Clean-up underway in Bavaria after heavy floods wreak havoc

Storms and floods left the world-famous Königsee bobsleigh and toboggan track in ruins. Now, as the heavy rain subsides, the clean-up operation in southern and eastern Bavaria has begun.

Clean-up underway in Bavaria after heavy floods wreak havoc
Markus Söder, Bavaria's state premier, stands in front of the remains of the toboggan and bobsleigh track in Königsee on Monday July 19th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

The situation has stabilised in the state somewhat as experts forecast sunny weather, but the district of Berchtesgaden near the Austrian border is still dealing with the devastating consequences of the rainstorms.

The small town of Schönau am Königssee was especially badly hit by floods overnight on Sunday. Its beloved toboggan and bobsleigh track was ripped from its foundations by gushing ravines up in the mountains.

“We could never have anticipated this,” Thomas Schwab, General Director of the German Bobsleigh and Toboggan Association told regional radio station BR24. 

The iconic track, which has been around for five decades, was known worldwide as a training ground for winter-sport world champions and Olympic athletes. 

READ ALSO: Two dead as flooding hits German states of Saxony and Bavaria

Writing on Twitter, winter sports journalist Ken Childs said the track had hosted “some of the best racing the world has seen”. 

Olympic toboggan champion Felix Loch told BR24 that he feared the track could not be rebuilt – or that it would take years to do so.

“The track has been there for a long time and there were always conflicts around it,” he said. “It costs a lot of money and it was always facing headwinds and opposition from various interests.” 

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Germany’s catastrophic floods

On Monday, the Technical Relief Organisation (THW) and the army were brought on site with heavy equipment to clear rubble and debris from kilometre-long road that led to the buried start house.

Markus Aschauer, operations manager of the Königssee Ice Arena, was pictured talking to soldiers next to the wreckage, while Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CDU) and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) also visited the site to assess the damage.

Markus Aschauer, operations manager at the Ice Area in Königsee, speaks to soldiers in front of the ruined remains of the toboggan run. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Söder meets traumatised flood victim

On his visit to Schönau am Königssee, Söder and Scholz were approached by a distraught resident who had lost everything in the floods. 

Visibly in shock, the woman had to be supported by two other people as she wept and asked the two politicians for help.  

“We can help with that, we really can help,” Söder told her. “Nobody will be left on their own.” 

As the rain fell over the weekend, residents of the small Bavarian town were forced to leave their homes overnight as an emergency measure.

Most have now been able to return, though three properties are now uninhabitable due to the scale of the damage. 

Since catastrophic floods first struck western Germany on Wednesday, several funds have been set up to support those affected. Politicians are also said to be considering a €400 million emergency aid packet to assist those who have lost their homes and belongings nationwide. 


Brighter weather forecast eases floods fears 

After the horror of the weekend, weather experts have forecast dry, sunny weather over the coming days – meaning many residents of Bavaria can breathe a sigh of relief. 

In the city of Passau, the water levels along the Danube rose to 8.18 metres on Monday, just 32cm short of breaching the highest water level (‘Stage 4’) of over 8.5 metres. 

But with the sun breaking through the rainclouds, experts and residents are now hopeful that it won’t reach that critical mark.

However, the parts of Bavaria worst-hit by the floods – Berchtesgaden, Schönau am Königssee, Ramsau, Bischofswiesen und Markt Schellenberg – are still attempting to repair the terrifying destruction to homes and businesses, and mourning the loss of two lives. 

Environmental experts are also surveying the landscape around Schönau to assess the risk of landslides. 

Meanwhile, the authorities in Munich have banned residents from swimming or boating in the Isar river until the high water levels subside. Taking to the water would mean risking “life and limb”, they said in a statement.

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‘Clear indication of climate change’: Germany logs warmest year on record

Looking at data from 2,000 measuring systems around Germany, the German Weather Service (DWD) said that 2022 marked the warmest year on record through November.

'Clear indication of climate change': Germany logs warmest year on record

“Never since 1881 has the period from January to November in Germany been so warm as in 2022,” said DWD spokesman Uwe Kirsche in a statement on Wednesday.

The average temperature for the first eleven months of 2022 was 11.3C, according to the weather service in Offenbach. The previous high was set in 2020, at 11.1C for this period. 

The temperature average for autumn alone was 10.8 degrees – an entire 2C degrees higher than it was between 1961 to 1990, which is used by meteorologists around the globe as a point of reference. 

Clear indication of climate change

The period from January to October was already the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 11.8C. For meteorologists, autumn ends with November, whereas in calendar terms, it lasts until December 21st. 

It is “a clear indication of climate change;” that the warmest October months of the last 140 years all fall in this millennium, said DWD.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Autumn 2022 could have easily been mistaken for summer in some regions of Germany, it said. The mercury reached the highest in Kleve on the Lower Rhine on September 5th, where temperatures soared to a sizzling 32.3C.

weather Germany september

Beach goers in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein on September 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Rainy regions

The mild weather extended into November, before temperatures took a dramatic dip in many parts of the country. 

In the Oberharz am Brocken, the mercury dropped all the way to -11.6C on November 20th, the nationwide low for this autumn.

READ ALSO: Germany to see first snowfall after mild November

But despite the early warm spells, autumn was also “slightly wetter than average,” according to DWD. An average of around 205 liters of precipitation per squar metre fell across Germany.

That was about twelve percent more than in the reference period from 1961 to 1990. Compared to 1991 to 2020, the increase was about eight percent.

The Black Forest and the Alps received the most rainfall. Utzenfeld in the southern Black Forest had the highest daily precipitation in Germany with 86 litres per square meter on October 14th. In contrast, it remained very dry in the northeast. 

However, there were also a fair few bright, sunny days for people to enjoy. According to DWD, the sun shone for a good 370 hours this autumn – almost 20 percent more than in the period from 1961 to 1990 and 15 percent more than in the period from 1991 to 2020.

The North German Lowlands saw the most sun, with residents there getting a solid 400 hours of sunshine over autumn. 

Temperatures to drop this week

Just in time for the start of the meteorological winter on December 1st, temperatures will drop significantly into the low negatives in many parts of the country.

On the weekend, there is a risk of permafrost in some regions of eastern Germany. The nights will also become increasingly frosty, with snow expected in many regions by the end of the week.

Roads are expected to turn icy, but with no major snowstorms, said DWD.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?