SPIEGEL: Mr Sermann, you are standing here in your press hall in Altenahr in rubber boots and shoveling your wine into the Ahr with snow shovels. Can you describe what is going on inside you? ‘
Sermann: How am I supposed to be? We live. Nothing happened to my family, at least physically. I’ve been wearing the same clothes since Wednesday because my apartment in Bad Neuenahr was also full. This is literally my last shirt. My car drifted away, I have no idea where it is. I will probably never see it again. We’re tidying up now, we can’t sit at home and do nothing.
SPIEGEL: Can you already put a figure on how great the damage is to your company?
Cleaning up the damaged manor house: “Unimaginable”
Photo: Jessica Schäfer / DER SPIEGEL
Sermann: No, it’s too early. We’re still working on the rough. We have a press hall and a wine bar in Altenahr, Ahrweiler district. Both houses are on the cable car road directly on the river bank. The axle of a caravan is on the roof of the hall, and the water in the wine tavern was up to the second floor. We lost 25 500-liter barrels of red wine, and the water just carried them away. There is a video of the barrels drifting down the Ahr. We have to throw away 15,000 to 20,000 bottles of wine because heating oil has been drawn into the wine through the cap. Then there is the damage to the devices and to the houses. Inconceivably.
SPIEGEL: How did you experience it when the water came?
“The cellar was full immediately”
Sermann: That was Wednesday afternoon, last week. It had rained for a week or two. The Ahr has many tributaries that overflow like a bathtub when it rains so much. In 2016 we already had a “flood of the century” with water levels of up to 3.80 meters. So I always checked the weather app on my phone last week. On Wednesday lunchtime I fetched a pallet of potting soil and stacked the sacks around the manor house so that the cellar wouldn’t fill up. But we were not warned for these dimensions, and the level forecasts were constantly changing. We were surprised.
SPIEGEL: How did it start
Dirty bottle: “We have to throw away 15,000 to 20,000 bottles of wine”
Jessica Schäfer / DER SPIEGEL
Sermann: It was around 3:30 p.m., almost like a wave. The basement was full immediately. My mother was up in the manor house, my father and I wanted to save the machines. When the water was at chest level, we let go and broke into a neighboring house over the roof of a forklift. Then we sat there and looked out the window as it rose further and further. Five, six, seven meters high. The water has developed quite a boost, boating or swimming was out of the question. That made no sense to me. You watch, but you don’t understand what is happening.
SPIEGEL: What happened then?
Sermann: At around half past six in the evening, an acquaintance sent me a video that there was still a cell phone network. On the video you can see my wine barrels floating down the Ahr. I suddenly had the thought of having to save my car, I don’t know why. I got undressed and wanted to jump off the first floor and swim. My girlfriend just stopped me. It was getting dark, I saw my cell phone battery drop by the minute. We were wet. We undressed and tried to wipe our clothes dry with carpets.
SPIEGEL: Didn’t get any help?
The flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate triggered an enormous willingness to help. Numerous appeals for donations are shared on social networks – not all of them are serious. The Cologne police warned about fraud in connection with the flood. When donating, you should rely on institutions and organizations that you know personally or about which you have sufficiently informed yourself.
The German Central Institute for Social Issues (DZI) has compiled a list of addresses and account numbers of organizations that carry the DZI donation seal for the »severe weather catastrophe in West Germany«.
In addition, there are contact persons in the affected districts on the subject of donations. The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) has listed the districts on its website with further information and telephone numbers.
(With material from the dpa)
Sermann: How come? As I said, the water through the town was such a stream that nobody could go by boat. It was probably too dark for helicopters, I don’t know.
SPIEGEL: When did the water go back?
Sermann: Sometime on Thursday morning it was gone. The sun was shining, I remember that. My father went straight to my mother’s manor house, I wanted to get help, but a neighbor stopped me. We then looked for his father. Unfortunately he passed away. I don’t want to say more about this Thursday, there are some things I can’t remember either. Altenahr, at least down here on Seilbahnstrasse, was almost completely destroyed.
SPIEGEL: Then they started cleaning up.
Sermann: That’s the way it is. I’ve asked friends and acquaintances for help on Instagram, and I’m so impressed with the solidarity of the people. Many came every day since Friday. People come with shovels and wheelbarrows, one brings a camping stove and cooks ravioli for everyone, it’s unbelievable. I am so grateful. I don’t know what we would do without this help.
SPIEGEL: You are a winemaker, your job is to deal with the weather and climate every day. What do you conclude from this flood?
Sermann: There is climate change, that has been proven. But it is too early for me to investigate the causes. We are standing here in front of the ruins of our existence, I will not ask the question of guilt, we have more important things to do. I am also not someone who is now hitting politicians and asking where the warnings were? Why is that happend? Couldn’t that have been prevented? I now need three men with chainsaw licenses to get the tree out of the driveway for me.
SPIEGEL: How are you doing now?
Sermann: Many of our neighbors here have probably left their homes forever. They’ll never come back. We want to go on. Our bottle storage is completely flooded, but we hope that we can still use a few of them because they are only slightly damaged and muddy. Other winemakers have offered to take over the plant protection for us on our slopes so that the harvest does not fail completely. That gives me courage, the help of others. If it weren’t for that, we’d be lost. We will make it.