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Farmer Barbara Angerer stands against backdrop of landscape devastated by flooding
The field where Barbara Angerer's animals used to graze is unrecognizable after weekend floodingImage: Elliot Douglas/DW

Bavaria floods: 'This will happen again'

Elliot Douglas
July 21, 2021

Residents are picking up the pieces after flooding caused havoc in southern Germany. But some locals are worried that climate change could mean worse disasters are yet to come. Elliot Douglas reports from Bavaria.


"It's like the surface of the moon," farmer Barbara Angerer says, looking around at what used to be a lush green field where her cattle grazed.

"Now it's a completely new landscape. You would never recognize it."

The field, which is situated just above a collection of farm buildings in the picturesque village of Bischofswiesen in southern Bavaria, is littered with rocks, uprooted trees and debris from the mountains that tower above. Below, barns and farm tracks that were waist-deep in mud and water have only recently been cleared, three days after the floods arrived.

Angerer points to where the water came from — an idyllic and innocuous-looking waterfall a few hundred meters up the slope.

Röthbach Waterfall in Berchtesgaden Nature Park
A beautiful waterfall like this one turned into a torrent of devastation for the AngerersImage: imago images /imagebroker

"On Saturday the heavy rain began, and that waterfall leads to a stream that used to go along the top of this field," she explains. "Then during the night there was a bang, and a huge rock came rolling down."

Her family had been outside trying to secure what they could in the torrential rain. Her son, seeing the size of the boulder, raised the alarm, yelling "Run! Run for your lives!" They were then powerless to do anything except call the emergency number and stay put in their house.

Flooding in bavaria
Heavy flooding over the weekend hit Bischofswiesen and other parts of the Berchtesgaden area, close to the Austrian border Image: Kilian Pfeiffer/picture alliance/dpa

Against the backdrop of discussion around whether communities received adequate warning, Angerer explains how there was a warning on Saturday for heavy rain and flooding — but the Angerer family decided not to evacuate because their farm lies on higher ground.

Luckily, their farmhouse was spared damage, but three ponds full of fish and several of her fowl were swept away by the deluge. The cattle, sensing danger, had already run down the mountain of their own volition to a more protected pasture.

A thick trail of mud that slammed into a house
Authorities say damages caused by weekend flooding could run into the billions of eurosImage: Elliot Douglas/DW

Angerer recalls dreading seeing the damage in the daylight on Sunday morning. A nonstop procession of helpers — family members, neighbors and dozens of Bundeswehr soldiers — have been in and out of her farm to clear up the mess, giving her so much to do that she has hardly been able to take in the reality of the situation.

'We are not out of danger'

Only now, a few days later, has she been able to reflect on the causes of the events that have changed her life forever — and their consequences.

"The buildings have basic insurance," Angerer explains. "But the whole 20 hectares of land, you can't insure it. No one could afford that."

On higher ground, such as on Angerer's farm, many people do not have insurance specifically for flooding. This means Angerer may have to rely on financial aid promised by the Bavarian and federal governments. Bavarian Premier Markus Söder has pledged an initial aid payment of €5,000 ($5,800) per household, regardless of insurance status.

A map of southern Germany Berchtesgaden Salzburg Bavaria

But financial handouts do little to assuage worries about the future.

"[The flooding] certainly has to do with climate change. We're not out of danger," Angerer says. "That waterfall is still there. This will happen again. Not any time soon, but it will happen."

Weather is getting more extreme

In the neighboring town of Schönau, 21-year-old Florian Sllamniku is hard at work digging mud out of the cellar of his parents' house. He said the main problem in the cleanup is that the dirt and water has made everything so heavy. Bicycles and garden tools are strewn around him, all caked in mud that is quickly hardening in the morning sun.

Older neighbors and residents here tell stories about equally devastating floods that wreaked havoc 70 years ago. Despite that, what happened over the weekend was a shock.

Local Florian poses with a shovel while digging mud from his house
Florian Sllamniku and his family returned to find their home heavily damaged Image: Elliot Douglas/DW

"It has never rained that much here," he says. He and his parents, along with most of the neighbors in this part of town, evacuated. Only on Sunday morning did he realize the extent of the damage — the entire ground floor was full to the ceiling with mud.

The operation is in full swing around the four houses that were particularly badly affected in the village. Soldiers and volunteers from Germany's technical federal relief agency (THW) have been there since Sunday, many working around the clock. A couple in one of the houses brings out cups of tea and bottles of beer for those who are digging out their garden.

A house caked in mud
While many villages remain intact, flooding left behind homes caked in mud Image: Elliot Douglas/DW

Josef Wanker, also from Schönau, is one of the volunteers who has been helping at the scene for the last few days. He sees the devastating floods as clearly caused by climate change.

"You can tell that the weather is getting more extreme. It is getting a lot warmer or a lot colder," he says from the seat of a small digger that he is operating.

Local Josef Wanker clears land after flooding with the help of a digger
Local Josef Wanker is among the volunteers involved in cleanup effortsImage: Elliot Douglas/DW

Conservative Bavarian Premier Markus Söder, who visited the affected region over the weekend, has been quick to promise more action on climate change. Bavaria has a climate neutral goal of 2040, five years ahead of Germany as a whole, and huge investments in green infrastructure are planned. Meanwhile the Greens, the largest opposition party in Bavaria, say not enough is being done.

But Sllamniku is skeptical that climate change is the cause of the latest flooding.

"It's certainly clear that the weather is getting worse every year," he admits. But beyond that, it is difficult to say, he shrugs.

The next step in the Berchtesgaden area is for geologists and scientists to assess why the flooding happened where it did, and what can be done to prevent this. In the meantime, the state of emergency has been removed, and for many people, things are returning to normal.

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