The Flood in Western Germany

DOCKS Collective

2021 - Ongoing

Germany

Between Tuesday, July 13, and Thursday, July 15, 2021, more than about twice the amount of rainfall expected for the entire month of July fell in parts of the western German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia - causing major rivers to burst their banks and sweep away entire villages.

Studies will need to be done to determine whether or not these floods would have taken place without climate change. But scientists say it is safe to assume that it wouldn’t have rained so much, for so long, without the warming of the planet. Warmer air can hold more moisture and Germany’s average temperature has risen by more than 1.6°C over pre-industrial times.

The effects of climate change, which for people in Central Europe only had an impact on faraway countries, have now also arrived in Germany.

For our photo essay “The Flood in Western Germany” we documented the destruction, the pain and the hardships of reconstruction in the flooded areas. Since July 15, we have been photographing as a collective in the affected regions, building relationships, accompanying evacuation and repatriation, following emergency workers and volunteers.

Our goal is to continue our work and travel repeatedly to the areas in the coming months, revisiting those affected, rebuilding, and coping with the events. How is the region changing? What is the situation like for those affected months after their experiences? What are the psychological, social, and economic consequences of the flood and the reconstruction in the communities?

DOCKS, is a collective of five documentary photographers who act upon a shared open-mindedness, honesty and sensitivity. "The Flood in Western Germany" is the first jointly photographed work of the collective, for which the members gave up their individual authorship.


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  • People on the balcony of a house in Ahrweiler, Germany on July 15, 2021. On the first day after the flood, the extent of the destruction was difficult to assess, so there was a catastrophic shortage of equipment and emergency personnel in the flooded area.

  • Himmes family cleans up the flooded basement of their house in Schuld, Germany on July 16, 2021. In the first few days, many parts of the village were closed off, and even homeowners were forbidden to go there because of the risk of cave-ins or unexpected voids under the debris.

  • Local residents burn debris from their homes at the Hahnenstein Mill in Insul. Germany on July 16, 2021. Many friends came to help the farm community clean up.

  • A temporary collection point for trash has been set up in a field in Rheinbach, Germany on July 17, 2021. People queue up to unload their destroyed furnishings. Within a short period of time, as much trash was created as would otherwise have been in a year. Waste management companies work at piecework to remove the tens of thousands of tons of trash that have accumulated.

  • Daniil Taranov (25) poses for a portrait in Altenahr, Germany on July 23, 2021. He works as a volunteer with the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief. The building contractor from Groß-Gerau in Hessen spent four days in Altenahr pumping out cellars: „I‘ve never experienced an operation like this before. Many citizens always just talk and do nothing. But I really want to do something, that‘s what I demand of myself.“

  • View of the historic „Blessem Castle“ on the outskirts of Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany on July 16, 2021. Parts of the Castle have been destroyed due to rapid and massive erosion. The 13th century castle now stands on a bluff facing the gravel pit.

  • Sadeta and Imer Sokoli clean up their apartment after the flood in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany on July 17, 2021. The water had risen 80 centimetres on the first floor, so they spent the night of the flood with their neighbours on the floor above. Sadeta and Imer fled from Kosovo to Germany more than 20 years ago independently of each other, started their family here and raised two children. Now they have to start all over again.

  • A clothing store was destroyed by the flood in the city center of Euskirchen, Germany on July 16, 2021.

  • Volunteer firefighters from Vettelschoss take a break in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany on July 17. 2021.

  • Ingrid Zarm (81) poses for a Portrait at the Lindner Hotel in Nürburg, Germany on July 17, 2021. Ingrid Zarm's home got destroyed in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, where she had lived for over 20 years. She was already asleep when the flood came. Neighbors woke her up and saved her life. Now she is temporarily staying at the Lindner Hotel at the Nürburgring, which takes in evacuees free of charge. „Nature is taking revenge; we have been reckless with our environment for too long,” she says.

  • A view of Dernau, Germany during the first night after the flood on July 15, 2021. Rescue workers search for survivors with boats. On the first day after the disaster, the water in Dernau was still high, leaving some people locked in their homes without electricity or mobile reception and with no way to call for help. Some lingered on their rooftops, sending SOS signals into the night with cell phones and flashlights.

  • Soldiers from Merzig, Saarland, unload a truck with sleeping bags and beds for the emergency shelters in Nürburg, Germany on July 17, 2021.. As part of the administrative assistance, 2000 soldiers are deployed in the affected areas in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.

  • A man sorts donations at a collection point for donations at the Nürburgring, Nürburg, Germany on July 16, 2021. Hundreds of volunteers have turned in to sort through donations coming in from all over the region for flood victims.

  • A statue of the Virgin Mary in the devastated cemetery of Altenahr, Germany on July 21, 2021. Numerous volunteers as well as police officers clean up the destroyed and completely mud flooded cemetery.

  • Volunteers of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Technisches Hilfswerk) on the bank of the river Ahr in Altenahr, Germany on July 23, 2021. With the help of a truck, a fallen tree was pulled out of the water. In total, about 4,000 THW helpers worked in the flooded region.

  • Franz-Josef Graf plays for helpers who are rebuilding a children‘s playground in Heimersheim, Germany on September 4, 2021. The „trumpeter of the Ahr valley,“ as he is often called, wants to convey courage and confidence to residents and helpers with his music. He travels time and again from Freising near Munich to the flood area.

  • Volunteers during the „bottle rescue“ in a warehouse of the Mayschoss winegrowers‘ cooperative in Mayschoss, Germany on August 7, 2021.. The bottles salvaged from the rubble and sodden cartons are cleaned and sold as „flood wine“. The winegrowers‘ cooperative, founded in 1868, produces an average of 1.2 million bottles of wine annually.

  • In the analysis center for damaged money at the Bundesbank headquarters in Mainz, Germany, the money of flood victims is dried, counted and checked for authenticity on September 9, 2021. It is then returned. The Bundesbank provides this service free of charge to those affected. Due to the high demand, the Bundesbank has retrained and called in numerous employees from other departments.

  • Tim Himmes (left) and his mother in the living room of their house in Schuld, Germany on December 18, 2021. Their house is located directly next to the river Ahr and the entire interior was destroyed by the flood. With donations in kind, they were able to renovate and refurnish the living room and bedroom.

  • A swarm of drones over the Ahr valley not far from Altenburg, Germany on October 30, 2021. On this evening various places and buildings were illuminated in green all along the Ahr where the flood had left great destruction. The action "Green Light for the Ahr Valley" should be understood as a sign of hope.


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