The situation in Eastern and Northern Germany in the past weeks calls for a post about bridges in danger.
I do not know how much the European flood is in media outside of the countries that are affected by it – although it already has its own wikipedia-entry. Heavy rain falls have led to the Danube, the Elbe and quite a few of their tributaries having significantly higher water levels than normal and flooding cities, towns and villages along their banks. Some of the affected regions suffered from significant flooding only eleven years ago, in 2002, when the same rivers burst their banks and caused severe damage of financial, material, and, as it now shows, also of emotional kind. People are afraid to lose everything again when they have just already been through it. I also remember the flood of the Oder river in 1997 and the pictures on the media back then and how they struck me as so incomprehensible.
To me in Berlin, I have to admit that the flood this time was reasonably far away, and although I followed it in the media and heard stories from friends and colleagues who work or live there, I had no truly emotional reaction to it. In a way, it was something that was happening in a whole different place. Now this weekend I travelled from Berlin to Bielefeld. The Inter City Express route between Berlin and Hannover is now closed down due to the floods, and we were redirected via Magdeburg which is right by the river Elbe.
As we pass into it, we cross a bridge that doesn’t even feel like one anymore. We pass right over the water. At the shore, pathways disappear into the water that under normal circumstances must lead to a path that goes by the waterfront, and trees appear out of nowhere in what looks to be the middle of the river.
We go on and cross a few of the Seitenarme. Or so I think – then I see the tip of a street sign, fixed, yet disfigured, displaced, not being able to direct anything, and I notice that it must be a street that is flooded. A bit down the river I see sandbag dammings and the signs that say „Technisches Hilfswerk“ (Federal Agency for Technical Relief). Suddenly this has a dimension of reality to it.
I don’t think my pictures can do it justice. I just took them with my phone out of the window of a moving train. But going through that area I think of what my colleague who works in Passau has said: „Now I know what a natural catastrophe is.“ And in Passau it is so much worse because it is located where the three rivers Donau, Inn and Ilz meet – and they are all flooding. I am just glad that here in Germany, there is mainly damage to property. Still some people have lost the basis of their lives, and I am sure to them it is quite existential.
What I cannot help to think is that we always try to relate and compare stuff like this. I think about how horrible this is – and then I think about the Tsunami or Katrina and think that we are so lucky to only have such small problems. But then can you really ever compare? Probably not. All you can do is be grateful if you and your loved ones are safe, show compassion for the victims, and try to help.
There is a picture gallery at this link that I found that should show the dimensions of the flood. If you speak German, this is where you can find out how to donate money to help in the damaged areas.