After the elections, the question of infrastructure hangs over the German regions damaged by the floods
The results of the German national elections have fallen. The center-left Social Democrats narrowly beat the center-right Union bloc of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in the race to determine who succeeds her at the head of Europe’s largest economy.
A number of issues dominated the election campaign, but climate change remained at the top of the list this summer after devastating floods rocked the western part of the country.
We’ve traveled to some of the hardest hit areas, to find out if more resilient infrastructure could help limit damage from catastrophic weather events like this.
Drilling and construction are the sounds of resilience echoing in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in western Germany.
It runs along the banks of the Ahr River, which erupted this summer during catastrophic floods. Many have described the devastation as the worst in a hundred years.
“Everything needs to be replaced from top to bottom: heating, electricity, doors, windows, my stock. I only have two tables and a mannequin left. That’s it, ”said Martina Kleinow, who owns a women’s clothing and accessories store called Clara.
All that’s left of it now is the facade.
The light hardwood floors have been ripped off. The moldings and painted white walls have disappeared. Even the windows and its large sign above the door were demolished. Everything was reduced to rubble, now shoved in five-foot bags outside on the sidewalk.
“When I stood by the church the next morning at 8 am I could see everything, it was amazing, what went through here, the mass, the force,” she said. .
In Germany’s hardest-hit flooded region, authorities said at least 130 people have died. Hundreds more have been injured and some are missing. Many blame the lack of advance warning, in part, and German prosecutors have launched an investigation to find out whether residents were properly informed of the risks and dangers of the storm.
Now the focus is on how to prevent storms like this from causing so much damage.
How the city is rebuilding itself could help. And a project about 125 miles southeast of the town of Offenbach could provide a model.
“We have large areas where water can rise and flood large areas. And it is very important that the water can develop, ”said Ulrich Lemke, project manager for a regeneration project for the port of Offenbach which transformed the old industrial site into a space focused on life, the work and education. He explained that the site was designed to allow the river to expand while maintaining residential and working areas higher off the ground.
“We are sort of building flood zones. And then, it is also important to have a lot of green space and not to put the water directly back into the river, ”he said.
Gerhard Hauber is a landscape architect who worked on the project, he is also a partner of the global architectural and engineering consultancy Ramboll.
“We need a massive change, honestly. It’s important, ”he said.
His company works on projects around the world, with an emphasis on finding ways to make infrastructure work with nature and deal with the growing threats of climate change.
“You just need to focus on building an easy-to-build infrastructure. If we integrate water management, we just have to introduce it at the very beginning, ”he said.
For store owner Martina Kleinow, whatever form the rebuilding efforts take, she is determined to come back stronger than ever.
“We of course hope – everyone in the region is hoping – that if this kind of disaster were to happen again, we will have time to protect our business,” she said.
Despite the toll it has taken on herself, her town and her business, Kleinow has vowed to stay in the place she loves and is planning a grand reopening at the end of next year.