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German leaders join service for flood victims

August 28, 2021

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the scale of last month's devastating floods showed that the consequences of climate change have hit Europe.

The German president at Aachen cathedral
The German president mourned the dead in Germany and neighboring BelgiumImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's head of state, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Germany mourned alongside the friends and relatives of the more than 180 people who lost their lives in July's catastrophic flooding.

Speaking at a service in the western city of Aachen, the president said the events were evidence that Germany must do its utmost to fight climate change.

What was the president's message?

Steinmeier said the floods had swept away everything: "People, houses, bridges, roads, schools, city halls, churches, cemeteries."

"We are thinking people who have lost everything in the floods: their homes, their possessions, their memories, their dreams of life," said the president.

The disaster took Germany by surprise, he said, at a moment "when we hoped we would finally get the pandemic under control — But then a new disaster struck."

Merkel and Steinmeier
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the ceremony in Aachen cathedralImage: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool

He expressed his deepest condolences to people who lost loved ones in Germany and in neighboring countries. "We mourn with you today," he said.

While Germany was worst hit by the flooding — which followed a period of intense rainfall — dozens also died in Belgium and thousands were forced to flee their homes in the Netherlands. Parts of France, Luxembourg and Switzerland were also badly affected.

'We must learn lessons'

It was a painful realization, he said, "that we have perhaps lulled ourselves into a false sense of security."

He warned that the coronavirus pandemic, he warned that the response to the recent experience could not be "simply back to business as usual."

German floods leave behind trail of devastation

"We must learn lessons from this double disaster experience and better prepare ourselves for future crises."

This, he said, included combating climate change with all determination. The president said it was clear that the consequences had reached Europe, as evidenced this summer by the devastating rainfall and wildfires around the Mediterranean.

The German president expressed his gratitude for the "overwhelming willingness to help" and thanked emergency and technical relief personnel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, the leader of Germany's parliament joined the ceremony at Aachen cathedral, where survivors and emergency workers also spoke.

'Glimmer of hope'

Renate Steffes, a resident of the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, said her life has been "shaken" by the "horrific experiences" of the flooding. The town lies on the worst-hit of all river valleys, the Ahrtal.

"There are hardly words that can begin to describe what the events on the night of July 14-15 felt like for me," she said.

Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, said he saw "a glimmer of hope" after so many people had offered help to affected communities and individuals.

"It takes time for experiences to subside, for loss and injuries to be dealt with," he said. "Mourning for those we lost takes time, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to rebuild and start again."

The state premiers of the two German states most affected by the floods were also present — Rhineland-Palatinate's state premier Malu Dreyer and her North Rhine-Westphalian counterpart Armin Laschet.

Laschet, who heads Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and who is the party's candidate to replace her after next month's federal elections, had garnered criticism in the wake of the flooding.

He was caught on camera laughing in the background as Steinmeier discussed the deadly flooding in a television address from the affected area.

Earlier this month, federal and state leaders agreed to a €30-billion ($35.2-billion) reconstruction fund for the regions that were hit.

rc/mm (dpa, AFP, KNA, AP)