• Germany's news in English

'We must learn to give rivers space'

The Local · 11 Jun 2013, 17:17

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Story continues below…

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd