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The Anti-Nuke Movement in Germany and Western Europe

by Anti-Nuclear Activist Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 10, No. 5, September/October 1978, p. 6–11

The movement against nuclear energy in West Germany had its beginnings in Whyl, a small town on the French/Swiss/German border. The protests began on a small scale after the news of the planned atomic energy plant was made public in 1971. The movement was triggered by students and others from the nearby city of Freiburg and grew stronger as the farmers realized how severely their land and agriculture would be affected. Whyl, located in the rural area Kaiserstuhl/Elsass, is well-known for its wine, among the finest in Germany. At the beginning of the movement the French and German farmers were primarily concerned about the dangers that pollution would pose for local agriculture. Later on they grew conscious of the threat that radioactivity represents for people everywhere. They now demand that all nuclear energy plants be banned. 


The occupation of a planned lead factory in Markolsheim, France on the German border close to Whyl, was very important for the following no-nuke struggles. After wide protests, which failed to stop the lead plant, the construction officially began on Sept. 20, 1974. On the same day hundreds of people from both sides of the border moved onto the site, bringing along tents and trailers, preventing construction crews from working. During the course of their two-month occupation they built chicken pens, hitched up an electricity generator, dug a well and built a Freundschaftshaus (Friendship House), literally cementing friendship between people from both sides of the border. 

German and French people shared “guard-duty”. Through the use of walkie-talkies, church bells and telephone calls, over 1000 people could be organized within a short time to support the occupiers by blocking off roads leading to the site in case the police should try to make a raid. At one point the French police actually tried to close the border crossing to all occupiers, but by opposing the police the people forced them to reopen. The next day the German occupiers were able to return to the site. 

The construction permit was revoked by the French government in February 1975. The environmentalist resistance had won its first victory! 


In the meantime the protesters at Whyl hadn’t been inactive. By means of protest marches, tractor demonstrations and information stands, as well as house-to-house canvassing, they had worked to raise people’s knowledge concerning the dangers of atomic energy plants. The residents of this area are traditionally quite conservative, but their political consciousness was changed somewhat in 1973, when safety and catastrophe plans- normally labelled “Top-Secret” and kept under lock and key—were stolen from a government desk and published. Due to this shock and the experience of the occupation in Markolsheim, people were alert when—despite protests and public hearings—construction of the nuke in Why! began on February 17, 1975. 

The following day a few hundred people went to the construction site to try to prevent further construction. They were able to save some of the trees by standing in front of the bulldozers, after having cut a hole in the fence to gain access to the site. Tents and trailers were brought along. Despite freezing weather the occupiers stayed on the site until February 20, when they were forced off by a brutal police attack. From the 150 people who had spent the night occupying, 54 were arrested, with the threatening prospect of staying some months in jail. All of those arrested were “out-of-towners”, a part of the government’s strategy to split the movement. 

In answer to this police action, a demonstration was called for on February 23. About 25,000 people turned up, outraged over the police brutality. In a peaceful demonstration they tore down the barbed wire and fences. 5000 demonstrators occupied the site. Despite the freezing cold 1500 stayed overnight to make sure that the occupation would be successful. Following the example of Markolsheim they built a Freundshaftshaus and worked out a warning system to prevent the police from surprising them in an overnight raid. 

The one-and-a-half-year occupation at Whyl was important for the growth and strength of the movement. People met each night in the Freundshaftshaus to sing and dance and make music. In the course of time the Volkshochschule (People’s Free School) came into being. Young and old, farmers and long-hairs, met in the evenings to talk about the dangers of nukes and radioactivity. They began to study their own his- and her-story and their own culture, to seek alternatives to this suicidal technology. 

In April 1975 the Whyl group reached an agreement with the German government to leave the site pending a court ruling. The government agreed not to begin construction. On March 14, 1977 the courts decided that the nuke could not be built as planned. The design would have to be altered. (American scientists who testified at the hearings had a very positive influence.) Although it wasn’t stated that no plant would be built, there have been no further moves on the part of the government to begin building. 

This occupation in Whyl was to inluence others. There were thereafter small demonstrations in Malville, France; Kaiseraugst, Switzerland; Seabrook, USA. The first mass demonstration after Whyl was in Brokdorf, a small town in the north, close to Hamburg. 


Farmers from the area and students from Hamburg spent three years organizing the resistance against the planned nuke in Brokdorf. But once again, as in Whyl, despite popular opposition and protests, court cases and other actions, the building permit was issued. Construction began literally overnight, and by the morning of October 26, 1976, fences had been erected and bulldozers were in full action. Enraged by this cloak and dagger method, over 6000 people showed “up for a demonstration planned for the following Saturday. Although ditches and barbed wire fences had been erected around the site, occupiers gained access with wire cutters and old rugs spread over the barbed wire. Over 2000 people took part in the occupation. Police used the chemical “Mace” (known to cause cancer), water cannons (also filled with Mace), clubs and horses that trampled groups of helpless demonstrators. The reaction of the occupiers was nonviolent, yet all refused to leave the occupied areas. One of the local Lutheran ministers, also occupying the site, made an agreement with the police that the demonstrators would be allowed to stay until the next day. Yet as darkness fell and the press had gone home, police troops returned, brutally beating and clubbing, burning tents and sleeping bags and arresting 55 of the remaining 500. Many were injured and had to be treated at the local hospitals. 

As a protest against this brutality, about 2000 people gathered spontaneously the next day at Brokdorf. Their banners bore slogans such as “We’re coming back and next time we’ll be more.” 

It took two weeks to organize the next demonstration at Brokdorf, this time not only against nuclear energy, but also against police brutality. In the meantime the entire construction site had been turned into a huge fortress, moats up to 8 yards wide surrounding the site, fences 2 yards high, topped with rolls of massive barbed wire, concrete walls over 5 inches thick. 

Over 30,000 people arrived, despite roadblocks 6 miles away from the site. The day was spent trying to cut down the fences. Many were equipped with gasmasks, motorcycle helmets and waterproof clothes to protect them from the police. 

After hours of work there was a small hole made in the fence, but no one was able to enter, due to the violence of the police, who were attacking with water cannons, tear gas and chemical Mace from the inside of the fortress. Helicopters dropped smoke-and teargas-bombs, especially aiming at those on their way home, often families with small children. 

A period of intense discussion followed. Many had been injured and arrested. The open police brutality shocked and angered many people. Nuclear energy opponents began to organize themselves in Buergerinitiativen (citizen action groups against nukes), actively discussing and preparing the strategy of our struggle with our own heads and hands. We began using leaflets, theater, video, film and demonstrations to activate the community, in small towns as well as in large cities. Socialists, communists, social-democrats, pacifists, conservatives, as well as anarchists worked together with the common goal of stopping nuclear energy. 

The next demonstration, the so-called “Brokdorf III” was set for February 19, 1977. Shortly before it took place, the demonstration was ruled illegal by the high court of the state. Newspapers and television began a massive campaign to discredit the demonstrators as a group of violent criminals and terrorists (a campaign which has continued to the present day). The resulting fear led to a split in the movement. Two demonstrations were planned, one in Itzehoe, the regional capital, the other in Brokdorf, site of the planned nuke. The demonstration in Itzehoe wasn’t forbidden, taking on the character of a festival, with speeches, songs, and a march through the city. Over 20,000 people took part in the day-long festivities.

Over 40,000 people took part in the demonstration at Brokdorf, despite road-blocks by police armed with submachine guns, and an overhang~ng cloud of fear and tension. It was a peaceful demonstration, ending at the police barricades 2 miles before the site where speeches were held, accompanied by aluminum kites and painted faces. This demonstration was an important victory for the movement and proof that even under such circumstances people are willing to risk jail sentences to demand their right to demonstrate. On this one single day 60,000 people were on the streets ‘to demonstrate against nuclear energy! 


Simultaneously about 1000 people occupied the site of the planned nuclear energy plant in Grohnde, close to Hannover, by cutting a hole in the fence and peacefully entering the area. Forced off by police troops who quickly arrived, the occupiers promised to return. Attention turned to Grohnde and a mass demonstration was planned for March 19, 1977. 

Well organized in small groups, about 20,000 people prepared to cut down the fences of Grohnde, which had been transformed into a massive fortress as in Brokdorf. Saws, torches, wire-cutters, ropes and aluminum kites to keep off helicopters, plus protective clothing, gasmasks and motorcycle helmets, made it possible, despite water cannons and Mace, to tug out a segment of the fence with ropes. But while the fence was being attacked by our “Tug of War”, the police began violently attacking the demonstrators. Hundreds were injured as police overran surrounding fields, clubbing and macing, trampling fleeing demonstrators with mounted police units. 

Over one hundred were arrested. Unlike Seabrook, it is a common practice in Germany to pick out a few from the many to bring to trial. The fear of the individual is largely that of being alone, which is the case when 100 are to bear the weight of verdicts meant for 20,000. Especially critical is the situation of 6 nuclear energy opponents from Grohnde who were charged with attempted manslaughter. The charge was dropped due to “lack of evidence”, but they still face sentences of over a year. 

Malville, France 

As plans for the demonstration against the Fast Breeder in France took shape there was no question that the German movement would also support the French resistance, as had the French, Danish and Dutch in Germany. People from all countries in Europe went to Malville, unaware of what would happen. During this demonstration of 60,000 people, the French National Guard shot explosive grenades into the crowd. One person was killed. Many were injured. One German returned without a hand, another missing his foot. It was a hard and shocking truth that the government will try to build nukes over our dead bodies, if it need be. 


On September 24, 1977, German and Dutch nuclear energy opponents organized a demonstration against the planned Fast Breeder in Kalkar, on the Dutch/German border. As usual, problems arose. This time police set up roadblocks, blocking off the Autobahnen, the major thruways, preventing thousands of people from even reaching the demonstration. Trains were stopped by helicopters, and many were arrested before they even reached the township. 

Our “weapons” were confiscated: helmets, gas goggles, waterproof clothing, even the lemons which help to ease the burning of teargas in one’s lungs. Over 50,000 people proved that the struggle continues despite the rising “police state.” 

Almelo, Netherlands 

Half a year later 50,000 people from all parts of Europe protested against plans to enlarge the Uranium Enrichment Center in Almelo, Netherlands. This demonstration was peaceful, with songs and music, painted faces, and theater groups performing on the streets. There was no clash with the police, partly because of the liberal tradition in Holland, and due to the fact that there was no intention to occupy the plant, already in full use and totally radioactive. 

Of course there were many more actions and demonstrations, events and happenings which have formed the Anti-Atomkraft movement here in West Germany. The demonstrations which we have mentioned can perhaps give a brief sketch of how the movement has developed during the last few years. Aside from mass demonstrations, we have developed other forms of direct action, which have helped to strengthen and enrich the resistance. 

No-Nuke Villages 

Following the mass demonstrations in both Grohnde and Brokdorf we realized that it is important to continue the struggle on a day-to-day basis, and not only once or twice a year at a mass protest. The idea of a no-nuke camp was first realized at Grohnde. In May of last year several hundred people occupied the meadows close to the fortified site, the planned site for the cooling towers for the nuke. People brought along tents and camping gear, but in the course of time a real “village” came into being, with wooden houses, as the Freundschaftshaus in Whyl and a kitchen and bakery which provided meals for the numerous occupiers. The mostly young people occupying the meadows were able to develop a good relationship with farmers and other residents of the area. A similar village was erected next to the construction site at Brokdorf. Shortly thereafter both villages were demolished by the police, and the names of the occupiers registered in the central computers of the German police. The houses we had built were burned to the ground. 

In Gorleben, where the central uranium reprocessing plant for all of Germany is planned, the resistance has slowly and steadily developed over the last years. Opponents have planted trees and gardens on the planned site, and have built a beautiful children’s playground. It has been possible to develop a constructive solidarity with the people of the area by establishing positive alternatives. An ecological consciousness, up to now quite failing in Germany, has developed out of the no-nuke movement. New attitudes toward nature, technology and growth can be found. Owners of land in Gorleben have refused to sell to the government. Many of them have “leased” land to Buergerinitiativen from all over the country, who are actively taking part in the struggle. 

Up to now, the anti-nuke movement in Germany has succeeded in at least temporarily stopping construction of the planned nuclear energy plants in Whyl, Brokdorf, Grohnde and Esenshamm. The question as to whether or not it is constitutional to build fast breeders will have to be taken to the Supreme Court. We have won time and have been able to provoke discussion and debate against nuclear energy. We have become larger and stronger. And we have cost the utility companies a great deal of money as well as grey hairs. The Nuclear Energy Program has been drastically reduced due to citizen resistance to these plans. At the same time government research projects for sun and wind energy have been expanded. 

Over two million people are organized in 38,000 Buergerinitiativen all over the country. Tens of thousands have taken part in the direct action resistance. The character of the mass-demonstrations has changed in the course of time: the “military” demonstrations, with their similarities to civil war, have proven to be no solution, for we have no chance against the violence of the police. But the intention to continue our struggle against nuclear energy remains. The resistance has learned to take on many different forms.

One of these forms is a boycott against the electricity companies. Many people have already begun refusing to pay for the construction of nuclear energy plants by not paying the 10% which goes for nukes. Hopefully it will soon be more who pay only 90% of their utility bills. 

Posters, postcards, film and video, as well as our music make up the new Anti-Atom-Culture. As a part of this one must also include Switzerland’s Radio Goesgen, an illegal radio station which regularly broadcasts anti-nuke news and music. Street theater and hundreds of different newspapers are also important modes of communication. 

Another important development is Aktionskreis Leben. This is a new opposition within the unions. The people working with this group are trying to get the unions to work for broader goals. Instead of discussing only the issues of wages and jobs, we must begin to work for the stopping of nuclear energy, for disarmament and for a more human quality to our lives. 

The latest development is candidacy for the city council in various cities. The “Green Lists” are a direct result of the no-nuke movement here. These people are strictly ecologically oriented and have been successful in various rural areas already. The Bunte Liste, the so-called “Colorful List”, is a conglomeration of nuclear energy opponents, women’s groups, teachers, tenant groups, homosexuals, prison groups and other issue-oriented individuals who are running for office in Hamburg for a seat in the city government. 

The attempt by the government to prosecute nuclear energy opponents is the main problem that we are now facing. Two of those arrested in Grohnde have been sentenced to 12 and 13 months of jail without probation. Four others face similar trials. Teachers in many cities have been forbidden to wear no-nuke buttons and risk losing their jobs if they do so. This is another example of the Berufsverbot (see the last issue of SftP, p. 10). Press campaigns to prosecute members of the movement have become a part of daily life. 

But who are the real terrorists? Those trying to stop the building of nuclear energy plants? Or those who are trying to build them? Our strength is our creativity, our hopes for a better quality of life, our determination and our solidarity! 

Our Solidarity Is with our Brothers and Sisters at Seabrook and Everywhere! 

No Nuclear Energy Plants Anywhere! 


This article is a collective effort of four anti-nuclear activists from Hamburg. 

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