“It’s like the surface of the moon,” says farmer Barbara Angerer, looking around what was once a lush green field where her cattle grazed.
“Now it’s a whole new landscape. You would never recognize it.”
The field, located just above a cluster of farm buildings in the picturesque village of Bischofswiesen in southern Bavaria, is littered with boulders, uprooted trees and debris from the towering mountains. Below, barns and farm paths covered in waist-deep mud and water were only recently cleared, three days after the floods arrived.
Barbara shows where the water comes from – an idyllic and seemingly harmless waterfall a few hundred yards up the slope.
“On Saturday, the heavy rains started and this waterfall leads to a stream that ran along the top of this field,” she explains. “Then during the night there was a bang and a huge rock fell rolling.”
Heavy flooding over the weekend hit Bischofswiesen and other parts of the Berchtesgaden region near the Austrian border
Her family were outside trying to secure what they could in the pouring rain. His son, seeing the size of the rock, sounded the alarm shouting “Run!” Run for your lives! Then they were powerless to do anything other than call the emergency number and stay at home.
There was a warning on Saturday for heavy rain and flooding, but the Angerer family decided not to evacuate because their farm is on higher ground. Fortunately, their farm was spared, but three ponds full of fish and several of its birds were washed away by the flood. The cattle, sensing the danger, had already hurtled down the mountain of their own accord to more protected pasture.
Authorities say damage from weekend flooding could run into billions of euros
Barbara remembers dreading seeing the damage in the light of day on Sunday morning. An endless parade of helpers – family members, neighbors and dozens of Bundeswehr soldiers – entered and left her farm to clean up the mess, giving her so much to think about that she barely could understand the reality of the situation.
“We are not out of danger”
It was only now, days later, that she was able to reflect on the causes of the events that changed her life forever – and the consequences.
“Buildings have basic insurance,” explains Barbara. “But the whole 20 hectares of land, you can’t insure it. No one could afford it.”
On the heights, like Barbara’s farm, many people do not have specific flood insurance. This means that Barbara may have to rely on the financial aid promised by the Bavarian and federal governments. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder has pledged an initial aid of € 5,000 ($ 5,800) per household, regardless of their insured status.
But financial aid does little to allay concerns about the future.
“(Floods) are definitely linked to climate change. We’re not out of danger,” says Barbara. “That waterfall is still here. It will happen again. Not any time soon, but it will happen.”
The weather is getting more and more extreme
In the nearby town of Schönau, 21-year-old Florian Sllemniko is hard at work extracting mud from the cellar of his parents’ house. He said the main problem with cleaning is that the dirt and water made everything so heavy. Bicycles and garden tools scattered around him, all covered in mud that hardens quickly in the morning sun.
Neighbors and older residents here tell stories of equally devastating flooding that wreaked havoc 70 years ago. But what happened this weekend was a shock.
While many villages remain intact, flooding has left houses covered in mud
“It has never rained so much here,” he said. He and his parents, as well as most of the neighbors in this part of town, were evacuated. It wasn’t until Sunday morning that he realized the extent of the damage – the entire ground floor was full of mud up to the ceiling.
The operation is in full swing around the four particularly affected houses in the village. Soldiers and volunteers from the Federal Technical Relief Agency (THW) have been there since Sunday, many working around the clock. A couple in one of the houses bring cups of tea and beers for those digging their garden. .
Josef Wanker, also from Schönau, is one of the volunteers who have helped at the scene in recent days. He considers the devastating floods to be clearly caused by climate change.
“You can tell the weather is getting more and more extreme. It’s a lot hotter or a lot colder,” he says from the seat of a small shovel he operates.
Florian Sllemniko and his family returned to find their house badly damaged
Bavarian Conservative Prime Minister Markus Söder, who visited the affected region over the weekend, was quick to pledge more action on climate change. Bavaria has a climate neutral target of 2040, five years ahead of Germany, and huge investments in green infrastructure are planned. The Greens, the biggest opposition party in Bavaria, say we are not doing enough.
But Florian is skeptical of the climate change behind the latest floods.
“It is clear that the weather is getting worse every year,” he admits. But beyond that, it’s hard to say.
The next step in the Berchtesgaden region for geologists and scientists to assess why the flooding happened where it happened and what can be done to prevent it. In the meantime, the state of emergency has been lifted and for many people things are returning to normal.