Peace Walk for a Nuclear Free World accompanies two Catholic Worker women to Germany’s Rohrbach prison

Kernwapensweg – Peace Walk for a Nuclear Free World

Day 1, 30.05.2024 Fronleichnam/Corpus Christi (bank holiday)

from Christiane Danowski

[Credit for all photos: Peace Walk Büchel 2024]

We started the peace walk with a vigil at the main gate of the NATO air base Büchel where we were greeted by around 30 police as well as soldiers inside and outside the base. Our group of 18 people came together holding banners. Susan van der Hijden, Frits ter Kuile and Margriet Bos successfully glued the posters depicting the Magnificat and a quote from Aaron Bushnell onto the road leading to the main gate of the base. Even though the police knew about Susan‘s “Hafteinladung” (court order, translates as “invitation to detention”) they decided not to take her into custody but instead told her to report right at the prison. Susan (from the Amsterdam Catholic Worker) will now stay with the group and enter prison together with Susan Crane (from the Redwood City, California Catholic Worker) on June 4th, both of them sentenced for past nonviolent actions at Büchel.

On their way down to the river Mosel the group stopped at the Fliegerkaserne Brauheck (barracks) where the headquarters of the commander of the base is located. Both Susans delivered a letter to Commander Mbassa, which they read out loud to the vigiling group.  

Susan Crane states in her letter: “Although at the moment, the German courts have decided that the US B61 bombs are legally deployed at the base, a clear unbiased look at the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons would show that the German courts are not correct on this issue. Because of this mistake of law, I am on my way to JVA Rohrbach prison, and you remain the Commander of a Base that illegally deploys US B61 nuclear weapons.“ 

Susan van der Hijden wrote to the commander: “I tried to get to know you a little through the internet and you strike me as an interesting, brave and determined person. I also see quite some similarities; we are almost the same age and have dedicated our lives to peace and keeping others safe. I would love to get to know you better! There are also differences of course. My actions are not accepted by the law and yours are. Cutting a fence and entering a base got me sent to prison. Bombing and killing people made you receive medals. It makes me sad that I live in a world where the fences and bombs are considered more sacred than human lives. I really would like to convince you that war is not a good way to create peace, but that seems impossible. But maybe, just maybe, you can agree that nuclear weapons are a step too far?

“I will probably be in JVA Rohrbach in the coming months and would very much enjoy getting a reply from you whilst I am there. Maybe together we can find ways to get rid of the nukes! If not I will probably come visit Büchel again in the future and maybe we can meet up then? I really don’t want to go to prison anymore but doing nothing is not an option…” 

Unfortunately Commander Mbassa wasn’t at his workplace. The letters though will be sent to him by mail.

We were also greeted by Rüdiger Lancelle, a long-time peace friend from Cochem, who since 1995 vigils once a week in front of the base and organizes a monthly prayer on the peace meadow not far away from the main gate. 

After leafletting on the market square of the city Cochem (a place full of tourists), the group arrived at their destination Ernst after having hiked through the beautiful landscape along the river Mosel. 

This day the hike was 18km /11.25 mi long.

The group consists of doctors, teachers, Catholic Workers from The Netherlands, Germany and the USA, senior citizens and engineers in the age range from 30 to 79 years old.

Day 2, May 31, 2024

from Susan Crane

Good morning. 
Just starting day three of the walk, and we are at a church hall in Bell. I am keeping up with the walk, a bit stiff in the morning, but very thankful for this walk. It is sweet to have long, deep conversations with different people while walking. 
Yesterday we were at the Kastellaun museum about the resistance to nuclear weapons. It’s in a building with regional history. In the 1980s there was a base in the town that had 76 crosses set up on the farmland outside the base. The crosses were to represent the 76 cruise missiles from the US that were going to be deployed there. (There were only a few deployed there at the beginning. A photographer was out at night and took pictures of the US (?) soldiers from the base cutting the crosses down. The pictures were published in the papers, and different towns took responsibility for each cross. 
The farmers, both Catholic and Protestant, were against the missiles. The clergy were silent, in general. 
At one point 200,000 people came to this small farm town, in the middle of nowhere, to demonstrate against the US cruise missiles. Farmers were doing vigils, blockades, and go-ins. 

Dennis DuVall & Susan van der Hijden at peace museum

So now, there is a peace museum in the town. How sweet is that? Do we have any peace museums in the US? With a history of the resistance, with banners, with court cases, with pictures and a time-line?

The folks who started the museum hosted us with dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast. 
Yesterday we also walked to the Gaierlay steel rope bridge (360 meters long), a long walking bridge built across a valley. The people who built the bridge live in Mörsdorf, and one of the organizers of the bridge building talked to us. He had seen bridges spanning valleys, and thought the village should build such a bridge. He was persistent with folks in the village, and over a span of many years, they got some funding and built wind turbines that brought money into the village, and finally built the bridge. Then they realized people needed a place to park nearby, and built a parking lot which they charge for parking, and then started a couple of restaurants in town. Now, the income from the parking lot pays for people to cook food for the school lunches, for free childcare from age 1, and for other things that people need in the village. The whole bridge cost 1 million – 700,000 came from the EU, and the rest came from the wind turbines from the farmers’ land, and they have lots of money from parking. The bridge is free, the toilets are free, and the standard of living in the community has increased. I was impressed that a community (not a corporation, or a few rich people) would take on such a project, and then use the income to benefit the schools and public services of the community. And now the community has 700,000 euros to use for their needs. And now this bridge is one of Europe’s largest tourist attractions. 

Marion Kupker on bridge

The walk yesterday was a steep climb, through mud at times, and although I only walked 10 miles (Frits gave a couple of us a ride for the last 2 kms), I was ready to rest last night, but ready to go again this morning. 
I’m thankful for the walk, and that Susan van der Hijden is with us, and we will go into Rohrbach together. 
Thanks for your support and prayers, 

Susan writes, “The farmers put this cow on the barn to remind the soldiers that they were against the missiles. The cruise missile is in the cow’s horns, and the cow is trampling on the missiles.”

Day 2, Friday 31st May

from Susan van der Hijden

After a nice breakfast of bread and homemade spreads we left with cars to an old water mill on the other side of the Mosel river. From there the walkers followed local guide Thomas along a little brook through the woods. After a beautiful but muddy walk the group arrived at the famous hanging bridge near Mörsdorf. There we were met by the initiator of the bridge who told us about the history. After some brave souls walked over the bridge we went on to Sosberg to meet the support car and have a much deserved break. After saying goodbye to the support car and two very tired walkers, the rest of the group went on perhaps an even more beautiful stretch of forest roads until we all met again in Kastellaun. In Kastellaun is an old castle on top of a steep hill and in the castle is now a permanent exhibition on the (christian) restistance in the area against the Pershing and cruise missiles in the 80’s.

The curator of the exhibition, Dieter Junker, and two very active people from the local anti-nuclear movement explained the history of the actions that took place back then. The NATO double-track decision in 1979 and the planned stationing of 96 cruise missiles near Hasselbach mobilized the resistance of many people in the Hunsrück in the 1980s. This protest was also strongly influenced by Christians from both churches, Protestant and Catholic. They did prayers for peace, put up 96 wooden crosses on a field next to the military base, a cross at the main gate of the stationing area, held convents and vigils of the “Religious for Peace”, organized the women’s world prayer days at the Pydna. August and Uli told us about their fight and hope and left us bewildered why today the peace movement seems to be so old and small.

Next stop was the small village of Bell, home to Jutta Daal who was the first recipient of the Aachner Peace Price. She prepared a nice vegan meal for us. We had a short meeting and then more or less collapsed on our sleeping mats in the local church community house.

In the morning we walked to a famous building which depicts the so called Raketen-Kuh / rocket cow – if you see the picture you’ll understand.

Day 3 – June 1, The day of women’s resistance in the 80s until now

from Christiane Danowski

In Bell we were met and accompanied during the day by Maria and Margit, who have been part of the resistance against the nuclear weapons in this area in the 80s. They had started a women’s resistance camp in a tiny village during the time, when the military base was built to deploy the cruise missiles. Women from all over Germany would each year come together during the summer (much like the Büchel peace camp) to camp, live, love and resist. No men were allowed, male children only to the age of 10 years, later 7 years. Women from many political and spiritual directions joined in the camp, trying consensus decision making with a couple hundred people, using compost toilets and giving each other short haircuts. It was agreed on that there would be one big action during the camp, but that single groups could do any action they want (without letting everybody know) as long as it didn’t put the whole camp in danger of being evicted or such. Of course they had to guard the camp 24/7 but luckily in eight years nothing very violent happened. They were annoyed by the police showing up to harass them so they made a huge sign “consultation hours for police Mon. through Fri. 3:00 to 3:30 pm” – We couldn’t find out if that worked but it sure is a nice idea for a peace camp.

In the end the resistance against the nuclear weapons was successful (well …) and the cruise missiles as well as Pershing II were disarmed. So we got to see the places full of “this used to be”. The former arms base is still used by the German Bundeswehr for exercise but the old concrete wall now is covered with greens. The five or more floors deep bunker which had been build as command center is now empty and locked up.

In these days we also get to meet or know about a lot of courageous local people. The peace camp was started by an elderly woman from this tiny village who wanted to welcome resistance against all odds. The “Raketen Kuh” is painted on a barn owned by a local farmer, just alongside a busy road. And some of the women from the yearly resistance camp decided to get settled in this very rural but political area and they bought a house and started a living community. 

And in this very house our tired and cold and wet group were warmly welcomed and could spend the night on cosy beds and mattresses, had a tasteful curry with rice and sat at the fireplace until deep into the night.

Day 4 – Sunday, but no sun: with bikes from Schlierschied to Bingen

from Christiane Danowski

After a great breakfast with organic food we had to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts in Schlierschied. Today the group swapped their hiking boots with bikes – well most of the people still wore their boots. With some borrowed bikes and three folding bikes and two e-bikes we drove through a beautiful landscape, first up the hills and then down to the river Rhein. To the discontent of our guide Hilde it was raining a bit and the view over the mountains was blocked with mist. But still the group enjoyed the ride with a lot of fun: the e-bikers helped the slower people uphill and one biker swapped with a car driver after a while. One biker got lost but luckily was found and rejoined the group before crossing the river with a little ferry.

The 50 km / 35 mi long tour ended in the neat little city Bingen am Rhein. Bingen is the home of the famous Hildegard von Bingen, abbess, visionary mystic, composer of the 12th century,  but in Germany most well known for her studies on plants and trees for medical use. On top of the hill above the Rhine is a monastery of the Sisters of the Cross. They are dedicated to the tradition of St. Hildegard, and they also run a pilgrimage hostel and hotel, where we expected to be welcomed. Unfortunately our emails hadn’t been spread so we were told they could only host part of our group. Four of us went back to the former place and were welcomed again by our host Hilde with food and beds. This all got sorted out the other day when we were treated to coffee and tea and sweets in the morning. We were still happy about a real bed and a warm shower in a warm place. 

Day 5 – Monday, June 3rd

from Christiane Danowski

The night before, four more people had arrived to join the peace walk, coming from far in the north of Germany by train and bike or from the east with a wheelchair on the train. The group started their last long day of hiking, again through beautiful landscape, leaving the Rhine behind. 22 km / 13.5 mi were filled with laughter and talks, with thoughts of pain and sleep, and with a big longing for ice cream. At one point the group put all their powers together to move a fallen tree that blocked the path to make way for Siri in her electric wheelchair! When finally arriving in the little town Spredlingen, where we would spend the last night sleeping all together in a big room from the city youth work, the dreams of ice cream were so strong that they stopped at the local ice cream place to eat the best, biggest, sweetest and creamiest ice cream ever. 😉 Thank you to the Nuclear Resister for treating us to pizza and drinks the night before and now to ice cream after a day of hiking!!!

At the same time the driver of the bus and Susan van der Hijden and me were working on press releases, diaries, photos, websites and last but not least cooking a nice dinner from scratch, as we tried to use all the leftover ingredients we could find in our bags. But Chris managed to sneak into the ice cream group and shared a drink with them.

We were welcomed at our sleeping place by Volker, a local friend of a friend in the peace movement who not only organized the space and even paid for it but also took many people to the train the next day.

After a lovely dinner, we took some time to plan the vigil and practice some songs before finding a place for mattress and sleeping bag.

Day 6 – June 4th: Going into prison

Susan van der Hijden, Susan Crane and Gerd Büntzly

from Christiane Danowski

Rising early, packing things, fast breakfast but with a lot of coffee. And then the last hike of about 1.5 hours to the prison “Justizvollzugsanstalt Rohrbach”. The group got lost though and was a bit late – was that fate? This prison also is one of those lost places, far away from a town or village, set back from a not so busy road, looking odd, plain and hostile. But then our happy and sad group held a vigil with colourful banners, songs of peace and justice and listened to each others words.

An Easy Essay from Peter Maurin was quoted by Susan Crane:

Some people say:

“My country

is always right.”


Some people say:

“My country

is always wrong.”


Some people say:

“My country

is sometimes right

and sometimes wrong,

but my country

right or wrong.”


To stick up for one’s country 

when one’s country is wrong

does not make 

the country right.


To stick up for the right

even when the world is wrong

is the only way we know. 

And instead of receiving our blessing on their way, Susan and Susan decided to bless us:

May you be loved and feel loved,
May you support and feel supported,
May you empower and feel empowered,
May you upset the order and feel upset at orders,
May you, when we get out, have made the world a tiny bit better then when we go in today!

Walking to the prison

The whole group then picked up all banners and slowly walked towards the prison door, much to the dislike of the police because we had been told that we weren’t allowed to do so. But hey, did they really expect US to stop at a line, fence or wall that marks evil powers? They obviously didn’t because to our surprise the police just watched, but didn’t stop us and even told the prison guards that they needed to intervene themselves.

First Susan van der Hijden knocked on the prison door. It took the staff of the prison some time to figure out why she was there, but eventually she was asked to enter. Then Susan Crane handed over her papers and also walked through the doors with the cheers of the group in her ears.

We were also greeted by (another) Volker from the local peace group who took pictures and who is going to join the regular vigils in front of the prison in the coming months held by our peace activist friends from around this area. After some hearty goodbyes the group departed, everybody travelling to all kinds of directions in Germany and the Netherlands.

With supporters outside the prison

Outside the prison