• Germany's news in English
 

'We must learn to give rivers space'

Published: 11 Jun 2013 17:17 GMT+02:00

All along the Danube, the Elbe, the Mulde and the Spree, water levels keep rising as the great rivers, which normally cleave through the country like lifelines, have suddenly turned into lay-lines of suffering.

As many people's property sinks below the stinking slime, they take with them the hopes of an idyllic life on, and indeed with, the river. For all the spontaneous help, all the sacrifice volunteers have shown for their neighbours, the 2013 floods have made us all helpless.

Even the phrase “flood of the century,” first all-too-easily uttered along the riverbanks in 2002, does not seem able to do justice to the sheer amount of water seen in the recent floods. So now it's the “flood of the millennium.” But then all this could reoccur again next year.

Behind the front lines of the sandbags, hurriedly stacked up and then taken down again, life goes on. Once the water has receded and the refuse has been cleared away, certain interest groups will make sure new dams are built.

And isn't that understandable? The people in Grimma, the old town in Saxony which took millions to rebuild, did not want to have a wall built all the way around it – and now it is back under water.

The residents did not want their front gardens overshadowed by a protective wall and so the general public is expected to pick up the bill when the floods come back next time.

It will be the farmers who pay if our waterways are not given more room - it will be their fields which suddenly serve as replacement floodplains for grassland that has been concreted over.

Once again, like in 2002, politicians are enthusiastically tramping over dykes (Chancellor Angela Merkel still not sporting any wellies) and spouting repetitive warnings about how the rivers need more space.

But after the clear up operation, both local and national politicians lose their momentum in the face of local interest groups. Give the rivers space? All very well, but not in my back yard!

Since the last extreme flooding in 2002 a total of €530 million has been invested in flood prevention – yet most of the money was spent on concrete dams and infrastructure projects. But concrete does not allow water to harmlessly seep away.

Less than a tenth of the money was spent on moving the dykes back to give the river bed more space. In Brandenburg alone, since the river Oder flooded in 1997, the creation of up to 6000 hectares of flood plains has been promised.

But complaints from residents and landowners in the lowlands around the village of Neuzelle have managed to keep the flood prevention measures at bay – if not the flood waters themselves.

So, are the floods an unfortunate accident? Actually no. The water just took the space it needed, destroying many of the livelihoods which after the last flood nobody was willing to insure.

Many people have helped, where and when they could. The crisis centres have so far been doing a good job, despite the fact that even the most modern technology does not seem capable of predicting the relationship between rainfall and the rise in river water levels.

The whole of Germany is again staring transfixed at its flowing lifelines. But in time the gaze will quickly fall back onto the buildings – even if they are built too close to the water. Until the next drama at the dykes, that is.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sudeten Germans give up 'right to homeland'
Sudeten Germans practising traditional dance at a gathering in 2014. Photo: DPA

Sudeten Germans give up 'right to homeland'

The Sudeten German Homeland Association has given up its claim to the group's former home in parts of the Czech Republic, quieting one of the final echoes of the Second World War. READ  

Minister draws fire over wage transparency plan
Families Minister Manuela Schwesig. Photo: DPA

Minister draws fire over wage transparency plan

Families Minister Manuela Schwesig confirmed on Sunday that she wants a new law allowing women to compare their wages with men doing similar work, provoking angry reactions from employers. READ  

Police wind down Bremen terror response
Heavily-armed police on patrol outside Bremen cathedral. Photo: DPA

Police wind down Bremen terror response

Police in Bremen said that the risk of a terrorist attack had been reduced in the city after they arrested two suspected arms dealers. The city remains under high alert, with special protection for the Jewish community. READ  

Germany's Schäuble softens Greece tone
Photo: DPA

Germany's Schäuble softens Greece tone

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Sunday Greece's new hard-left government needs "a bit of time" but is committed to implementing necessary reforms to resolve its debt crisis. READ  

UK Pegida rally dwarfed by counter-demo
Photo: DPA

UK Pegida rally dwarfed by counter-demo

An estimated 375 people turned out for the Germany-based PEGIDA movement's first demonstration in Britain on Saturday, but were outnumbered by a 2,000-strong crowd of counter-protesters, police said. READ  

Greek PM vows to 'start working hard' after vote
Photo: DPA

Greek PM vows to 'start working hard' after vote

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed Friday to "start working hard" to implement vital reforms in the stricken eurozone country, after Germany's parliament approved a four month extension to its bailout. READ  

Ukraine: troop deaths 'serious breach' of truce
Photo: DPA

Ukraine: troop deaths 'serious breach' of truce

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared the killing of three government troops by pro Moscow rebels a "serious breach of the ceasefire", during a telephone call Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her office said. READ  

Man wins court battle over loud footsteps
Trouble at the top. Photo: DPA

Man wins court battle over loud footsteps

Germany's highest civil court ruled in favour of a man who swapped the carpet in his new apartment for parquet flooring, incurring the wrath of the retired couple who lived below him over his loud footsteps. READ  

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday
Photo: DPA

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday

Teachers all over the country are expected to stike starting Monday, German education trade union GEW said, after negotiations with the wage commission of the federal states (TdL) failed to achieve results. READ  

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes
Andre Shepherd at the European Court of Justice in June 2014. Photo: DPA

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes

American soldier Andre Shepherd, who applied for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector against the war in Iraq after going AWOL from his unit, saw a judgement by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) go against him on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Photo: Police
Rhineland
Student driver crashes tank into family garden.
Photo: DPA
Politics
There was a notable absence at the Anti-Semitism Commission
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
National
How Dresden bombing still divides Germany, 70 years on
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Take a cute break with this gallery of baby animals
International
What's keeping UK expats from voting?
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
All you ever needed to know about Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,160
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd