After the flood: resignation in the Ahr Valley: "Most of the people have lost momentum"

Finally back home and yet alone.

After the flood: resignation in the Ahr Valley: "Most of the people have lost momentum"

Finally back home and yet alone. 16 months after the deadly flood in the Ahr valley, Gerd and Elfriede Gasper are back in their completely renovated house in Altenburg. "Everything is different," says the 75-year-old in her newly furnished home.

Because the couple had lost all their belongings in the stinking masses of water - with one exception: a crucifix that their son Thorsten had asked for from the village stonemason in 1985 for communion. A walker found it - completely muddy - a few weeks after the disaster with at least 134 dead. "He came straight up to me and asked if I knew who owned it," says Elfriede Gasper, fighting back tears.

"It's pitch black in the evenings," says her husband Gerd, looking out the window. Because only a few people have returned to the place devastated by the flood. Houses are still being demolished, rebuilt and renovated.

problems with insurance

When Achim Gasper unlocks his house just a few meters away, he is greeted by a wave of the stench of heating oil. In the summer of 2021, together with helpers, he put more than 1,500 hours into gutting the house, reports the nephew of Gerd and Elfriede Gasper. After that nothing happened.

The 39-year-old, who temporarily lives near Munster, is stuck in a dispute with the insurance company. He has already spent more than 30,000 euros on expert opinions and legal fees. He still has to pay off the house he bought in 2016, and his natural hazard insurance continues. Six appraisers have now looked at the house, five are in favor of demolition, only that of his insurance company is not. At around 170,000 euros, he only estimated the value at around 21 percent of what the other experts had determined.

He was advised to get the difference from the Investment and Structure Bank (ISB). The ISB is responsible for payments from the federal and state fund, which is endowed with a total of 30 billion euros for several federal states, to private individuals. But Gasper doesn't want to burden the taxpayer, after all he's insured, and: "I've been a soldier for the rule of law in the world for 19 years."

"It's not progressing at all"

"You look into abysses that you would not have thought possible before," says his father Bernd about the behavior of the insurance company. The 70-year-old doesn't yet know exactly how things will continue for him. "We submitted our application to the ISB on November 10th a year ago - and have just received the provisional approval notice." At least that's the end of the wait. His parents' house had to be demolished after the flood, he lives with his wife Brigitte in a drafty temporary quarters near Bonn.

"They promised us quick, unbureaucratic help," says the 70-year-old bitterly, pointing to the spot where he spoke to former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), in the presence of Prime Minister Malu Dreyer (SPD). The state ministers Anne Spiegel (Greens) and Roger Lewentz (SPD), who have since resigned, would have promised that in the Ahr Valley as well. "There's no progress at all, and there are always these setbacks," says Bernd Gasper. "It makes you tired and sick."

"That made a lot of people here much older than they are," says winemaker Alexander von Stodden from the wine town of Rech. "The mood is really bad," he says. "I miss a concept," says the CDU member, who is active in local politics, and, with a view to the state capital, criticizes that so much energy is used "to bring people down instead of advancing the valley". He compares the 30 billion euros in the reconstruction fund with a letter of indulgence - according to the motto: "We then have nothing to do with it anymore."

"You can plan a lot, but it usually turns out differently"

The damage caused by the flash flood in his family business from 1900 - the renowned Jean Stodden red wine estate - amounted to around two million euros. With the rural area service center (DLR), which is responsible for farmers and winegrowers, the financial side is on the right track. "We are satisfied," says the father of three. And the future? There aren't even half as many guests as before the flood, but he's exporting.

"Many people are out of momentum," says hotelier and restaurateur Wolfgang Ewerts from Insul. The flood catastrophe thwarted his plans for life. The restaurateur and his wife actually wanted to retire and hand over the business to their son. Now Ewerts has renovated, expanded, incurred debts - and continues to run the hotel and restaurant together with his wife and son. "You can plan a lot, but it usually turns out differently. And here it was completely different," he laconically states.

Christmas only in a supporting role

"Business is good. The people are there," says Ewerts. Drastically increased prices for geese in the run-up to Christmas, a lack of service staff and delivery bottlenecks: "It's back to normal madness and everything is better than after the flood." So far he is satisfied with the payments from his insurance company, as is Gerd Gasper.

The 81-year-old thinks it's "simply nice" to be home again. The house across the street is going to be demolished. But more and more people are gradually moving back to Altenburg, including two of his nephews and a sister-in-law. Christmas only has a supporting role for him this year. "It was so hectic. Now you can relax and take care of yourself again."

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