German churches damaged by floodings
Hans-Willem Westerbeke, RD
Not only houses and campsites have suffered from the devastating floods in Germany. The water also damaged many churches and made them unusable.
This is apparent from an inventarisation of the German Protestant news agency Idea and the news service of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
Take the tourist town of Bad Neuenahr, near Cologne. It was severely affected by the flooding of the river Ahr. Normally it isn’t much more than a stream, but last week the Ahr dragged along bridges, part of a highway and a rail track. Within half an hour, the water levels rose by more than seven meters. Dozens of people were killed in the town and the surrounding region. There are still people missing. Broken tombstones lie across the cemetery. In an interview with the Westdeutsche Zeitung, a resident called the cemetery “one big disaster area.” The streets, houses and cars are covered in a thick layer of brown sludge.
At the 19th-century Martin Luther Church in the city centre, close to the river Ahr, the water was more than a meter high. There is mud in the cellar and the sacristy, where, among other things, church vestments are kept. All pews, a concert grand, a chest organ and more than 200 songbooks are no longer usable. In the office of the Evangelical Church in Bad Neuenahr, the water destroyed not only the computer system but also the entire archive.
The church hall of the Evangelical Church in nearby Wipperfürth was also filled with water, which rose to 1.4 meters. The contents of the entire ground floor have been washed away. The wave destroyed kitchens, toilets, furniture, musical instruments and technical installations. It will take more than 100.000 euros to repair the damage, according to the first estimates by the congregation..
At Hagen, a little more to the north, the river Volme overflowed. The building of a Baptist congregation, right next to the river, had to endure a wave of 1.6 meters high. A Facebook video shows the havoc in the church hall with broken chairs. The congregation has since removed “tons of sludge” from the building and gathered outside last Sunday amid the broken furniture.
In the Resurrection Church in the village of Hagen-Dahl, the water levels were over a meter high. Due to the strong water pressure, all the doors of the medieval church warped so that they no longer close. Part of the building is in danger of collapsing because sandstone has fallen from a lintel of a door. The pulpit was pulled from its anchorage by the force of the water. Some of the ancient frescoes have been damaged.
Many other churches in Germany were also damaged by the flooding of rivers or rainwater that was unable to drain in time. The Markus chapel in Altenberg, eastern Germany, built in the thirteenth century, the oldest building in the city, was submerged to a height of 1.4 meters. The diocese of Aachen also reports damage: for example, there was water in the St. Kornelius Church.
In the Eifel, close to the Belgian border, church buildings also suffered damage and became unusable. In Schleiden, the water levels rose to three meters in some places. At the small town’s Evangelical Trinity Church, the doors gave way under the pressure of the water, washing away the floors. In the nearby city of Gemünd, a church building of the evangelical Trinity Church suffered similar damage.
In other places, churches were spared from the water. The Roman Catholic Lambertus Church in Erfstadt-Bliesheim, for example, stands at higher grounds than much of the city and was not affected by the water. The parish, therefore, opened its doors and received residents from the area who had to leave their homes. The parish informed the local radio station Domradio that the inhabitants were given a place to sleep and provided with food.
This article was previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad, on July 22th, 2021.