Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hochwasser in Dresden

In August 2002 I was finishing two months of language summer school at the Goethe Institut in Göttingen in the center of Germany. I hadn't expected the summer to be so cool and wet and ended up wearing the same pair of blue jeans and a gray flannel sweatshirt borrowed from a classmate pretty much the whole time we were there. I can still smell the rain-soaked mornings that came through the open, unscreened windows of the room I shared with a girl from Korea.

At the time, the Germans all said this was unusual weather, but when I was back in 2006 for pre-dissertation research and again in 2007 for the German Historical Institute's archive seminar and found similar weather, I wondered whether the Germans were familiar with their own summers? At any rate, those trips confirmed me in the belief that there is no time of year during which one should travel to Germany without an umbrella (ein Regenshirm).

Looking upstream from Carolabrücke, c. 4pm Tuesday
Anyway, in Göttingen we would read the newspapers in the mornings together, and I remember seeing pictures of devastating flooding in Dresden (among other places). Wikipedia tells me that "the Elbe River reached an all-time high of 9.4 meters (30.8 feet)" during this "Millenium Flood." 30,000 people were evacuated, and there was substantial damage done to residences, businesses, and landmarks like the Semperoper theater (click both words for previous blog posts).

Supposedly it was the kind of flooding that only happens every century or so, but some of my acquaintances in Dresden think climate change means more frequent flooding. They are now worrying whether two weeks of rain will mean a situation "as bad as ten years ago" [sic], when it rained and rained, and then after the rain stopped, the water came down from the headlands, leaving destruction and "all manner of junk" in its wake.

Thus far the famous Blaues Wunder bridge has been closed since Monday for fear that at 120 years old it could not handle both high water and modern traffic. That has meant serious transportation difficulties, as the ferry upstream has of course been stopped, the nearest bridge is under construction (causing delays and detours itself), and the next bridge (die Albertbruücke) well into town.

None of the more modern bridges have been closed yet, but everyone is carefully watching the official reports online. I bought some flowers for the family that hosted me for dinner tonight, and the shopkeeper said to me, "Es ist was los in Dresden." (There's something going on/happening in Dresden.) I agreed: all day sirens sounded as the fire department and army sped around town laying sandbags and erecting barriers to flooded low-lying areas. Even the Main State Archive had sandbags out front!

In fact, they've closed the archive for the rest of the week. Wednesday was supposed to be my last day, but to my complete surprise, I managed to finish what I needed to do on Tuesday. In fact, I got out a few hours "early" (i.e. before closing), so I wandered over the Carolabrücke to take photographs. Lots of locals had come out to look at the water, too.

They were still out on the bridges when I crossed the Albertbrücke at 6:15 pm on my way to dinner, and then again at 10:15 pm on my way home after Hauskreis (Bible study). There I found the scene less serene than at the other bridge earlier in the day. In the shallows, the water merely reached out wherever it could, but in the deep center of the river, the water gushed angrily around the supports of the bridge, making eddies and even some white caps. I found the noise and the sight of the speed of all that brown water angstproduzierend (alarming, fear-producing). It didn't help that the wooden foot-traffic bridge shook gently when a bicycle or jogger went by.

If you're curious what the situation looks like right now, click this link and then pick any one of the camera icons for "aktuelle" (current) images. This map is collecting data about problem areas where help is needed. These are probably better pictures than mine. Here is a graph of water levels (at 8.05 m = 26.4 ft as of this writing). This blog post shows what the Elbe River usually looks like. Editor's note: the river crested at about 8.8 m midday onThursday.

I should add that Dresden isn't the only city threatened by flooding; rivers around Germany are higher than normal. And of course, once the water passes us, it still has to pass Magdeburg and eventually Hamburg before exiting into the North Sea. Here you can see that the flooding was much worse in other parts of Germany, and in Austria and the Czech Republic.

In the right foreground stands a blue sign advertising where to pay to park. It is taller than I am.


  1. I remember all too well! I had to go out and buy a light jacket that I wore all the time. I would go out in bright sunshine and 10 minutes later it would rain on me.

    You seem to bring this weather with you. Next time I go to Germany I'll check to see if you'll be there too to determine how much rain gear to pack. :)

    I hope the water recedes and the rest of your trip goes smoothly!

  2. Lol--it does seem to follow me, doesn't it? Prayers for safety and that there isn't too much damage are always welcome. The water level has now reached 8.27 m. :-(


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