Ahr Valley news: Despite reconstruction – hotels and restaurants fear for their existence

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler Almost 15 months have passed since the flood disaster. But in many places along the Ahr it looks as if the once picturesque Rhine tributary only retreated to its bed days ago.

The state casino and the adjacent Kurhaus am Ufer, originally a landmark of the district town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler with its turrets and decorative facades, have been an ugly ruin since the torrential floods in July 2021. Dirt and rubble surround the buildings. The broken windows, which until recently were still covered in debris, are now barricaded with wood. The half-destroyed Ahrtherme recreation and adventure pool is covered with mud and should not be rebuilt.

Where once vacationers and spa guests strolled along the Ahr promenade, chunks of asphalt are gaping out of the ground, interrupted only by heaps of gravel and loose sewer pipes. The window frames of the villas and health clinics along the Ahr are nailed up with chipboard.

“In the current situation, tourism in the Ahr Valley has no chance,” says Günter Uhl, owner of the inner-city Hotel Krupp and chairman of the Dehoga district association in Ahrweiler. If there aren’t incentives for vacationers and day visitors to travel to the once popular wine region again soon, the tourism turnover of formerly 260 million euros per year is on the brink.

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After the flood, hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers are now also threatened by the bankruptcy wave.

Help from the Bundestag

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) therefore got involved in the discussion last week. In the tourism committee of the Bundestag, he dealt with the cause for three quarters of an hour in a secret session and urged better coordination.

“We rate Robert Habeck’s announcement as positive that he finally wants to exchange views on this matter with the responsible authorities in Rhineland-Palatinate,” said Michael Donth, chairman of the Union in the tourism committee. “The many hoteliers and restaurateurs in particular need a central contact person who coordinates the help and organizes it responsibly,” said Anja Karliczek, spokeswoman for tourism policy for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

CDU tourism spokeswoman Anja Karliczek during reconstruction work in Bad Neuenahr

The tourism spokeswoman calls for orientation to the good example of North Rhine-Westphalia.

(Photo: Polke)

“The time factor is the killer,” says Dehoga association chief Uhl. At Easter, the hostel industry on the Ahr intends to reopen closed. If that doesn’t succeed because the guests stay away, it will be financially tight for many companies. Most employees in the affected sectors would then probably turn their backs on the region. “A promise from the municipality alone would be helpful,” says Uhl, “that the Ahr promenade will be accessible again for more than three kilometers by Easter 2023.”

But there is little sign of rush at the moment. In the eyes of many, the reconstruction is taking much longer than expected. Dehoga calculates that 80 to 85 percent of tourism businesses in the Ahrweiler district were destroyed by the flood. There have hardly been any reopenings since then.

The Hotel Steigenberger, which was renovated shortly before the flood, is stylishly located on the Ahufer in a magnificent building from the imperial era, is surrounded by a high construction fence. Because the insurance company is said to have gotten in the way, the badly damaged house is still waiting for craftsmen.

There is no trace of construction work

The situation is similar with the huge specialist clinics “Jülich” and “Kurköln”, which belong to the Cologne businessman Günter Kill. The support for the hospitals, which account for twelve percent of all overnight stays in the Ahr Valley, will be “quick and unbureaucratic”, promised the Rhineland-Palatinate Health Minister Clemens Hoch in January. However, as the ministry proudly announced at the end of September, the two houses are now receiving just eight million euros from the state “special fund for development aid”. There is no trace of construction work there, probably because of this, when viewed from the outside.

The level of development aid approved shows how sluggishly the restart is progressing. Of the 15 billion euros that the federal and state governments promised for uninsured damage and infrastructure measures, just 697.3 million euros were approved by the end of September; 230.1 million of them for companies in the region.

Enormous donations are also available. 655 million euros were collected for the Ahr Valley, but they are usually only paid out when insurance funds or aid from the federal and state governments are denied. In addition, companies are excluded from donations from the donation pot, according to the tax administration in Mainz. In her opinion, Berlin is to blame for this, because this is ultimately federal law.

A troop of craftsmen from distant Franconia experienced the disastrous effect of shifting competencies back and forth on the reconstruction on the Ahr. This had repeatedly set off from Bavaria with 17 vehicles to the Ahr Valley to provide free help at 200 construction sites and to distribute free repair material.

But with the request to get at least the approximately 5000 euros in fuel costs reimbursed by the experts, organization manager Joachim Krines failed because of Germany’s bureaucracy. He received a rebuff from Ahrweiler’s non-party district administrator Cornelia Weigand, and the country didn’t pay a cent. After Krines complained to the CDU tourism officer Anja Karliczek that one would “otherwise have to withdraw from the Ahr Valley” because of the uncovered costs, she turned to the Federal Ministry of Finance.

“No separate financial support for private aid organizations”

The result was sobering. “The federal government is not planning any separate financial support for private aid organizations to cover expenses and travel expenses as part of the reconstruction of the infrastructure destroyed by heavy rain and flooding,” wrote her State Secretary Florian Toncar (Greens). With the “Aufbauhilfe 2021” a corresponding funding framework for reconstruction was finally created, “for the implementation of which the federal states and municipalities are responsible”.

The frustration is correspondingly deep. “Although sufficient financial resources are available, people are disappointed with the organization of the aid here in Rhineland-Palatinate,” criticizes Karliczek. Like the Dehoga district chairman Uhl, she therefore calls for a central contact person who coordinates the help and organizes it responsibly. “We should follow the example set by North Rhine-Westphalia,” she says.

>> Read here: How bureaucracy and flood protection are slowing down reconstruction in the Ahr Valley

The storm also caused severe damage beyond the Rhineland-Palatinate state border – including in the Eifel towns of Euskirchen and Bad Münstereifel. In order to get them under control, the Düsseldorf state government appointed the former head of the Saxon State Chancellery, Fritz Jaeckel, as coordinator. The district of Ahrweiler looks at its rapid success with barely concealed envy, as the Bad Neuenahr hotelier Uhl confirms.

Right from the start, Jaeckel paid the injured applicants a deduction of 40 percent of the amount of the damage, so that they could pay tradesmen directly. In Mainz, on the other hand, Prime Minister Malu Dreyer (SPD) only announced in July 2022 that the advance payments in her state would be increased from 20 to 40 percent “for hardship cases”. With surprisingly little effect: Of the 12,712 applications approved to date, this applied to just 27 cases, as the Handelsblatt learned in Mainz.

With all the administrative shortcomings, it has long been forgotten that Rhineland-Palatinate also affords a coordinator for the flood disaster. At the beginning of August, the state government appointed State Secretary Nicole Steingass (SPD) to head the reconstruction organization. So far, it hasn’t made a lasting impression on the tourism industry in the Ahr Valley. “I only know the lady from the newspaper,” says Dehogas district chairman Uhl.

More: “Our employees work beyond the extent of exhaustion”: This is how the economy struggles with the consequences of the flood

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