Ahr Valley wants to attract tourists with the processing of the disaster

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler The “Ahrtherme” bathing facility in Bad Neuenahr is still covered in mud. After the devastating destruction, the neoclassical Kurhaus on the banks of the Ahr still resembles a mix of large construction site and ruins, thick pipes and diesel engines pump parts of the city’s dirty water into the rippling Rhine tributary.

But the hopelessness is slowly disappearing. Almost exactly two years after the flood in the Ahr Valley in July 2021, which killed 134 people and destroyed 7154 houses, a report financed by Rhineland-Palatinate presents how the destroyed region should attract tourists again. Numerous, sometimes unusual measures are intended to help.

The natural catastrophe, which made headlines beyond Germany’s borders, is to be vividly processed for visitors according to the concept of the leisure and tourism consultancy ITF. The focus of the planning is a science and visitor center on the Ahr, which is intended as a “future-oriented mouthpiece and platform for crisis science and disaster services”.

Under the name “ICCA – International Crisis Center Ahr”, the research facility is to be equipped with laboratories, lecture and conference rooms. The visitor center is also planning multimedia and interactive temporary exhibitions on the subject of the crisis.

Without initiatives like these, the once flourishing tourism region would be on the verge of collapse from the point of view of Dehoga district chairman Günther Uhl. “All in all, I still consider the situation in the Ahr Valley to be dramatic,” complains the hotelier from Bad Neuenahr. “Everything takes too long and there is a lack of reasons for tourists to come.”

Before the flood, the region between Blankenheim and Sinzig had turned over 260 million euros annually with holidaymakers and spa guests. In 2019, 1.5 million overnight stays and 3.4 million day visitors were counted. After the flood disaster, which hit 75 to 80 percent of the 600 regional restaurants, there was initially hardly anything left.

Hotels before demolition, appeals to politicians

Around a third of the companies are still closed, according to Ahrtal Tourism in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, only seven of the twelve health clinics are working again. There is a lack of accommodation for seminars and congresses, which could also bring visitors to the Ahr away from the weekends. The Steigenberger, which dates back to imperial times and is located in the heart of the district town, will not be welcoming guests again until the beginning of next year. The operator HRG has been holding unsuccessful talks about the continued use of the badly damaged congress hotel Dorint for a long time, as its spokeswoman reports. The only thing that is certain is that it will not be continued as “Dorint”. Another congress hotel on the Ahr is reportedly about to be demolished.

New suspension bridge in Walporzheim

The new bridge in the Ahr Valley is intended to connect the two most important hiking trails.

In view of the muddled situation, initiatives by the federal government have so far remained rather clear. Nancy Faeser’s (SPD) Ministry of the Interior and Homeland (BMI) had the Boston Consulting Group develop a strategy for the future. However, the Federal Ministry informed a query from the Handelsblatt that the result is being voted on and therefore cannot be published. “We asked Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck to appoint a caretaker for the Ahr Valley at federal level,” reports CDU tourism spokeswoman Anja Karliczek. Apart from a vague promise, nothing has come of it to this day.

>> Read also: Habeck’s strategy unsettles the German travel industry

The report now presented could now bring about a turning point. Because they don’t want to leave it at that with the ICCA crisis research center. Ahr Valley tourism project manager David Bongart would prefer it if the institute were to be established in close connection with a “flood museum”, the planning of which is already well advanced. A feasibility study and a suitable location for the facility, officially dubbed the “exhibition/visitor center flood and memorial”, have been available for a week: A brick church from the late 1960s that is no longer needed, centrally located on the district boundary between Bad Neuenahr and Ahrweiler and still always not cleaned from the mud of the Ahr, should house the Flood Museum in the future. It is estimated that the conversion will cost around 20 million euros in the district town.

Suspension bridge over the Ahr, skywalk on the red wine trail

Even beyond the processing of the flood of the century, the Ahr Valley tourists want to bring vacationers back to the region with new attractions. A 200 meter long suspension bridge connection between the red wine hiking trail and the Ahrsteig is to cross the Ahr in the future, possibly near Walporzheim or Mayschoß. “This would not only be an attractive tourist enrichment, but would also have the advantage that both top hiking trails can be combined,” enthuses Bongart.

According to the expert opinion, the building would cost around two million euros, but according to the plans of the Ahr Valley tourism experts, it could possibly be financed by crowdfunding. “Several hoteliers in the region have already expressed an interest,” says David Bongart.

In addition, the idea of ​​a skywalk on the red wine trail in Ahrweiler, which was already under discussion for the Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler State Garden Show, which was canceled in 2021, should be taken up again according to the recommendation of the report. Cost point: 350,000 to 450,000 euros.

Also on the wish list of the ITF consultants is a bubbling fountain in the spa park, which the nearby Apollinaris fountain feeds with carbonated water at a temperature of 32 degrees. Museum stations are planned along the Ahr, which deal with the wine-growing of the region – an attraction in particular for Pinot Noir fans.

However, the financing remains largely unclear. Money from the 15 billion euro reconstruction fund from the state and federal government is only used for repairing the damage, but not for supplementary projects. With questionable consequences: The reconstruction of the destroyed thermal baths “Ahrtherme” at the same location, which may again be at risk of flooding, would be subsidized with funds from the fund, but the new building at a safer location would not.

Correspondingly demanding tasks are therefore ahead of the registered association Ahr Valley Tourism. “The individual project sponsors have yet to be found,” says their managing director Christian Senk. Municipalities as well as private investors could come into play here. “We are particularly dependent on the involvement of politicians and their support at all levels,” he says. “Without them, implementation is simply not possible.”

More: Hoteliers and restaurateurs fear for their existence in the Ahr Valley

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