More than a month after extreme flooding killed more than 180 people in western Germany, survivors of the disaster, first responders, religious leaders and government officials came together Saturday to remember the victims who died and to express hope for the future.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, the leader of Germany's parliament, attended a ceremony at the cathedral in the city of Aachen, joined by residents of the regions devastated by the July 14-15 floods.
“Today, we think about the people from whom the flooding took everything: Their homes, their belongings, their memories, their lifelong dreams,” Steinmeier said. “We, the entire country, are by your side....We, the entire country, mourn with you today.”
Survivors and emergency workers also spoke at the event. Renate Steffes, a resident of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, said her life has been “shaken” by the “horrific experiences” of the flooding.
“There are hardly words that can begin to describe what the events on the night of July 14-15 felt like for me,” she said.
'A glimmer of hope'
Speakers at the ceremony stressed the importance of acknowledging and remembering the losses in order to move forward, noting it would take time to rebuild and to heal.
Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said he sees “a glimmer of hope” in the countless people who selflessly offered help to affected communities and individuals.
“It takes time for experiences to subside, for loss and injuries to be dealt with,” he said. “Mourning for those we lost takes time, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to rebuild and start again.”