NewsFirst anniversary of the Ahr Valley flood: "If only...

First anniversary of the Ahr Valley flood: "If only I had drowned with them"

Created: 7/20/2022, 3:47 p.m

Ein Blick zurück auf die schwersten Stunden im Juli 2021: Eva Perscheid. jcm
A look back at the hardest hours in July 2021: Eva Perscheid. © Jan Christian Müller

80-year-old Eva Perscheid lost her daughter and her husband in the Ahr flood. A year later, she wants to move back into the house where she experienced the tragedy.

The night after her daughter Antje and her husband Georg died in the basement, Eva Perscheid lies in her bed on the first floor and cannot fall asleep. It is the evening of July 15, 2021. They had planned to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary later in the summer. And in the fall her 80th birthday. With Antje and Georg in Mexico. The three had been to New York for her husband’s 80th. They liked to travel together. mother, father, daughter.

Antje, 44, still lived at home. “Girl, don’t you want to go somewhere else?” her parents sometimes asked her. And Antje had always answered: “Why? I like it here with you.” Mother and father were happy every time. But soon Antje finally wanted to marry Oliver, her boyfriend of many years. And then the two wanted to buy a house. “They went together so well,” says Eva Perscheid.

Almost a year after the tragedy on the Ahr, she is sitting in a garden chair behind the house and squinting in the sun. She asks that her real name and the names of her family not be revealed. She doesn’t want any more trouble. At the beginning of July she actually wanted to move back home. After almost a year of renovation. But she hasn’t done that yet. “What am I sitting here for? What did we build all this for?” She points to her garden, lush green, but some beds are just dirt: “Everything bloomed here. I tug around here every day to keep myself busy.”

There is a pack of cigarettes on the table in front of her. R1, a light variety. “I never smoked. I have to get used to it again. But the workers always came with cigarettes. Eventually I got one too. If my husband and my daughter saw that, they would scold me.”

On July 15, 2022 she wants to stop smoking again. She has made up her mind. On the day of death. Exactly one year after Antje and Georg Perscheid drowned in the floods of the Ahr. Her voice breaks: “I can still hear them knocking on the door.”

Back to the scene of the catastrophe: the scars of the Ahr valley flood go deep

On the evening of July 14, 2021, a Wednesday, Eva Perscheid sits in front of the television and watches “Aktenzeichen XY”. The rain in Heimersheim stopped in the early evening. Finally. Don’t worry anymore.

The people know each other in the small town, just under 3000 people, only a few kilometers down the Ahr from Bad Neuenahr, where the narrow valley at the top is already several hundred meters wide. The Perscheids live on a small street, they were among the first to buy property there half a century ago. The narrow street runs parallel to the Ahr, which actually flows in a leisurely direction towards the nearby Rhine, barely more than 200 meters from the river, with a view of the local vineyard Landskrone. In Heimersheim they are proud of their red wine. The Pinot Noir is one of the best in the whole country.

As she goes to bed, the mother can still hear her daughter on the phone. Then she soon falls asleep. Shortly after two in the night, Eva Perscheid woke up with a start. She hears a rustling and rumbling, she looks out the window into the garden: “It was a lake.” The husband and daughter are already on their way down to the basement, to where Georg Perscheid is carefully storing his stamp collection on long shelves sorted albums. “She was his be-all and end-all.” To where daughter Antje has pictures and sculptures. She loved art, especially the performance artist collective Peng! “She liked going to exhibitions and galleries.”

Eva Perscheid immediately follows them in the direction of the basement. It’s only seconds. The rumbling in the distance: the footbridge to the train station collapses. The sound of the tidal wave in front of the door. When she reaches the marble stairs to the basement, the metal door to the largest room, into which the husband and daughter have just disappeared, is already slamming shut. She will never see them both again.

The mother pushes against the door, in vain. Inside, the man and daughter are pulling, yelling, and knocking. The windows to the yard? Protected with bars. “They were trapped there like in a cage.” Eva Perscheid pulls herself up the rungs of the basement stairs, slips down again, pulls herself up again. “The water went up. I screamed. Pull, pull. I couldn’t get the door open anymore. I was in the water this far.” She points to chest level. “Then I went out into the street, I screamed so much that someone helped me. Nobody came up to the window and looked. Why didn’t anyone at least look? It didn’t help anyone.”

Because nobody can help anymore. The street is already a raging river in which the cars are washed away. Eva Perscheid stands with her feet in the water. The ground floor of the house is flooded when the water stops rising. She no longer remembers exactly how long she stands there and calls out before a rubber dinghy with firefighters appears. “They pulled me over the rough wall. If I was a young girl they would have lifted me.” She is wearing her nightgown. “I called, there are still two downstairs. They said they didn’t have the equipment to do it. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Ahrtal: Eva Perscheid knows that anger doesn’t help to explain death

Eva Perscheid is taken to the primary school, which is higher up in town. “There they gave me clothes and wanted to take me to the hospital. I said to them: ‘I won’t do it, I won’t let myself be pumped full of medication. I am of sound mind.’” She is a resolute woman. She says, “Couldn’t the county commissioner warn us?” But she doesn’t sound angry asking herself that over and over. She knows that her anger does not help to explain death and to continue to endure life.

She doesn’t stay long in the emergency shelter. She pushed to be allowed back into the house. She believed her daughter and husband were safe. “I slept upstairs for two nights when they were still in the mud downstairs. They didn’t tell me that.” Her voice breaks with pain.

She walked around in rubber boots for days. “Somebody gave them to me, I wasn’t wearing any shoes.” At the side of her deceased daughter’s boyfriend, she walked up and down the street for days as if paralyzed. Between the rubble that the neighbors are dragging out. “I always swept the street for the first few days. The water had to go. The water. I swept water all the time. I had to do something.”

Two days after the flood there is already a letter in the mailbox. “Someone from the village wanted to buy the house. I found that so impossible.” She didn’t even answer. Eva Perscheid quickly realized: “This is my home, I’m staying here. The house is solidly built.”

Die Frankenstraße am Tag nach der Flut. Hinten rechts vom Feuerwehrwagen das Haus der Familie Perscheid. Lanzerath
The street the day after the flood. The house of the Perscheid family is to the right of the fire engine. Lanzerath © Lanzerath

She flees the grief and the shock into pragmatism, contacts the insurance company, the house has elementary insurance, the costs run into the hundreds of thousands. “I then called my old craftsmen straight away. I knew they would have a lot to do.” And she walks to the bank in her rubber boots. Withdraw money. “I was a bit ashamed at first.” But there is hardly anyone who isn’t covered in mud and wearing rubber boots like her. So she doesn’t have to be ashamed. “I suddenly realized that I no longer had any relatives. I asked friends if I could wash at their place.” At first there is no fresh tap water. Two teachers help to take out the rubbish. Hundreds of buckets full of mud and debris. One of her daughter’s students comes regularly to clean. For that she is grateful.

“The first thing I got was a washing machine. We put them in the trash down there. I needed fresh laundry.” Then she takes care of a car. The two cars in front of the door have been washed away. “I bought a year-old car in Remagen. A Golf Plus. i don’t like the color It’s too dark for me. I’ve always had silver cars.”

She asks the undertaker if she can see the husband and daughter again. “The gentleman at the funeral home said, ‘Don’t do this to yourself. stay away.’ My husband was unrecognizable. I assume the cupboards fell on him. Today I regret not having seen her more. But I was out of my mind. I didn’t have any strength either. You let it get to you.”

“Faith didn’t help me”: Mourning in the Ahr Valley – one year after the flood

After two weeks she has to move to an aparthotel, rooms without a balcony. Living at home is no longer possible. Too much is destroyed at home. The hotel is full. All people who no longer have a home. broken people. “A woman greeted me happily. I didn’t recognize her at first. She had lost her dentures in the flood.”

The hotel is in Bad Neuenahr, in the almost completely destroyed town down by the river. There, where she had met her husband more than half a century ago. “He was stationed here with the Bundeswehr.” Georg Perscheid is now lying in an urn grave with Antje, barely 200 meters from the house. “I go to the cemetery every day. Talk to them there.” But the church offered her no comfort: “Stop it,” she said. She is Catholic. “Oliver always wants to persuade me that we will see them again and that they will see us.” She seems skeptical. “Faith didn’t help me.” Her husband was a Protestant. “The evangelical pastor,” she says, “wanted to congratulate us on our golden wedding anniversary in 2020. He came a year early. I said to him: ‘Come back next year.’” But then there was no next year.

The funeral cannot take place until two months later, in September. The graveyard must first be restored. There are many people there and mourn. Eva Perscheid hardly noticed. “I was petrified. I didn’t want everyone to shake my hand. I stood there like a mummy. I wasn’t even able to shed a tear.”

When the mother talks about her daughter, her features soften. “She was always a great student. She learned so much as a child. She put her dolls down and wrote dictations with them. bug built in. corrections made. Written to the parents of the dolls. She always played school.” After graduating from high school, Antje first studied law and then became a teacher. “Antje was a qualified lawyer and senior teacher.” Teacher at the vocational school in Bad Neuenahr. “She wanted to write her doctoral thesis. She always had plans.”

The sun is high in the sky now. Hardly any shade in the garden. Eva Perscheid, jeans, pink T-shirt, stands up. She doesn’t look like a broken woman, nor like an 80-year-old. She looks younger and amazingly strong. “I’ll show you the basement now. Surely you want to see him. I can only go in there with you. Otherwise I can’t do it.”

The parquet flooring has long since been laid on the ground floor, the floor and walls have been renovated, and the kitchen has just been installed. Everything smells new. Most of the neighbors are not as far away as they are here. Eva Perscheid descends the basement stairs, at the bottom right is the room where husband and daughter could no longer escape death. The walls are dried and whitewashed. In the middle are dozens of boxes with the remaining stamp collections stuck in the mud. “He has been collecting stamps since he was a kid. He had so many rarities and first day covers.”

Im Schlamm getrocknete Erinnerungen: Briefmarkenalbum im Kellerraum. jcm
Memories dried in the mud: stamp album in the basement. jcm © Jan-Christian Müller

She rummages through the boxes, finds the building permit with the floor plan for the house between the stamp albums. “Almost all the files have swum away. I had to reapply for everything. District court, land registry, city administration. district administration. There they wanted 40 euros for the paperwork. I said: ‘Please get the money from the district administrator.’” Then she turned and left.

She didn’t always make it so energetically when she went through the offices. At the district court they asked her: “Listen, Ms. Perscheid, who died first?” She first had to process that in her head: “I said: ‘Good woman: I wasn’t there. I was behind the door.’”

But there are also happy moments. Whenever she meets up with her old friends from class. “We’re helping each other. A lot of them have been drowned. I’ve been flushing for 14 days now. They packed everything for Werner in Neuenahr, with all the mud on it. We’ve now unpacked it and washed everything off.’ A smile even crosses her face from time to time. But only for a short while.

At the end, after more than two hours, the deep pain comes out of her again: “I can’t get the screaming and knocking out of my head. If only I had drowned. I would have preferred that.” She looks at the house, which is there again as if nothing had happened. “What else is to come? I’m glad I’m this old.” (Jan-Christian Müller)

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