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 »

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 »

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 »

My experience of the bearing witness retreat on Lampedusa in 2016 was in many ways a turning point in my life.

The direct contact with the concrete evidence of the mass suffering of people fleeing their unsafe, but loved, home country became very tangible, became a lived experience instead of a distant news report. In that year we all felt, standing on that rocky island in the Mediterranean, that what had happened so far was just the beginning. Indeed, various conflicts in the world have led since to waves of refugees to Europe that few people could have imagined.

It was equally touching to speak to those on Lampedusa that had been involved in rescue operations of refugees shipwrecked at their coast, shipwrecked often on purpose by the people traffickers. The compassion of the inhabitants of Lampedusa for those that arrived from far away was for me a warm experience compared to the hostile reactions of the population of many European countries towards refugees.

Our zen peacemakers group, under the spiritual guidance of Frank de Waele, provided me with a safe home when we shared our experiences in the not-knowing circle meetings, and whenever we spend time together during the meals, meditations, meetings, walks, and ceremonies.

The whole experience has led for me to deep understanding and wisdom about conflict and refugees, while still not knowing often what to do, and lasting personal friendships. I am looking forward to renew this experience on the Ecoretreat in Germany in 2022.

Ruud Baanders

More about Ruud Baanders see on his website:

Picture by Ruud Baanders

Lampedusa – pictures and reflections by Ruud Baanders (2016) Read More »

Evi Gemmon Ketterer wrote these lines after her Bearing Witness retreat in Auschwitz Birkenau with the Zen Peacemakers in 2013. It was published later in the book „Pearls of Ash and Awe“. The book includes some testimonies and reflections from other retreat participants and gives some background. This is in appreciation of the 20 years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman and Zen Peacemakers.

Auschwitz – a Place of Cruelty and Hope

by Evi Gemmon Ketterer

In 1942

none had the vision

that in the gas chamber at Auschwitz

a German Zen Buddhist woman

would take an American male Rabbi

in her arms

till he stops crying and comes back to life.

In 1944

none had the vision

that an American male Rabbi

and a German Zen Buddhist woman

would sit behind the fence together

both sobbing and bearing witness

to those inside the fence

exposed to the new victims arriving

seen as prisoners while they knew the destiny

of those walking on the road of death.

In 1945

none had the vision

that an American male Rabbi

would comfort a German Zen Buddhist Woman

in her heartbreak about those liberated

who had to find a way back to life

by telling her stories of his family history

and their mastery of survival.

In 2013

it happend.

Let´s not deny the evil and cruelty of this place

nor the good and love that arises here.

We would deny humanity.


More about Evi Gemmon Ketterer see on her website:

The book “Pearls of Ash & Awe” is published by Edition Steinrich

Auschwitz – a Poem Read More »

Bearing Witnessa - a reflection by Evi Gemmon Ketterer

“I, Gemmon, practice to devote myself to not-knowing. I will practice to open myself to the insight, that the ungraspable life is always more than the power of my eye of study and practice can see.
I practice to devote myself to bearing witness. I will practice to realize that the ungraspable life manifests itself in ungraspable many expressions. Therefore I will encounter all creations with respect and dignity and allow myself to be touched by the joys and pain of the universe.
I practice to devote myself to healing. I will practice to be in relationship with everything, to strengthen my capacity to love and acceptance and to use my life and love for healing myself, the earth, humanity, and all creations.”

That’s what I vowed in 2001. I changed some wording, yet, the intention is an unbroken line until today. I added “devotion” as it is the heart of all three tenets. Devoting the everyday experience of my small self to the greater Self of the source of life which I am an expression of – ass far as my eye of study and practice is able to see. But as this self sees just such a small section of what life itself is, I practice to get deeper, so I will be more able to strengthen my capacity for love and healing. Bearing witness is the tool to bridge the tenet of not-knowing and healing.
As we are mammals, our brain is inclined to survive by running away, fight or playing dead when discomfort arises. A pure survival strategy, that granted your species to survive a view thousand years. It taught us for generations, that our small life is threatened if we trust the wrong way. Just those of our ancestors survived that had the capacity to fear at the right time. And yet, we went beyond of the boundaries of what is needed. Fear created hatred and greed and now we are in a position, we are the thread. We created a vicious circle and now we run away from ourselves inside and out.
Bearing witness is to face the thread, to widen our insight of the Oneness of life, including all we fear and all we love. Going beyond, we realize that there is no such thing as a small, separate self that lives out the deluded idea, that we will survive by subduing everything else.
Sitting in Auschwitz, Lampedusa, Srebrenica and now the coal mine in Germany, we sooner or later realize this delusion. By facing the outcome of our survival strategies, we are able to hear the cry of mother earth and of the victims of ignorance. We strengthen our capacity to stay and see, to widen the circle of what our eye of study and practice is able to see.
As we run away from this crying, we also run away from the beauty and love this life offers. In my opinion, this is the reason, why at one side we experience in bearing witness the heaviness of our hearts and at the same time the deep interconnectedness of all. At the end, we might feel a much deeper sense of true compassion and our vows to enlighten might see, that diversity and oneness are just the two sides of the same token. Therefore Bearing witness is the bridge between radical openness and healing.
And maybe, one day, maybe even through our small death, we might be able to realize, that all we see and have will end, but the oneness of life will find ungraspable new ways of expressing itself. It would be sweet and loving, if we would realize it now and be able to devote the life of this small self to interconnectedness of all life.

More about Evi Gemmon Ketterer see on her website:

Picture by Peter Cunningham

Bearing Witness – a reflection by Evi Gemmon Ketterer Read More »

A Poem by Mary Oliver

The poem is like a reminder of bearing witness to life.

A summer day

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean – the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down – who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

A summer day – Poem by Mary Oliver Read More »

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