Back to German flood area: ‘Heart of our village is no longer right’

More than two months after the floods in Germany that killed more than 180 people, life in the disaster area is still far from normal. The garbage mountains of mud-stained household items, cars and trees are largely cleared away, the houses stripped of walls and floors.

But before the reconstruction can start seriously, the look goes to Berlin. โ€œThey must keep the promises made in the election campaign.โ€

The square in front of the primary school in Dernau meets a lot: there is free afternoon and dinner for residents, volunteers and handymen are also welcome. You can get clean drinking water, shower and vote since the beginning of this week.

In fact, the Germans are only allowed to go to the polls on Sunday, but in several places in the flood area you will already find ad hoc polling stations. A laptop, a printer, a cardboard box that serves as a voting booth, its nothing more.

โ€œPeople have lost their voting papers, havent had time to arrange new ones or register for a mailvote. Here we print out a ballot and you can get it right on the bus,โ€ says the agencys cheerful volunteer.

A man in a chore outfit comes in a bike, and he has put his cross in three minutes. Did the disaster still affect his voice? โ€œNo, my voice was fixed for a long time, but I was afraid that my voice might be lost. So luckily I could end up here spontaneously.โ€

The elections in Dernau are not the talk of the day, but people have something else on their mind. But they do know what they expect from politicians: โ€œMoney,โ€ says Dernauer Udo Creuzberg convinced. โ€œDemolish, clean up, clean up, everything volunteers could do is done. Now we need professional workmen, electricians, heating installers, plumbers. And we have to be able to pay them.โ€

Baker wont come back

Dernau is one of the hardest hit villages in the Ahr Valley. Of the 650 houses, 570 have been damaged or destroyed. The damage can be seen in Hauptstrasse. Here the water stood 7 metres high. At least ten houses have already been demolished, a few have a large yellow cross: they are no longer salvable.

The bakery, the butcher, the supermarket, the buildings are still there, but are not much more than an empty sleeve. Mayor Alfred Sebastian says the baker has no intention of coming back. โ€œThis was the heart of our village and its no longer true.โ€

This is what the village looks like now:

To save the future of his village, he has been relying on help from the state and politics of Berlin, says Sebastian. He worries that as time goes by, attention to the area disappears. Together with other mayors in the region, he wrote a letter to Chancellor Merkel: โ€œSo they dont forget us, even after the elections.โ€

Sebastian is happy with the money pledged by the government so far (EUR 30 billion, ed.). In particular, the promise of reimbursing the damage suffered by the people who are not insured is particularly important. Just like making pace: the promised money needs to be paid out quickly.


Hurry is also required when installing heaters. Not only because autumn is palpable, but also to save the remaining homes. โ€œThe walls need to be dry before it gets really cold,โ€ says installer Danny Nรผrnberg. โ€œWhen the water in the walls freezes, it expands and creates mini-hours. And then you can throw all these houses down in springโ€.

Nรผrnberg, together with his team, is setting up provisional heating at sixteen homes in Dernau today. This is all done voluntarily and with donated materials: another example of the driving force of charity in Dernau.

One of Nรผrnbergs stops is Pension Sebastian. Owner Katrin Zetsche-Josten is relieved: โ€œWe are bivouacizing in the attic, so far with a jet stove, but it really got cold. And its also important for the walls.โ€

The question about politics to her as well. Do the floods or the way politics coped with them affect her vote for Sunday? โ€œMy trust in politics has gotten a cheek. Also because we havent been warned well beforehand.โ€


particular, a subsequent government expects them to require insurers to insure people in high-water areas. โ€œWe want to live here and rebuild our home. But then I have to be able to get insurance for a normal premium.โ€

Mayor Sebastian is also thinking about insurance and whether the insurers pay enough money to rebuild houses in such a way that they can withstand high tide.

But he is most concerned about the mental health of his Dernauers. โ€œThe houses are empty, but the heads are not. People stand in front of their homes, seebig nothing and wonder how long it will take them to live here again. I just hope they keep the courage.โ€