• 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
Amazon 'paying local tax on sales in Germany'
Photo: Uli Deck/dpa

Amazon 'paying local tax on sales in Germany'

According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, online retailer Amazon has started paying tax on profits from its sales to German customers in Germany instead of in Luxembourg READ  

German woman, 65, has quadruplets
Photo: DPA

German woman, 65, has quadruplets

A 65-year-old German woman, who already has 13 children, has given birth to quadruplets after undergoing an artificial insemination procedure in Ukraine. READ  

German WWII remains exhumed in Bosnia
Photo: DPA

German WWII remains exhumed in Bosnia

The remains of about 20 people, thought to be German and Italian soldiers killed in Bosnia during World War II, have been exhumed in the east of the country, officials said Friday. READ  

Sotherby's sells Nazi-era art trove find
Some 1,600 works of art were found behind this door in 2012. Photo: DPA

Sotherby's sells Nazi-era art trove find

A painting by Max Liebermann from a Nazi-era art trove found in Germany last year will go on sale in London next month, the first from the collection to be sold off, Sotheby's said on Friday. READ  

Family's ten-year quest for truth about dead son
Jeremiah Duggan. Photo: Justice for Jeremy

Family's ten-year quest for truth about dead son

The family of a British student killed in Wiesbaden over 12 years ago made a fresh step towards justice on Thursday, after a London coroner disagreed with German authorities' belief that he killed himself. READ  

Property of the week
Property of the Week: May 22nd
Photo: Mr Lodge

Property of the Week: May 22nd

Modern and sophisticated: This week’s property combines classic architecture with chic furnishings to create an elegant and luxurious living experience. READ  

83-year-old gets second drug dealing sentence
The judge said, given his age, he was not the ideal candidate for therapy. Photo:DPA

83-year-old gets second drug dealing sentence

An 83-year-old man was handed a six month suspended sentence on Thursday after being caught carrying seven bags of heroin in Düsseldorf. READ  

Carnival of Cultures in Berlin: six top picks
The dazzling colour of 2014's festival parade. Photo: Karneval der Kulturen

Carnival of Cultures in Berlin: six top picks

This weekend Berlin will be lit up by the vibrancy and colour of the Carnival of Cultures, an annual four-day urban festival that celebrates the diversity of Germany's capital. Here are six things not to miss. READ  

Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light
FC Bayern's first team in 1925, the year of the commemorative publication. Photo: Jewish Museum

Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light

For decades the early history of FC Bayern München was forgotten, but FCB fans have re-discovered a book from 1925 documenting the club's founding moments. READ  

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA
Gerhard Schindler admitted that the BND had made mistakes in its handling of NSA requests. Photo: DPA

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA

The head of the German Intelligence Agency (BND) told a special parliamentary committee on Thursday that his agency is 'dependent on' the American National Security Agency (NSA). READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Why the train strike is bad for passengers and workers
National
Meet Germany's Eurovision hope
Business & Money
Is 2015 a new moment for jobsharing?
Features
How the LGBT rights movement was born in Germany
National
Why you don't make bomb jokes at the airport
National
Why Germany needs a little less tipple
National
Who Germans and Americans trust... and don't
Politics
What the UK election means for Germany
National
Why Germany is great for mums
Features
The Germans with GI dads
Five ways Germany falls short on gay rights
Travel
Giant tortoise found riding Munich rail
National
FCK CPS? A-OK with court
Politics
Opinion: Brexit's dangers for Germany
Features
Smart kids all want to work for BMW
National
Minister shows off top Denglisch
National
Germany's 'other genocide' in Africa
National
Arms firms get a 'must do better' mark on ethics
Sport
Bayern's anticlimactic 25th Bundesliga win
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
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

6,796
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd