Monday, 3 June 2013

A wet start ...

The heavy rains of the last few weeks are now causing floods across Southern and Eastern Germany. The water will eventually - and by all accounts quite quickly - reach everywhere else, since the geographic features of the country means most of the flood water will run north and west. The Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Main and Donau are already rising in their lower reaches, while the upper reaches are flooding towns and cities in Bavaria, Thuringen, Sachsen and Baden-Wurtemburg. The ancient city of Passau is badly hit, Dresden has its flood barriers up and even the lower lying areas of Mainz, Biebrich and Schierstein (the latter pair now suburbs of Weisbaden) have spent the weekend preparing for the 'Hochwasser'.

What I find interesting is that the Fire Brigades, the Police and other voluntary organisations have swung into high gear and, with the Bundeswehr troops are engaging in erecting barriers, pumping operations and sandbagging dykes. People are being evacuated and their possessions salvaged and stored, and the press is full of accounts of how people are affected and what wonderful efforts are being made to defend them. It struck me that I haven't yet heard anyone complaining about it or demanding to know "who is the blame." The Greens have, as you would expect, muttered about "Klimawandel", but were quickly silenced when it was pointed out that these extreme weather events have been known to occur at regular intervals for centuries.

One of the fascinating aspects of living in Germany is discovering just how much I either didn't know, or had never really considered about the history of these nations. Modern Germany is only about two thirds of the nation 'unified' by Bismarck in the 19th Century. It lost about a fifth of its territory in 1919 and a further bigger chunk in 1945. Since the fall of the Kaiser, it has developed into a much more egalitarian society, perhaps the most notable feature of life here is the absence of 'class barriers' such as one still sees in the UK. That is not to say there are no barriers, just that they are not quite as clearly defined or 'enforced' as in the UK. The other aspect is the richness of the history.

The 'German Prinicipalities' have a very long, and perhaps most importantly, settled, history. There have been wars, squabbles and invasions - most notably the Mongol Hordes and the Turkish incursions - but they have all been repelled, eventually, and the wealth of the people restored through their trade and their willingness to adapt. In World War 1, someone came up with the term "Huns" as an insulting name for the Germans, and it has stuck in the public mind in the English speaking world. It is a misnomer, since the "Huns" are actually the Hungarian people to the east and they are Slavic, not Germanic. Most of the cities now affected by the floods have a history stretching back to at least the Roman conquest of the Southern German provinces and many have their origins even earlier than that.

I live just within the 'Limes' a Roman 'Wall' that started at Koblenz and stretches to Regensburg, then continues to the Danube (Donau in German). For most of its length it was a simple ditch and pallisade affair, but at intervals there are guard towers, several of which have been reconstructed and can be visited. One of the major fortresses has been rebuilt at Saarberg and makes a fascinating visit in itself. When visiting any of the historical towns and sites one quickly learns that these are a people and lands that have been forged by history. They know who they are, they know what nature produces by way of bounties and tribulations and they have the records to prove it.

Living in a 'Naturschutzgebiet' we are surrounded by forests, and the road to Wiesbaden takes us over a mountain and through the forests. Yesterday we found ourselves dodging the fire brigade at work clearing a fallen tree, and then being diverted by a police block because other trees lower down were threatening to topple as well. Everyone is good natured about these 'inconveniences' and the services involved are greeted with smiles, waves and relief. Still, the road gets cleared, the trees removed and the traffic is able to flow. Yes, there are breakdowns and sometimes failures, but the majority here just shrug and get on with it. There is a 'find a solution' approach by most that is refreshing, since it means things get done fairly quickly and life can get back to something like normal.

Perhaps this is why when someone from a flooded town or city is interviewed they tend to be philosophical about it. Some even point to markers for worse floods, or recall worse. Perhaps it is also why their emergency organisations are so ready to invoke emergency assistance from the public and from voluntary groups. They know their history and they know what is needed in certain events - and they get on with it.

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