Life after the disaster: the flood zone awaits tourists because it means more to Wadi Al-Ahrar than just money
Thursday March 17, 2022 at 11:20 am
Eight months after the flood disaster, residents of the Ahr Valley hope that many vacationers will travel to one of Germany’s most popular summertime picnic spots. FOCUS Online has spoken to hoteliers, holiday apartment owners and tourism officials about the issue of what offers are available again and what guests should prepare for.
Michael Lintz kicks a piece of concrete off with his foot and dusts off his work gloves. He walks on the ground floor of a house that is nothing but a ruin. When he thinks about what awaits him, he feels very anxious. “There are a lot of problems after the flood. Nobody can imagine that,” says the 58-year-old. “Basically we have to start over. At zero.”
Lentz has struggled with a handful of helpers for months, but progress is difficult. Were it not for the sign above the entrance, you would never have dreamed that tourists from all over Germany would spend their holidays carefree in this house: “Hotel Central Garni”.
Life after the disaster:
On July 15, 2021, a devastating flood disaster in the Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia destroyed many homes and livelihoods. More than 130 people died in Bad Neuenahr-Auerweiler alone. Flood reporters from FOCUS Online work in a container office in Dernau. To be there, to inform, to help – that’s the goal. In the “Life After Disaster” series, journalists deal with flood management, the region’s reconstruction, and what people across Germany can learn from this disaster.
How to contact us:
Hotel Direct on Ahr: Millions of Flood Damage
The hotel – five floors, 22 rooms, 40 beds – is located directly on the Ahr, opposite the famous casino in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. Including breakfast, a single room costs 70-80 euros, a double room is about 100 euros. Guests can hear the sound of the river from the balconies. On the evening of July 14, 2021, this river turned into a death vortex. With tremendous force he shot across the valley and caused unimaginable destruction – also at the Michael Lintz Hotel.
The owner estimates that the flood caused damages of up to 1 million euros to his family-run business. Even today, eight months later, the consequences are clear: a destroyed building shell with unpaved brick walls, exposed cables, tattered floors, missing doors and broken windows. Lentz – a belted shirt, a black work jacket, and jeans – is trying to bring some kind of order into his house, taking small steps. There is no doubt about reopening anytime soon.
“This year it won’t be anymore,” Lentz says in an interview with FOCUS Online. “The basement and ground floor were practically in ruins – as were many other hotels in the area. They won’t be able to open their doors again until 2023 at the earliest.” Until then, the hotel owner fears, there will be pretty much no Guests in the area.
Wonderful nature, but catastrophe rips deep wounds
“Tourism is the driver of the Ahr Valley,” says Lintz. But not only are many hotels and guesthouses still far from ready to start over after the flood, infrastructure is still on the ground in many areas.
Lentz, who runs a hiking blog (www.ahrtalwandern.de), knows “every meter” in the relaxation and fun district of northern Rhineland-Palatinate. It takes care of a unique landscape with gentle hills, jagged wild rocks, almost Mediterranean vineyards, broad meadow plateaus and quiet forest paths. “It’s great here.”
Tourists from all over Germany and abroad usually come here in large numbers in the summer. But in light of the broken hiking and biking trails, the many closed restaurants and ruined entertainment opportunities, he asks, “What are people doing here?”
Tourismus-Verein: Infrastructure is still severely affected
Michael Lintz is not alone in his assessment. Even the tourism managers of the Ahr Valley do not believe that this year there will be as many visitors as before the flood – despite all the efforts and progress made on reconstruction.
“Infrastructure will still be severely affected in the summer,” says Barbara Knepps, a spokeswoman for FOCUS Online’s “Ahr Valley Tourism” association. In many places, only destroyed roads and bridges have been “repaired”, and a number of parking spaces cannot be used again. Knieps: “Even the Ahrradweg wouldn’t be acceptable for the most part in the summer.”
Only a quarter of hotels and guesthouses are currently open
When it comes to accommodation, things don’t look good either. Of the hotels and guesthouses listed in the Ahr Valley Tourism Association, only 23 percent are currently open. “Another 40 percent have announced reopenings in 2022 and 2023, including larger hotels like the Steigenberger Hotel or the Dorint Parkhotel in Bad Neuenahr,” says Barbara Knepps. About a third of hostels are still fully open when it lasts. The range of holiday apartments has also been reduced. Although 50 percent of the neighborhoods are usable again, a large portion of them are currently occupied by flood victims or artisans rebuilding the Ahr Valley.
What about bars and restaurants? Ahr Valley Tourism spokeswoman Knieps told FOCUS Online: “Currently about 25 percent of restaurants in the Ahr Valley are open. Many other restaurants are gradually reopening this year—and with a lot of great ideas and commitment.” Many restaurants also offer delivery To homes for guests in holiday apartments.
Today’s visitors will already find many fun activities
It is difficult to predict how quickly tourism will return to the Aar Valley. “The numbers will definitely be much lower than previous overnight stays, since options are still limited,” Barbara Knieps explains. “Instead, we expect strong daytime tourism.”
For guests who just want to take a short tour of the Ahr Valley and don’t have to stay overnight, the situation is more relaxed. Buses and trains are already operating again in large parts of the area, and where former bike paths are still impassable, alternative routes have been set up. In addition, all of the trekking destinations that survived the flood are open, such as the Bad Neuenahr Forest Climbing Park or the great hiking trails at higher altitudes. A good overview of what is already possible again in the Ahr Valley can be found at www.ahrtal.de/fuer-dich-da
Ahar Valley needs vacationers – for economic reasons too
Many restaurants, winegrowers and organizers want to welcome tourists with special offers and their famous hospitality in the Rhenish region. From Easter, guided tours, wine visits and wine tastings begin again in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler as well as in Mittelahr. “Because interest in the flood event that occurred last July is high, the Ahr Valley Tourism Office is also planning a guided tour on the flood theme,” says Barbara Knipps.
The spokeswoman notes that there is already great interest in visiting the Ahar Valley, because the guests also want to support the stricken area with a visit. Knieps: “Ahr Valley guests need to restore economic strength in the tourism sector.”
Landlady apartment: “We live by tourism”
Many hoteliers, restaurants, winemakers, and shopkeepers can confirm this. Ulla Elsenheimer knows very well how important tourism is in the Ahr Valley. “We live from tourism,” says the hostess in an interview with FOCUS Online. Vacationers are of great importance not only from an economic point of view, but also for the attitude towards the life of the local population. “When guests come to us again, it gives us strength and motivation to keep going,” Elsenheimer says. It is a bonus to the fact that the people of the valley never gave up despite all the adversity.
Annika Cooper also hopes the tourists will return soon. It operates an “apartment hotel” next to the spa gardens in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. The house was not directly affected by the flood and was able to reopen in time. Since then, craftsmen and construction workers in particular have stayed home to help rebuild the city. Until now, tourists are rarely lost in the hotel. “No more than 10 to 15 percent of our guests are currently tourists,” Cooper tells FOCUS Online. There are now “a few inquiries” via email and phone. But people are still hesitant to book. “They are waiting to see how things develop here.”
Hotel manager hopes for a ‘massive boom’ in guest numbers
Munzer Yuksel, the owner of the Hilma Pension next door, has had similar experiences. Many people who want to come to Ahar Valley are still hesitant and in some cases uneasy. “Things that many vacationers have come to actually need to be restored,” he says. The city and the tourism association should do their best to “create incentives” so that the area becomes attractive to guests again. Then, according to Yuksel, tourism in the Ahar Valley will experience a “tremendous revival.”
Michael Lintz of Central Hotel isn’t quite that optimistic, at least not yet. He says he only sees things “realistically”. The sad truth is that he and his family have not been able to return to their destroyed home since the flood. For eight months they lived “out of bags” with friends and relatives. Now Lentz wants to furnish an apartment for the family in his broken hotel. He is currently trying to renovate the corresponding hotel rooms on the first floor. In the former breakfast room on the ground floor, evidence of the horrors of the flood still remains: terracotta crockery, knocked down lamps, a metal stand holding colorful postcards.
Michael Lintz dreams of better times – Little Order
Maps show the Lentz Hotel (“comfortable home directly on the Ahr”) in the good old days of the mid-1980s – with bright blue skies and flowery balconies. Of course, the gray-haired chief hoped it would be nice again and that many guests would come, just as before. But there is still a long way to go until then.
Lintz says some of the regular guests have already called and asked if and when they could come back. But otherwise the interest is low. “We are no longer listed in the booking portals. Our homepage is still running, but nothing is coming. nothing at all. And what if the increase in the number of guests that everyone hopes does not materialize in the near future? “No idea. I don’t know.” The hotelier says there’s no point in pretending now that “everything will be fine next year.” You just have to process it and then see if it works.
You should show people: “Come here, it’s nice here”
One thing is clear to the Rhinelanders: “The Ahr Valley lives on from tourism. That is why tourism must be promoted!” And it is pointless to promote only individual areas, such as viticulture. If there were no good hotels and inns, then wine growers would also have big problems. “We are all in the same boat and we have to get out of the crisis together.” Michael Lintz: “Anyone who can do something for tourism in our area should do it.”
Even seemingly small things matter. “For example, if someone had a trailer that they could use to transport tourists’ bikes so they could bypass damaged sections of bike paths more easily.” In order to attract guests to the Ahr Valley, you have to offer them something, says Lentz. He himself thinks of having a barbecue or the like in front of the hotel construction site. “Just to show people: Come here, something’s going on here, it’s nice here.”
Insurance companies leave flood victims hanging, but then reporter research scares them