More than a month after extreme flooding killed more than 180 people in western Germany, disaster survivors, first responders, religious leaders and government officials gathered on Saturday to remember the deceased victims and express their hope for the future.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble, Head of the German Parliament, attended a ceremony at the cathedral in the city of Aachen, accompanied by residents of the regions devastated by the floods of July 14 and 15.
“Today we think of the people who were swept away by the floods: their homes, their possessions, their memories, their lifelong dreams,” said Steinmeier. “We, the whole country, are by your side … We, the whole country, weep with you today.”
Survivors and rescuers also spoke at the event. Renate Steffes, a resident of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, said her life had been “shaken” by the “horrific experiences” of the floods.
“There are few words that can begin to describe how the events of the night of July 14-15 felt to me,” she said.
“A glimmer of hope”
Speakers at the ceremony stressed the importance of recognizing and remembering losses in order to move forward, noting that it will take time to rebuild and heal.
Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said he saw “a glimmer of hope” in the countless people who selflessly offered help to affected communities and individuals.
“It takes time for the experiences to subside, for the losses and injuries to be dealt with,” he said. “Grieving those we have lost takes time, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to rebuild and start over. “