suffering from greed, hatred and ignorance, within ourselves and all.

One evening we went to a soldiers cemetary close to our accomodation. It was a resettled cemetary of soldiers killed in World War II from all the villages dredged away for the Hambach pit. It was a silent place beneath old oak trees. The trees had a calming peaceful air. Maybe because I knew that they would be left alone.

We also visited Keyenburg at the Garzweiler pit, a village still populated but mostly  abandoned  already. Here I started to realize the uncertainty the people are living in here concerning their whole existance: one time its decided to dredge Keyenburg. Another time they say it will survive.  What a fragmentation in the history of the village and its inhabitants, animals and plants. But there are more incredible stories about other villages and existential back and forth. To recount them all would fill a book. Maybe it shoud be written one time.

“May all places be held sacred.
May all beings be cherished.
May all the injustices of enslavement, oppression and devaluation be redressed, remedied and healed.
May those who are imprisoned by hatred, be liberated to the love that is their birthright.
May those bound by fear, be released into the safety of understanding.
May those weighed down by grief, be released to the joy of being.
May those lost in delusion, find relief on the path of wisdom.
May all the wounds of forests, rivers, deserts, oceans,
All wounds of mother earth lovingly be healed again.
May all beings everywhere rejoice in the song of birds and the blue sky.
May all beings dwell in well-being, awaken and be free.”

A prayer from the One Earth Sangha

To destroy the environment means to take creatures the basis for the taste of god.”
A. M. Karimi

What remains anyway when you walk through these villages is the profound brokenness, the forced displacement. Even the churches don’t provide refuge any longer – desecrated, profaned. I ask myself up to this day: How is it possible to violate sacred soil? Isn’t this the core of a multiple crisis – a radical spiritual crisis? Have we taken leave from our senses? Have we totally lost our connection to the really life serving.





Exactly here our violinist unpacked his instrument and gave sound and voice to all the dissonance. It reverberated while we were sitting in silence in front of the Keyenburg church. If there were a word it would be re-ensoulment.

The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area by Svenja Hollweg (2022) Read More »

Text for the Eco-Study Group on Friday, April 28 

Deutsch bitte unten lesen


Looking at the current climate situation and the world we live in – how does this text by Bayo Akomolafe resonate with you?

“Think about it: the force of deep time, eons of uncalendared years – nameless and frothing at the turbulent edges of the cosmos – rolling on and on. Spinning and spinning. Exploding stars. Supernovae. Matter mattering. Coagulatory forces birthing planets and stellar bodies. The cosmos dancing though billions and billions of years in testy negotiations with the unspeakable. And then all that spinning arrives at the production of something tender: the papery skin of a seed coat. The stentorian outrage of a quasar detonation falling to its knees, gently, to protect a fragile embryo from adverse ecological forces.

I would argue that it takes more energy for the universe to alchemize the soft skin of a seed than it does to sprout a black hole. Perhaps the physics doesn’t add up. But something about the mighty stooping to the delicate requires a different logic, a different way of thinking about origins and becomings.

Now consider how this exquisite production – the genius of billions of nameless years – is, in an instant, imploded and cracked open in the depths of the earth. You would think the hard-won victoryof galvanizing unwieldy forces to produce something so ethereal would suggest the need for safety. Security measures of some kind. On the contrary, the very same universe that manufactures the textural equivalent of a whisper summarily destroys it in the heat of the loam.

Why does the universe do this?

We hardly notice it in this way but loss is the most delicate creation of the universe. Its most exquisite art. A carrier bag of new fictions might pick loss up, moist and soft from the earth, and give it a pride of place among the war-exhausted narratives about how new things come to be. Loss needs a new cosmology – a minor gesture that touches the sapling in the soot of demise. Loss needs a new cosmology: not one that treats it as a deficit, something to fill quickly with a replacement. Not as sustainability – the disguised primal cry of the modern self for permanence.

Loss needs a new home. Suitably, one that wanders.”

Bayo Akomolafe is a philosopher, writer, professor of psychology and activist.
He was born inNigeria, emigrated to Germany and now lives between India, Germany and the USA.

The photo above is by Sophie Hollweg.
The one on the side is from Levon Biss, The Hidden Beauty of Seeds and Fruits, 2021


Text für die Eco-Study Group am Freitag, den 28. April 


Angesichts der aktuellen Klimasituation und der Welt, in der wir leben – wie räsoniert dieser Text von Bayo Akomolafe bei Dir?

„Die Kraft der tiefen Zeit, Äonen von nicht beendeten Jahren – namenlos und schäumend an den turbulenten Rändern des Kosmos – rollt weiter und weiter. Sich drehend und drehend. Explodierende Sterne. Supernovae. Materie wird Materie. Gerinnungskräfte, die Planeten und Sternkörper gebären. Der Kosmos tanzt durch Milliarden und Abermilliarden von Jahren in nervösen Verhandlungen mit dem Unaussprechlichen. Und dann mündet all das Treiben in die Kreation von etwas Zartem: die papierne Haut einer Samenschale. Die laut hallende Empörung einer Quasar-Detonation, die sanft in die Knie geht, um einen zerbrechlichen Embryo vor widrigen ökologischen Kräften zu schützen.

Ich würde behaupten, dass das Universum mehr Energie benötigt, um die weiche Haut eines Samenkorns zu alchemisieren, als um ein Schwarzes Loch zum Sprießen zu bringen. Vielleicht passt die Physik nicht. Aber die Tatsache, dass sich das Mächtige zum Zarten beugt,erfordert eine andere Logik, eine andere Art, über Ursprung und Werden nachzudenken.

Schau, wie diese exquisite Kreation – das Genie von Milliarden namenloser Jahre – in einem Augenblick implodiert und in den Tiefen der Erde aufgesprengt wird. Man sollte meinen, dass der hart erkämpfte Sieg der Galvanisierung schwerfälliger Kräfte, um etwas so Ätherisches hervorzubringen, die Notwendigkeit von Sicherheit nahelegen würde. Sicherheitsmaßnahmen irgendeiner Art. Im Gegenteil, dasselbe Universum, das das texturelle Äquivalent eines Flüsterns hervorbringt, zerstört es kurzerhand in der Hitze des Lehms.

Warum tut das Universum das?

Wir bemerken es kaum, aber der Verlust ist die feinste Schöpfung des Universums. Seine exquisiteste Kunst. Ein Gefäß mit neuen Fiktionen könnte den Verlust aufheben, feucht und weich von der Erde, und ihm einen stolzen Platz zwischen den kriegsmüden Erzählungen darübergeben, wie neue Dinge entstehen. Der Verlust braucht eine neue Kosmologie – eine kleine Geste, diedas Pflänzchen im Ruß des Untergangs berührt. Verlust braucht eine neue Kosmologie: nicht eine, die ihn als Defizit behandelt, als etwas, das man schnell mit einem Ersatz füllen kann. Nicht als Nachhaltigkeit – der verkappte Urschrei des modernen Selbst nach Dauerhaftigkeit.

Der Verlust braucht ein neues Zuhause. Passender Weise eines, das wandert.“Bayo Akomolafe ist Philosoph, Schriftsteller, Aktivist, Prof. für Psychologie,
In Nigeria geboren, nach Deutschland ausgewandert, lebt heute zwischen Indien, Deutschland und USA

Das Foto oben ist von Sophie Hollweg.
Das an der Seite ist von Levon Biss, The Hidden Beauty of Seeds and Fruits, 2021

A Text from Bayo Akomolafe Read More »

Bearing Witness Retreat Ruanda

Ruanda – 15.-19. April 2014
Gedanken zu meiner Reise mit Bernie Glassman Roshi und den Zen Peacemakern
von Reiner Seido Hühner

Ein Versuch, zu beschreiben, was ich erlebt habe. Es war der 12. April 2014, ungefähr 20 Uhr, als ich meinen Fuß zum ersten Mal auf den Boden eines anderen Kontinents setzte, auf das Flugfeld des Flughafens von Kigali, der Hauptstadt Ruandas. Die Grenzen Europas hinter oder besser im Flug unter mir zu lassen war in meinem 59. Lebensjahr etwas, das ich vor relativ kurzer Zeit nicht in meiner Vorstellung hatte. Aber es war real, und es war ein bedeutsamer Moment, einer der bewegendsten meines Lebens. Und dass ich diesen Moment erleben durfte, das verdanke ich auch DIR! Du bist meiner Einladung gefolgt, mich auf Deine Weise zu unterstützen, und so konnte ich meine Absicht, nach meiner Auschwitz-Reise 2011 in diesem Jahr nach Ruanda zu gehen, verwirklichen. Meine Praxis des „Raising a Mala“, also meine Teilnahme- und Reisekosten als Gebetskette zuerbetteln, war im Vorfeld eine sehr wichtige Erfahrung: nicht zu wissen, ob ich am Ende genug Geld zusammen haben werde, hat mich oft in den 15 Monaten der Vorbereitung zweifeln lassen, wenn auch nicht so stark, dass ich aufgegeben hätte. Es war eine Übung in tiefem Vertrauen zu sein und anschließend den Versuch, das alles zu kontrollieren, aufzugeben. Es hat funktioniert. Ein Wunder, das mich mit tiefer Dankbarkeit erfüllt und mich um die Erfahrung reicher macht, dass so vieles möglich ist, wenn ich meine Vision nähre und mich drum kümmere.


Flughafen Kigali – der Ort, wo vor 20 Jahren und 6 Tagen zum Zeitpunkt meiner Landung die Maschine des damaligen Hutu-Präsidenten Habyarimana im Landeanflug abgeschossen wurde. Es war das Startsignal zum Ausbruch des furchtbaren Massengemetzels, eines Genozids, dem innerhalb von 100 Tagen rund eine Million Menschen zum Opfer fielen, in einem Land von der Größe Hessens. Nun war ich an diesem Ort , und mein Innerstes war von dem Moment an verbunden mit der Geschichte dieses Landes, ich war infiziert vom ganzen Schrecken und gleichzeitig der sanften Schönheit dieses Flecken Erde und der dort lebenden Menschen. Zusammen mit B., R. und J., die mit im Flieger gewesen waren, fand sich schnell das bestellte Taxi, und in milder Abendluft und Dunkelheit startete die Reise in die Stadt hinein, auf die ich neugierig war und deren Struktur über viele Hügel verstreut ich nur ahnen konnte.

Wie jetzt weiter schreiben?

Vor dieser Frage stehe ich jetzt, denn ich möchte keinen detaillierten Reisebericht abliefern, sondern ein Gefühl oder eine Ahnung davon vermitteln, was mich persönlich am stärksten betroffen gemacht, begeistert, bereichert, abgeschreckt, was mich wütend gemacht hat, wo ich meine Machtlosigkeit eingestehen musste, wo Tränen einfach nur heilsam waren, was ich mitgenommen habe. Um die persönliche Sphäre der Teilnehmenden, die ich erwähne, nicht zu beeinflussen nenne ich die Namen nur mit dem Anfangsbuchstaben. Die verantwortlichen Veranstalter und Mitglieder des Staff (die Gruppe der Leiter und Begleiter) nenne ich allerdings mit ihren Namen, wenn es mir für das größere Verständnis nützlich erscheint, nur eben keine „normalen Teilnehmer“ wie mich.

Die ersten Tage

Ich hatte noch zwei Tage bis zum Retreat, und in dieser Zeit trafen nach und nach – einige waren schon da – die Teilnehmenden sowohl aus Ruanda als auch aus den übrigen Ländern Schweiz, Belgien, Niederlande, Polen, England, Israel und den USA, ein. Mitten in Kigali, in der Nähe des Präsidentenpalastes, wurden wir sehr persönlich im Gästehaus der EPR-Kirchengemeinde (Eglise Presbytérienne au Rwanda) untergebracht. Ich konnte mich wohl willkommen und schon am Anfang unter vielen Freunden finden. Das machte den Einstieg wirklich leicht. Vieles war doch fremd und zugleich überraschend einfach für mich.

In der Woche, die gerade zu Ende ging, fanden die wichtigsten offiziellen Gedenk- und Erinnerungsveranstaltungen zum Ausbruch des Genozids vor 20 Jahren statt. Zu einer dieser großen Veranstaltungen waren wir am Sonntag eingeladen, und so bekam ich einen lebendigen Eindruck von der offiziellen Seite des Landes. An dieser Gedenkstätte waren die meisten der damaligen politisch aktiven Menschen gegraben, ein Memorial für tausende von Opfern.

Beeindruckt hat mich auf Anhieb die Schönheit der Menschen, die sich für die Zeremonie farbenfroh-festlich gekleidet hatten. Tausende nahmen teil, viele Angehörige legten am Ende Blumen an den Massengräbern nieder. Ein erstes Gefühl für die Heftigkeit und die Wucht des Abschlachtens ergreift mich an diesem Ort der Erinnerung.

Am Abend treffe ich mich zum ersten Mal mit Ananie Bizimana, einem mit meiner Cousine Christiane befreundeten Mann aus Kigali, der seit seiner Flucht vor 20 Jahren in Deutschland lebt und mehrmals im Jahr nach Ruanda geht, um berufliche Projekte zu betreuen. Und jetzt gerade ist er auch hier. Er spricht gut Deutsch, und so ist es ein erstes ungewöhnliches Treffen. Am Ende frage ich ihn, ob er bereit ist, mir eine Liste von Namen mit Opfern, die er kennt, ins Retreat nach Murambi mitzugeben. Er willigt ein, und noch am Dienstagmorgen mailt er mir die Liste mit über 20 Namen von Freunden und Kollegen zu. Ich bin sehr dankbar dafür.

Später, nach dem Retreat teilt er mir mit, dass unter den Namen auch der Name der letzten Königin von Ruanda war, die er persönlich kannte. Sehr bewegt hat ihn selber, dass er durch meine Bitte die Erinnerung an die Freunde wieder lebendig werden lassen konnte, obwohl er zunächst nicht ganz offen für meine Anfrage gewesen war und noch gezögert hatte.

Der Montag, 14. April, stand im Zeichen von einer kurzen Busreise zu zwei Gedenkstätten, die ehemals Kirchen (Nyamata und Ntamara) waren und wo schlimmste Massaker stattgefunden hatten, sowie am Nachmittag der Registrierung aller TN und erstes Treffen im großen Kreis zu einem Infoabend im EPR-Gästehaus. Der Besuch der zwei Kirchen hat mir zum ersten Mal hier im Land das Ausmaß der Grausamkeit, der perfiden Unmenschlichkeit und zu was wir als menschliche Wesen fähig sind, vor Augen geführt. Es ist kaum zu beschreiben. Tausende in der Kirchen-Falle sitzenden Menschen – Frauen, Kinder, Alte eingeschlossen – werden dort abgeschlachtet. Die Seelsorger waren größtenteils entweder außerhalb des Landes oder sie waren der Wucht des Tötens gegenüber machtlos. 5000 bzw. 2000 Menschen waren in diesen beiden Kirchen getötet worden. (Link zu einer Fotoreportage zur Nyamata-Kirche). Hinter der zweiten Kirche begegnen wir einer Frau, die die (auf einer Plane ausgebreiteten) Gebeine ihrer Mutter wäscht. Immer wieder noch werden nach Geständnissen von Mördern Überreste von Opfern gefunden und ausgegraben, so wie hier, ein heiliger Moment.
Massengräber außerhalb auf dem Gelände, begehbar, beherbergen die unsortierten Überreste: Arm- und Beinknochen unten gelagert, darüber hölzerne Ablagen, auf denen hunderte von Schädeln liegen, stumme Zeugen, teilweise mit Löchern, eingeschlagen, gespalten. Der Anblick ist unfassbar, hier wird deutlich, wozu wir als Menschen fähig sind. Und zum ersten Mal nach Auschwitz-Birkenau und Buchenwald erkenne ich, dass auch ich nicht davon getrennt bin. Es ist menschlich, mörderisch zu handeln, zu verletzen, zu töten, als würden wir einer Arbeit nachgehen. Unsere Vorfahren haben es zur Perfektion betrieben.

Das Retreat – Murambi

Bevor wir Kigali in Richtung Süden nach Murambi verlassen, besuchen wir das Kigali Genocide Memorial ein Ort, wo sich neben dem Museum in den Gärten Massengräber von etwa 250.000 Ermordeten des Genozids befinden, in denen immer noch Beisetzungen stattfinden. Die Zahl ist mir unvorstellbar.
Stilles Gedenken dort, wir legen Rosen nieder auf die schweren Platten, die die darunter liegenden Grabräume abdecken. Bernie und Dora gedenken gemeinsam im Namen der Peacemaker und MEMOS mit einem Blumengesteck.

Nach einer kurzen Einführung werden wir eingeladen, das Museum alleine zu erkunden, den langen Rundweg, der die neuere Geschichte Ruandas bis heute beschreibt, zu gehen.

Die allererste Wandtafel zeigt das, was ich schon zuhause erfahren hatte: Die neuere Geschichte Ruandas beginnt mit dem Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts, und Deutschland spielt die Hauptrolle: als erste Kolonialmacht unter dem Zeichen der Deutsch-Ostafrikanischen Gesellschaft. In dieser Zeit ab Mitte der siebziger Jahre beginnt die Vorstufe der Trennung in verschiedene Volksgruppen, es werden Menschen nach verschiedenen Merkmalen und Maßstäben in zwei Hauptgruppen gespalten: Hutu, die Landbauern, die zuletzt vor Beginn des Genozids 85% der Bevölkerung stellen, und Tutsi, die Viehhüter, die in einem deutschen „Wertesystem“ als hochwertiger eingestuft werden. Das ist die Saat des millionenfachen Mordens, das am 6. April 2014 seinen Anfang nimmt und 100 Tage dauert. Die ganze Geschichte und wie Deutschland damit verbunden ist zeigt ein Video, in dem Dr. Helmut Strizek die Zusammenhänge erläutert.

Ich bin erschüttert, dass die erste Tafel deutsche Kolonialherren mit ihren ahnungslosen Untergebenen zeigt. Der Rundgang setzt die Geschichte fort: Die Übernahme des Landes durch Belgien am Ende des ersten Weltkriegs, die Einführung von Identity-Cards (eine Art Pässe), aus denen die Volksgruppenzugehörigkeit hervor geht. Am Ende lande ich in einem großen runden Raum, in dessen Nischen tausende Fotos an Seilen mit Klammern aufgehängt sind: Familien, alte Menschen, Kinder. Allesamt Opfer. Ich setzte mich auf einen der Sitzwürfel in einer Nische und lasse die Bilder auf mich wirken. Sie sprechen zu mir. Augen, die sagen: „Why didn’t you come? – warum seid ihr nicht gekommen?“ Später während des Retreats tauchen diese Bilder noch einmal sehr plastisch und lebendig in einem Traum vor mir auf. Scham kriecht in mir hoch: Was habe ich eigentlich vor 20 Jahren getan, was habe ich gefühlt, war ich betroffen? Ich erkenne auf Anhieb meine Wahrheit: es war mir gleichgültig, das Morden zog an mir vorbei, berührte mich nicht, ich war mit meinen eigenen kleinen Dingen zu sehr beschäftigt. Heute bin ich hier, um das zu erkennen und zu bekennen, dass ich nicht bereit war hinzuschauen, zuzuhören, aufzuschreien. Es macht mich tief traurig, ich bin beschämt, stumm, will alleine sein.
Und doch: inmitten der Gruppe fühle ich mich gehalten, geborgen, ich brauche nichts zu erklären, wenn mir wortlose Tränen die Wangen herunter laufen. Ich sitze vor einer Bilderwand, die die weißen deutschen Herrenmenschen in Namibia zeigt, parallel zu Ruanda ebenfalls deutsche Kolonie. J., eine jüdische Teilnehmerin, setzt sich zu mir, unsere Tränen vermischen sich in friedlicher Trauer.

Am Mittag dann der Aufbruch in Richtung Süden, etwa 4 Stunden Busfahrt dorthin, wo wir die nächsten 4 Tage verbringen. Auch dort sind wir in einer christlichen Gemeinde untergebracht, dem CENTRE DE PASTORALE SAINT PIERRE in der kleinen Ortschaft Nyarusange, auf einem Hügel mit atemberaubenden Ausblick in das Reich der tausend Hügel mit seiner puren Schönheit gelegen. Von dort ist es etwa eine halbe Stunde Fußweg zum Memorial Murambi, auf einem Hügel gelegen. Das eingezäunte Gelände einer damals nicht fertiggestellten technischen Schule wurde für 50000 überwiegend Tutsi zur Falle, aus der es kein Entkommen gab. Innerhalb von 7 Stunden wurden diese niedergemetzelt und in Massengräbern verscharrt. Das Hauptgebäude beherbergt heute ein Museum, rechts daneben in kurzer Distanz der überdachte Bereich der später angelegten Massengräber.

Ein Youtube-Video gibt einen Einblick in die Dinge, die damals im April 1994 hier geschahen. Doch zunächst waren wir in unserer Unterkunft für die nächsten Tage angekommen. Ich bin froh, auch hier das Zimmer mit P. zu teilen.

Der Rest des Tages besteht aus organisatorischen Dingen wie Einteilung der sechs Council-Gruppen. Jeden Morgen um 7 Uhr treffen sich diese Gruppen (zwischen 8 und 10 Teilnehmer) für eine Zeit bis halb neun und haben dort Gelegenheit, im geleiteten Kreisgespräch auszutauschen, was in ihnen lebendig ist. Ich finde mich in einer für mich sehr heilsamen und hilfreich gemischten Gruppe wieder, die aus 4 Menschen aus Ruanda und 5 aus dem weiten Rund der Welt besteht, darunter Jared Seide, der die Gruppe der ruandischen Council-Facilitators in den voran gegangenen Monaten ausgebildet hat.

In diesem Kreis komme ich nach und nach meiner eigenen damaligen Verweigerung näher, zu den Geschehnissen vor 20 Jahren hinzuschauen und in großer Klarheit erkennen zu können, dass ich nicht dazu bereit war. Ich war viel zu sehr mit mir selbst beschäftigt und außerdem hat die „Welt“ ja auch nicht hingeschaut. Das zu erkennen und in der Tiefe zu spüren kann ich hier zugeben. Was mich noch in dem Kreis tief berührte, war eines Morgens, dass ich mit mir selber versöhnt und in Frieden mitten zwischen zwei Schwestern sitzen konnte, eine jüdischer Herkunft und eine aus Polen, mit denen ich tief verbunden hier sein und meine Tränen als Nachfolger einer Nazi-Familie teilen konnte. Dies an diesem Ort zu bezeugen war für die ruandischen Freunde in ihrem Spiegel sehr heilsam und hilfreich. Es geht gerade in diesem Land um Vergebung und friedliches Zusammenleben auf engstem Raum, in Nachbarschaft möglicherweise mit den Mördern ihrer Familie oder als Nachfahre von Mördern und Tätern mit den Nachkommen der Opfer.

Nach den Council-Gruppen und Frühstück Vorbereitung zum Aufbruch zum Ort des Schreckens, etwa eine halbe Stunde Fußweg von unserer Unterkunft entfernt gelegen. Dreimal gingen wir diesen Weg am Morgen, und am späten Nachmittag zurück, durch ein kleines buntes Dorf, spielende neugierige Kinder begleiteten uns immer ein Stück des Wegs, die Erwachsenen freundlich, aber auch ein wenig scheu. Hier war das so eng beieinander liegende Unfassbare mit der ganzen Schönheit der Menschen und des Landes ganz dicht spürbar und sichtbar, und es war friedlich. Das zu sehen war eins der großen Geheimnisse und Erkenntnisse an diesem Ort – jenseits von verstehen, aber mit großem Staunen zu spüren und doch nicht auflösbar.

Es fällt mir schwer, von diesem Ort und seiner Energie zu berichten. Wir legen Blumen und Gebinde auf den Platten über den Massengräbern nieder, sitzen anschließend in Stille um das größte der Gräber, und die ersten von uns lesen Namen von Opfern. Ich werde am letzten Tag, am Freitag dran sein.
R., ein ehemaliger belgischer Soldat, der vor 20 Jahren während des Massakers als Freiwilliger mit einem Trupp Fallschirmjäger auf dem Flughafen von Kigali war und die nicht eingreifen durften, nimmt die Gelegenheit wahr und verliest neben Namen von ruandischen Opfern auch die seiner 11 heimtückisch ermordeten Kameraden. Er hat die ganzen 20 Jahre über nicht über sein Erlebnis gesprochen. Nun ist er hier, um Zeugnis darüber abzulegen und sein Schweigen zu brechen. Seine Ernsthaftigkeit und Hingabe berühren mich sehr, ich habe mehrmals mit ihm gesprochen und er hat an einem Abend im großen Council seine ganze Geschichte erzählt.

Während der ersten Meditationen zeigt sich, dass unsere ruandischen Freunde Widerstände haben, sich darauf einzulassen und größtenteils außerhalb des Kreises bleiben. Für das sehr christlich geprägte Land ist diese Form, die wir als Zenpeacemaker in den Retreats praktizieren, sehr fremd und vielleicht sogar bedrohlich. Deshalb ändern wir am nächsten Morgen den Ablauf in der Weise, dass Eve Roshi für alle die, die diese Unsicherheit haben, in einem gesonderten Kreis eine (wie ich hörte) sehr bewegende und umfassende Einführung in diese Praxis gab. Von da an saßen wir alle zusammen im Kreis, dann aber nicht mehr an den Gräbern, sondern in einem Raum in der ersten Etage des Hauptgebäudes.

R. und Heinz-Jürgen Metzger beim Verlesen der Namen

 Das Gelände selber, der Ort an sich wirkt auf mich stumpf, stumm, und doch mit allen Fasern spürbar die Sprache der unvorstellbaren Gewalt sprechend. Die zahlreichen fensterlosen, flachen Unterkunftsgebäude sind Zeugen des abrupt Unvollendeten, mit dem Tag des Massakers abgebrochenen Prozesses seiner Bestimmungsübergabe.

Sechs Gebäude, mit jeweils 4 Räumen, beherbergen auf Lattenrosten aufgebahrte mumifizierte Leichen, die nach Ende des Mordens halbverwest aus den Massengräbern geborgen wurden, in der Form konserviert, dass sie jetzt weiß gekalkt aussehen, vom Druck in den Gräbern platt gedrückt. Der Anblick von hunderten Leichen von Babys, in den Armen ihrer Mütter ermordet, Männern, Frauen, Alten, Kindern lässt mich erschaudern und stimmlos weinen. Ich gehe von Raum zu Raum, nach dem 3., wo nur Kinderleichen liegen, ist es genug. Mehr Zeugnisse menschlicher Abgründe und Grausamkeit will ich nicht ertragen.
Wer Fotos dieser Räume und des Geländes sehen möchte, der gehe auf diesen Link. 

An den Abenden sitzen wir im großen Kreis und hören die Augenzeugenberichte von Beteiligten der Geschehnisse im Genozid: Der Mann, der einer Teilnehmerin die rechte Hand abhackte und von ihr Vergebung erfahren hat. Die Hutu-Frau und Mutter, die damals einen etwa 10-jährigen Tutsi-Jungen in ihre Familie aufnahm wie ein eigenes Kind, weil „wir doch alle Menschen sind“. Die Mutter mit Ihrer Tochter, die damals Murambi erlebte und wo ihr Mann und Sohn ermordet wurden. Und R. aus Belgien, der nach 20 Jahren Schweigen zum ersten Mal von seinen frustrierenden Erlebnissen am Flughafen Kigali berichtete.

Großer Council-Kreis am Abend

Die Rückkehr

Der Freitagabend steht im Zeichen von Abschied von diesem Ort, die Küche des Gästehauses serviert ein Festmahl, und im Anschluss werden noch einmal Erfahrungen ausgetauscht, Dankesworte geteilt, Texte gelesen und Vorträge gehalten, getanzt und gesungen. Ich bin müde, kann nicht so richtig ins Feiern einstimmen, und viele gehen schon vorzeitig und recht früh dann zu Bett. Die Atmosphäre ist gemischt, und es werden Teilnahmezertifikate ausgegeben. Ich bin erschöpft, traurig, im Abschiedsschmerz und gleichzeitig dankbar für das miteinander erlebte und geteilte. Nach der letzten Nacht im Süden dann Aufbruch am Samstagvormittag nach dem Frühstück, zurück nach Kigali, wo wir als Gäste wieder aufgenommen werden, solange bis wir uns in die verschiedenen Landesteile, Länder und Richtungen wieder verstreuen.

„Wenn Du mich kennen würdest, und wenn Du Dich wirklich kennen würdest, dann hättest Du mich nicht getötet“.



Der Ostersonntag kommt, voller Überraschungen, denn wir sind eingeladen, an zwei Ostergottesdiensten in den Gemeinden von Pauline und von Dora teilzunehmen. Es ist hier ungewöhnlich, dass eine Gruppe wie wir, Weiße, dort in die Kirche kommen. Es wird als große Ehre erlebt und wir werden wie Ehrengäste begrüßt. Aber noch nie habe ich eine solch lebendige, bunte, freudige und herzliche Feier der Auferstehung Jesu erlebt. Tausende jubelnder und tanzender Menschen, und jeder(m) von und wird ein Dolmetscher zur Seite gestellt, damit wir auch alles verstehen. Ich staune und lasse mich in den Sog der Freude mitreißen, mein christliches Herz macht Freudensprünge bei dieser wunderbaren Energie.

Die Tage bis zu meiner Abreise, am Dienstagabend, sind geprägt von Abschieden, tieferem Kennenlernen, von großer Dankbarkeit, dies alles gemeinsam erlebt und geteilt zu haben – ein einzigartiges Retreat geht zu Ende. 

Und ich?

Ich gehe verändert, noch gar nicht so genau wissend wie, aber ich spüre es. Die Erfahrung mit wunderbar offenen und herzlichen Menschen aus diesem Land, die Wahrnehmung der Energie der Versöhnungsprozesse, das Spüren des noch ungeheilten und schmerzhaften nach 20 Jahren, das dichte Neben- und Miteinander von so viel Schönheit und größtem menschlichem Versagen braucht noch Zeit, um in mir zu einer Erfahrung werden zu können.

Aber eins weiß ich: Eines Tages werde ich zurückkehren, ich habe viele neue Kontakte geknüpft, die sich noch weiter entfalten. Ein Stück meines Herzens ist dort geblieben – ich liebe dieses Land und seine Menschen.


Du hast dazu beigetragen, auf Deine Weise, dass ich diese Reise machen konnte. Dass ich diese Erfahrung als eine meiner bedeutendsten in meinem Leben machen durfte. Dass ich für mein Leben mehr Klarheit, Entscheidungskraft und Offenheit gewonnen habe.




Ruanda Reiner Seido Hühner (2014) Read More »

Remains of the Serb civilian victims
The valley of Srebrenica
Belgian zen teacher Frank De Waele Roshi discusses with one of the retreats’ spirit holders Vahidin Omanovic from the Center of Peacebuilding (CIM) in front of the battery plant that was used as an UN headquarters in Potocari, where the Srebrenica massacre really began. Survivor Hasan Hasanovic on the right side of the image.
Buildings with sniper marks are still everywhere you go. The marks are always next to windows, since their targets were the ordinary civilian citizens in their homes.
The young peace builders of CIM and Frank De Waele Roshi

The Bosnian retreat organized by the Zen Peacemakers Europe was a very different kind of a retreat compared to the previous retreats organized by the Zen Peacemakers International, like the ones in Auschwitz, Rwanda and Black Hills. The Zen Peacemakers always urges us to have the courage to let go of our preconcieved notions and ideas, to just listen, to open our hearts and to Bear Witness. The people are encouraged to see through their fears and fixed ideas and to see ourselves as others and others as ourselves. The Buddhist practice teaches us to see and experience how the whole world and all life is interconnected. It is all one body. For this reason we cannot separate things into dualistic categories such as “right” and “wrong” or „good“ and „bad“. It is all a matter of perspectives and opinions and there is suffering on both sides of all arguments. This perspective is extremely challenging to maintain in a place like Bosnia.

During our trip we were mostly immersed in accumulating information instead of self-reflection. There was very little time for reflection and moments in silence, instead we were constantly traveling to new places and listening to the stories from all sides of the conflict. Some participants who were more familiar with the previous ZP projects seemed to feel like that this was the biggest difference.

From my own perspective, accumulating this new information was important and necessary. The Yugoslav Wars and especially the war in Bosnia was a very complex event and it is difficult to grasp. At first I thought it was a very simple thing. I thought that it was only the Bosnian Orthodox Serbs who inflicted a horrible genocide on the other Bosnian ethnic groups, especially the Muslim Bosniaks. As the information accumulated during the retreat, I became much more aware of the sufferings of the so called “perpetrators”. On our last day in Sarajevo we payed a visit to a center in Eastern Sarajevo that still houses the remains of the c. 250 Bosnian Serb civilians who were brutally killed and thrown in to mass graves. It has been extremely difficult for the Bosnian Serbs to get DNA test results from the international communities, since they had lost the war and it was them who are been sentenced The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Den Haag, Holland. But although the numbers on their sides were minuscule compared to the several thousands of Bosniak casualties, it doesn’t matter. All casualties are someone’s father, mother, child or some other dear member of a family. All pain should be treated equal, and people need to be understood, helped, discussions, resolutions, reconciliations, and eventually peace.
The most moving experiences for myself were the personal accounts by the local Peacebuilders who had been children during the war. Especially the story of Hasan Hasanović who survived the Muslim genocide in Srebrenica, made a very big impression on me.

Srebrenica was a small town with only 5,000 citizens. The raging war brought about 50,000 Muslim refugees into the town. The Bosnian Serb military sieged the town from its surrounding hills for almost four years turning it into a modern day concentration camp. The UN peacekeepers arrived in 1993 and declared Srebrenica as the first UN safe area.

In July 1995 the UN ultimatum failed when the NATO decided not to make the demanded airstrikes. The Serb military invaded the town on July 7. lead by its commander Ratko Mladić and the massacre began with UN Dutchbat standing helplessly. Hasan Hasanović was only 19 years old when he and about 10,000 men fled the sieged city of Srebrenica. On their 100 kilometer trek to Bosniak territory he bore witness to the killings of thousands of his fellow escapers including his uncle and father.

The Srebrenica memorial site is huge. There are still plenty of unidentified remains found from the mass graves. The identified victims are buried here every July

About 25,000 refugees from Srebrenica sought refuge from Potocari compound held by the UN Dutch forces. After two days the UN gave in and ultimately assisted the Serb army to separate women and kids from the men and boys. The women and small kids were transported, but the c. 9,000 men and boys (over 12-14 years of age) were left to the hands of the Serb military. Not many of them survived. Hasan Hasanović is again living in Srebrenica and works as a curator at the Srebrenica Memorial Center.

Many of the young Peacebuilders had lived through the four year siege of Sarajevo as small kids. The whole city was cut off from communications, electricity, water, food and access to the outside world. There was no way in or out. About 70% of the buildings were destroyed, 11,000 people were killed and over 50,000 wounded.
During the siege, the people of Sarajevo built a tunnel, that was half a mile long and a bit over five feet high. This was their only access to the outside world. It was used to transport mail, food, guns and people. This cramped and dangerous tunnel was extremely necessary for the survival of the people of Sarajevo.

The president of the Serb republic Radovan Karadžić wished to eradicate the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) of the whole country. However, there were plenty of other ethic groups living inside the sieged city. They all suffered equally.

The country is still governed according to the Dayton peace treaty, which acknowledges the three major ethnic groups; Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and the Catholic Croats. The country isn’t even fully independent. It is governed by international community through UN. The Dayton treaty is used as a foundation for the Bosnian constitution. It is problematic as it excludes all the individuals who have mixed ethnic backgrounds, and also the Roma people.

The county is still divided into two equally big constitutional entities: Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a separate autonomous entity with Serb majority known as the Republic Srpska, which has its own president. Interestingly enough, the Republika Srpska does not want to be a part of Serbia, but somehow still dreams of one day becoming an independent country. At the same time, it probably benefits from its current role as a symbiotic state within Bosnia.

Personally for myself the experience of bearing witness to an interfaith and multiethnic society with majority of Slavic Muslims was the most important one. Our western world is currently demonizing the whole Islamic culture and it felt important to make long lasting personal relationships with the Muslim community.

I feel honored to consider the Peacebuilders of Bosnia as my friends. Especially their founders Vahidin Omanovic and Mevludin Rahmanovic (both Muslim Imams) made a huge impression on me and I am proud to have had this chance to learn from both of them.
The emotions that arose from this experience are complex. There wasn’t enough time to let the massive amounts of information to seep in and bear witness to it. I guess I can call this experience as a plunge in to the ethnic conflict and war in Bosnia. For now, I have to bear witness to the emotions that are arising on my own and see what comes up. It is still too early what that might be and what actions I might take because of it.

The initial sense that I got, was the frustration of the fact that the international community did nothing while these atrocities happened. Especially it felt impossible to comprehend how the genocide in Srebrenica happened within UN Safe Area. How it is possible that UN let almost 9,000 muslim men and boys being massacred under their noses in few days in July 1995?

The saddest part of this all is that the same thing happens now in several other countries like Syria. After this experience I am not so sure if international intervention makes situations better or worse. The conflicts are very complex and there are always victims on both sides. Everyone is affected. Fighting violence with violence is not necessarily a wise move.

The young and inspiring members of the Center for Peacebuilding gives me a lot of hope. They are all traumatized by the war, but they still look hopefully into a peaceful future. They do not necessarily believe another war is possible, and they will do everything they can to prevent it by actively building peace by interaction with all sides of the conflict. They also wish that the Bosnian government would one day start a reconciliation project to serve the people of Bosnia who all suffered tremendously. So far, this is not happening, but luckily there are organizations such as CIM with amazing people working for peace with all their heart.

”May we always have the courage to bear witness, to see ourselves as other and to see other as ourselves.”

Center for Peacebuilding
Survivor story by Hasan Hasanović
Center for Council
Zen Peacemakers International

Inshallah (if God wills)

Bearing Witness Retreat in Bosnia Herzegovina by Mikko Ijas Read More »

A Blessing for The Journey

A Buddhist Prayer

Let us vow to bear witness to the wholeness of life,
realizing the completeness of each and every thing.
Embracing our differences,
I shall know myself as you,
and you as myself.
May we serve each other
for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.
Let us vow to open ourselves to the abundance of life.
Freely giving and receiving, I shall care for you,
for the trees and stars,
as treasures of my very own.
May we be grateful
for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.
Let us vow to forgive all hurt,
caused by ourselves and others,
and to never condone hurtful ways.
Being responsible for my actions,
I shall free myself and you.
Will you free me, too?
May we be kind
for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.
Let us vow to remember that all that appears will disappear.
In the midst of uncertainty,
I shall sow love.
Here! Now! I call to you:
Let us together live
The Great Peace that we are.
May we give no fear
for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.

by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao

A Blessing for The Journey Read More »

Please Call Me By My True Names

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

A poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, perfectly reflecting the spirit of bearing witness.

More about Thich Nhat Hanh and also this poem see on website of plumvillage

Please Call Me by My True Names Read More »

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