He already knew what to expect, but it was still shocking: "It still looks terrible in the Ahr Valley. The flood caused a lot of damage in the valley, and it will take a very, very long time to repair it," says Mario Theiß. Together with four other colleagues, the company electrician from Schunk Kohlenstofftechnik was in the Ahr Valley in October to help those affected by the flood disaster.
Contacts to the Ahr Valley had already existed beforehand: to some extent, the five had already helped in the Ahr Valley through the Hüttenberg Fire Department and the "Tour of Hope." "When we saw that, it was clear to us: we have to do more," says Theiß looking back. "We", that is - in addition to Mario Theiß - Lukas Gerlach, Markus Herr and Jan-Simon Schmidt from the Heuchelheim site and Julian Wagner from the Reiskirchen site. All except Markus Herr are trained electricians. Together, they wanted to use their craftsmanship to help those affected.
The traces of the flood can still be seen everywhere in the Ahr valley.
Electrical equipment worth 20,000 euros
Through their work with the fire department, they also got to know a direct contact person on site. He was able to tell them exactly who needed what help. And above all, exactly what material was needed. So the five men were able to buy everything they needed in advance. The electrical wholesaler Uni Elektro in Linden immediately offered to provide the material at its purchase price. Through donations, goods worth 20,000 euros could be purchased. And Schunk also helped: Via a donation of 3,500 euros and by releasing the five for a week - via educational leave with full payment. Immediately after the flood, Schunk had already donated 250,000 euros as emergency aid.
Conveniently, four of the five craftsmen also registered a side business and thus had all the tools they needed on site. They set out on a Sunday with three vans packed with equipment such as cables, fan heaters and installation materials.
The Ahr valley cannot do without volunteers.
It won't work without volunteers
On Monday morning, they set off for their first mission in the village of Eicherscheid, where the flooding of the Ahr River had left a trail of devastation in its wake. "It was shocking, there's nothing there, no one is helping except the volunteers," recalls Theiß, who is active in the works council at the Heuchelheim site. THW and the Red Cross, which had taken over emergency supplies immediately after the flood disaster in July, were long gone again. The disaster was over, but the need of many remained. Now it is mainly up to volunteers to help the people in the region.
The five men tackled three construction sites, including the house of a family in Eicherscheid. The father and the heavily pregnant mother were able to get to safety from the flood in time with their two children, one of whom is disabled. The third child has since been born. But the electrical system of the house was destroyed by the water.
Lukas Gerlach lays new cables in a house in Eicherscheid.
Craftsmen missing everywhere
"Those who were insured, the craftsmen in the region help them first. But who was not insured, perhaps also because that was not possible, for which the craftsmen here first have no time, they are dependent on help from outside," Theiß explains the problem of many affected. "And if they don't get help from further away, they won't be finished in ten years." There simply aren't enough craftsmen in the area for all the work.
After three days - spending the night in a shelter with no heating or hot water, going to the gym for showers - the five helpers moved on to Schuld, which had been hit particularly hard by the flood. Here alone, 300 houses were destroyed, and the water level stood at 4.80 meters.
Julian Wagner works on a new distribution cabinet for Isa and Thomas.
Surprised by floods
The family of Thomas and Isa was surprised by the floods during the night, they could only be rescued the next day. Their house remained standing, unlike many others in the village. But the basement was full of water. "Then the entire electrical system has to be renewed," explains Theiß. Even on the floor above - because the water can rise up through the capillary action in the cables. Such an installation quickly costs twenty to thirty thousand euros. Too much money for many of those affected. For Thomas and Isa, the craftsmen from Schunk rebuilt the house's electrical system from scratch. If they were missing a component in between, the local electrician brought it over - free of charge.
Basically, Thomas could also lend a hand himself: He is a specialist and works for a civil engineering company in the region. But that company now has its hands full. "The poor guy is out six days a week, from early in the morning until late at night, getting the infrastructure in the Ahr Valley up and running again and helping other people," says Theiß. "There's hardly any time left over for his own family and his own house."
70 hours of work in six days: There has to be a short break sometimes. From left: Lukas Gerlach, Jan-Simon Schmidt and Markus Herr.
The children were afraid to shower
And very directly, the five men also experienced the worries and hardships of those affected. Chris and Manuela's family has been living cramped in a small vacation apartment nearby since the flood. Their two children did not want to enter their house in Eicherscheid at first. The shock was still too deep. Showering was also a problem for the children at first. They immediately had memories of the storm, the rain that wouldn't stop, the unbelievable masses of water.
Some of those affected even wanted to give the helpers money for their work - that's how hard it is to get craftsmen in the Ahr Valley. "We refused that, of course," says Theiß. Only a gift bottle of wine or a beer and once an invitation to a barbecue - that was all the helpers accepted. The five slept in a hotel near Schuld. Because of the Corona pandemic, the owner had closed it long before the flood. He gives rooms to the helpers, who otherwise would not find accommodation nearby. They thank him with a donation.
The helpers with the family of Manuela and Chris from Eicherscheid.
A lot learned during the "educational vacation"
After six days of work, three houses have been equipped with new main distribution boards as well as power, network and antenna, 20 heaters have been handed over and two building power distribution boxes have been installed. And the five helpers also learned a lot during their "educational vacation"; about how quickly one can get into trouble, about the unbelievable willingness of the people in the Ahr valley to help each other, and also about the great gratitude of those affected. "When the tears come to a family man because he is given two rolls of cable and a fan heater, which he urgently needs - that is very moving," says Theiß.
Lukas Gerlach, Markus Herr, Jan-Simon Schmidt, Julian Wagner and Mario Theiß returned home on Sunday morning - after 70 hours of hard work. Tired from all the work, but happy to have directly helped at least some of those affected.
"One thing is already certain for us," says Mario Theiß: "Next year we'll go again."