Published on juli 30th, 2019 | by admin0
Mapping the Peace Camp
This is the second blog on the Büchel Peace Camp. The first blog can be found here.
Mapping the Peace Camp
Still wandering about the Peace Camp Büchel, my primary idea was to map the appearance the site, to offer a written record as evidence that it exists, or existed when thinking of a future heritage perspective.
The camp is/was located in the small Southwest corner of the B259 road from Auderath to Büchel, a smaller road to the airbase Main Gate and an agricultural road and covers about 2500 square meters (see map). It is not here all year round, but only for about 20 weeks a year, from March to August.
The centre of the camp consisted of the main ‘Samlungs Zelt’, a big white 10 by 10 m ‘partytent’-style tent, which was used for workshops and gatherings (‘A’ on the map). It’s also the place where the Catalystica Players from the USA craft their big head puppets for peaceful theatre protest and an occasional tentless activist would spend the night. I am guessing the main tent could also be used to hold the ‘morning circle’, the daily meeting with all participants where the day program is discussed. As the weather was good that Friday after our arrival, the morning circle was held at a set of benches just outside of the main tent. After the arrival of the DKP – who did not participate in the morning circle – the benches were temporary abandoned and the morning circle was moved the front of the camp organizers caravan.
The main infrastructure of the Peace Camp was further determined by two kitchen tents (D and F), one larger ‘eating tent’ (C), which was also soon occupied primarily by the DKP. A small tent to the north (P) was used by an artist in residence and at the eastern end of the camp there was an area for waste collection and 4 ‘dixie’ plastic toilet cabins (H) and a washing area with some water taps and a cold shower (G). Water was provided through a legally installed black polyethylene watertube which brought drinkingwater all the way from a metered utility water point near the roundabout. There was no connection to the utility electricity grid, but several solar panels and a generator provided power to occasionally recharge cellphones and laptops (N). As one of the activists said: “Its quite paradoxical that in our fight against atomic weapons, we use the technology that the army would use in a field camp in Afghanistan, like generators, field kitchens and plastic toilets.” Another activist narrated that the camp sure had gotten more luxurious in recent years, as the water and shower where not there a couple of years ago.
Spread across the camp, mostly at the sides, the were about 4 caravans and 35 scattered small tents where most activists slept. Cars were parked randomly on the south and east side of the camp, but this parking would be one of the areas where activists and government would meet each other head on, as I will show later.
The military-activist landscape
More important for understanding the camp’s impact than the use of Dixie toilets, is its strategic location within the military landscape. Or should I say ‘former military landscape’, which the activists transformed to a military-activist-landscape (or activist-military-landscape if you wish). The Peace Camp, which celebrated its fourth or fifth year anniversary this year, is located 130 meters from the airbase main gate. Just out of eyesight the protesters and military are always very near to each other at all times, one might say almost co-inhabiting the same space. The roundabout is the central meeting point where the two worlds touch and the main location for protest.
The activists transformed the military landscape to a military-activist-landscape (or activist-military-landscape if you wish).
Police and military at the Main Gate are constantly observing movement of people to, and fro the camp, both from behind the Main Gate as from several strategic locations around the Peace Camp. Of course the opposite is also true: due to its strategic location, the airfield can also quickly be reached by activists from the camp and military affairs around the Main Gate can be easily be observed. The protesters were well aware of all schedules in regular activity.
The roundabout (see picture) is not the only site of importance regarding the protest. To the north of the roundabout there is a small field with a stage, called the ‘Open Air Büchel’ stage, where peace manifestations and concerts are held. From direct observation I can tell that when a band is playing at the stage, the music can be heard across most of the airfield and on the south side of the airfield in the village of Büchel.
Close to the stage and near the B259 road is the ‘Friedenwiese‘ or Freedom Meadow, where many people and groups have erected monument-like structures to celebrate and commemorate their mission for a nuclear-bomb-free world (‘J’ in the top right of the map). This meadow is the only place where activist presence can be seen from the main B259 road and therefore an important addition. Some of the monuments here are made of simple cardboard plates, others from steel or brick and one consists of handcrafted and glazed ceramic material with little head-like figures, made by one of the camp youth groups.
While some of the monuments are large, solid and heavy, like a big steel bell in a steel H-beam frame, others are as delicate as a strip of flowering plants carefully nurtured by one of the female activists. Diversity, creativity and craft are clear qualities at play at the Friedenwiese, and contrast the military design of fences, barbed wire and airbase architecture.
Diversity, creativity and craft are clear qualities at play at the Friedenwiese, and contrast the military design of fences, barbed wire and airbase architecture.
Material Culture of the authorities
So how about the material culture of the other side, the autorities? As there was no legal opportunity to visit the airbase this time, I recorded the material culture of police and military from what was directly visible from the outside and from what I’d been told by the protesters. The main feature of the airbase which is visible from public road is its outside fence. This fence measures about 10 kilometres along the entire perimeter of the airbase. It was very clear that the composition of the fence was heavily influenced by the activists presence over the last few years due to their repeating attempts to cut through it and enter the airfield. The original fencing (which I estimate to be the only and original fence since the opening of the base up to 2017. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/atomwaffenfrei-jetzt/34694759263/in/album-72157683373323010/) consisted of a standard green mesh fence with steel poles and three simple barbed wires on top. I was told that behind this green fence there often are rolls of concertina razor wire on the ground, but I did not see this myself (but see this recent video from Büchel https://youtu.be/AXMaQkDKuYY). The original Main Gate of the airbase was located in a recess in this green fence, some 114 m directly behind the roundabout. The recess also held the former outside-perimeter car park of the airbase. In recent years another fence was added on the outside of the rather poor green fence, consisting of what I would type as construction yard type fencing, often found at urban development sites, but here reinforced with concertina wire on top. This new fence now also cut off the recess at the main gate in a straight line, creating a new temporary gate at the roundabout. The outside-perimeter carpark was now incorporated to the inside-perimeter , just as two public park benches at the corner of the recess (see picture). When two non-activist elderly people tried resting a bit on these benches on Saturday, when the temporary new gate momentarily open, they were send away by the military guards.
Between the original Main Gate in the recess and this new construction site fence, there also was a more solid new steel barred gate. This was erected quite recently in 2019, so I was told. The total of gates between the roundabout and the inside of the base therefore counts three, and the construction of an entirely new and higher fence was in preparation. The protesters explained they had read a permit application for this new fence in a local newspaper. A running gag in the Peace Camp was therefore the ironic question why the military were building so many fences if there were no nuclear bombs in the first place. This joke had emerged from the observation that soldiers were obliged to always deny the presence of B61 bombs when asked directly.
On the civil side of the fence, the visible material culture of the police consisted mainly of police cars and vans, and probably some unmarked vehicles that were continuously monitoring the airbase entrances and the protesters. During my visit there was at least one police car near the roundabout at all times during the day, and unmarked vehicles could be seen standing near bushes at about 400 m distance south from the Peace Camp in the fields (see picture). Thise latter vehicle was assumed to be an observation post of the authorities.
During my visit there was at least one police car near the roundabout at all times during the day, and unmarked vehicles could be seen standing near bushes at about 400 m distance south from the Peace Camp in the fields
When I and a group of activists went for a small walk along the fence on Friday, we were immediately followed by two or more military cars behind the fence. When walking on to the north edge of the base, we at one point ended up near the Northern Gate and found ourselves surrounded by five stationary police vans each transporting at least 4 officers equipped with binoculars and possibly one camera or telescope on a tripod. We had no intention to perform any protest other than walking around the base. When the men and women jumped from their vans in preparation to inspect us, we had no craving to face that encounter as one of us had accidentally left her ID at her tent, so we turned around. Later we learned that the police likely employed the strategy of putting all effort in keeping the North Gate open, and more or less would ignore activist activity at the other gates. This might explain the high number of police officers at the North Gate. Assuming that there probably also was 1 police car at the Southern Gate, and 2 at the roundabout at the time, the total of marked police cars around the airbase counts 8 at least, and between 24 and 30 officers. This was at that time approximately half to a third of the total number of people in the Peace Camp.
And then there was the sign…
In my original plan I would have stopped here with the narration of state material culture in response to the activists, but some people pointed out that in their opinion I had almost missed an very important clue to the municipal response to the activist camp. During the weekend I had noticed that there was a constant hassle going on about where the protesters and visitors should park their cars. At one point I was instructed to park my own car three kilometres north, which I did accordingly. Of course, this highly obstructed the Peace Camp logistics.
The cause for the hassle was that one day before my arrival some municipal workers had placed an ‘entry forbidden, agricultural area’ road sign a hundred meters to the east of the Peace Camp near the roundabout next to the only road by which the camp can be accessed. This sign used to be at a different location earlier.
The new location near the roundabout ensured that all visitors of the Peace Camp now had to pass this sign and that cars formally were not allowed at the camp any more. In other words, where drivers could previously reach the camp without passing the sign, they could now be fined for parking at the Peace Camp. This was perceived by the activist as governmental obstruction of the protest. As one of my colleague archaeologists explained, the local government is formally not entitled to hinder protest, as the right to protest is fundamental to the organisation of a democratic state and the freedom of speech. However, regarding the high costs that press on municipal budgets due to activist presence, the local government has good reasons to make life at the camp harder, hoping to demotivate its continuation. By denying parking the municipality hinders the approach to the camp and also to the manifestations and concerts at the Open Büchel Stage. The activists always invited local people to join their summer festivities, but how can these people visit if they can’t park their car?
If this analysis is legitimate, the no-entry-sing is a material trace of how the local government attempts to thwart activist activity. An hypothesis, which does need more research to be proven.
[….to be continued]