Just like many other German towns, Wittenberg is struggling to minimize the impact of the flood disaster. Luckily, the local fire service can count on the help of the town's many dedicated volunteers.
There is no sign of anxiety or irritation among the people gathered on the banks of the Elbe river in Wittenberg, a town in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Women and men, young and old, are busily stacking sandbags to make a small dam. Under a blue, sunny sky, it is a relaxed-looking scene - but underneath the surface there is a growing sense of urgency. The Elbe has come close to bursting the dikes, and this is why the sandbag-stacking is taking place today.
Oliver Neubauer from the volunteer fire service is heading the flood-prevention effort. He is pleased that so many local residents are lending a hand. "The Wittenberg people's enthusiasm is amazingly strong again this time, just like in 2002," he says, referring to flood that caused major damage in the town 11 years ago. The fire service manages the volunteer effort, deciding where help is needed and where it is not. This way, it makes sure there is no shortage or oversupply of volunteers.
Different kinds of help
Among the helpers are a number of young people - including three 15-year-old boys who have come to the riverbank together. "We are doing it because we don't have school today and we just felt like coming," one of them explains.
Snacks and drinks for the sandbag stackers are also provided voluntarily by the local residents. The helpers are being supplied with sandwiches, cakes, coffee and cold drinks to make the work in the summer heat a tiny bit more pleasant. A local ice-cream shop has sent a van over and is giving away free ice-cream. A young woman in a straw hat is standing in front of a group of tables covered with trays of food. Nearby, sausages are sizzling on a barbecue. "Yesterday we were told that we needed to feed 150 persons, and each of them got a good portion," she says.
At the Wittenberg town hall, mayor Eckhard Naumann praises the locals' willingness to help. He adds that the enthusiasm has been so great that no additional volunteers are necessary - a message that doesn't always go down well. "It's a problem when help is offered and there isn't a way of making use of it," he says, adding that situations like this cause frustration among volunteers and aid coordinators.
In a state of readiness
Should the need for volunteers increase, the town will issue a new appeal. Meanwhile, many local businesses are letting their employees take time off to help out at the riverbank. One of these is a corrosion-protection business managed by Doris Namislo, who says that even locals who are not affected by the floods are offering their help.
At the moment, nobody in Wittenberg is panicking. Along with the mayor, most of the residents hope that the precautions they have taken are enough. "The dikes are in a good state and we have professionals working with us," says Naumann. "We know where the vulnerable spots are."