In mid-July, extreme storms occurred in parts of Belgium and France, in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Within 24 hours, 100 to 150 litres of rain had fallen per square metre. The majority of the water mass fell within a very short period of just 10 to 18 hours. The affected regions were hit by massive torrents and flash floods.
In Germany, the Rhineland-Palatinate district of Ahrweiler in the Eifel region, around half an hour north of the Nürburgring, was hit particularly hard: at least 133 people died there, more than 700 people were injured and 73 are still missing. Thousands have been left homeless, hundreds of buildings have been demolished by the floods, and livelihoods have been destroyed. The water burst the banks of the Ahr River and flooded almost 200 hectares of land at an unprecedented speed, destroying houses, railways and roads, sweeping away bridges, mobile phone masts and cutting off the gas, electricity and water supply, leaving tragedy and suffering in its wake.
In the four weeks since the night of the disaster, thousands of volunteers have helped the emergency services with the rescue, working alongside the police, fire brigade, rescue and aid services as well as the Federal Agency for Technical Relief. Among these volunteers was the Porsche Club Nürburgring with its Club members and friends.
“As the Porsche Club Nürburgring, we have an obligation to the region,” explains Frank Mischlich, President of the Club and the driving force behind the Club’s aid and support. “We have the honour of bearing two names on our chest that mean a lot to us. The Nürburgring has given us as a Club an unbelievable amount over the years. It has given us a gift. And a club that benefits from the Nürburgring must also stand by the region if that region is in trouble,” says Mischlich. “There’s no question about it. You just get to work.”
On the Saturday after the disaster, Mischlich drove to the affected region with five Club members and two friends in their workwear, with a pick and a shovel. “We simply drove to the Ahr valley and stopped in the first village we found. People greeted us by saying: you have come heaven sent! This is how urgently help was needed. In every house.” They worked flat out on Saturday and Sunday. On the drive back home, it was very quiet in the car. “The people we helped had simply been left with nothing. Everything was gone. The house – gone, everything that was in the house – gone: no clothes, not even a toothbrush,” says the Club President, still trying to process the images of the devastation. He reports of neighbours who are no longer there, friends who are missing, entire families who have been lost, then Mischlich says: “At that point, we knew we had to do something as a Club. And people didn’t just need our help with a shovel and a bucket, people would also need money.”
Frank Mischlich consulted with some of his fellow Club members and called for donations. But they didn’t simply want to transfer the donated amount to the accounts set up by charitable organisations; they wanted to manage the money themselves and give it to those in the most urgent need of help – as quickly as possible and, if necessary, by handing out the money themselves. Everyone in the club and other acquaintances chipped in. To date, the Club has collected around 70,000 euros in donations. “But we don’t want to stop there. We aim to reach 100,000 euros by the end of next year. Those affected should not only receive quick and uncomplicated help now, but also next year too. The payments and donations should continue.”
Mischlich and his companions ask the fire brigade, local council, local authorities and those affected to determine who is in dire need. By doing so, they quickly find out who urgently needs their immediate help. “Some of the villages only have 20 or so houses where everyone knows everyone, so everybody knows who was short of money beforehand. These are the people we want to help and that we want to get to.”
Mischlich knows that, in addition to those affected who are able to help themselves, there are many people in need. “In many places, no extended basic insurance could be taken out at all. Simply because insurance was no longer offered due to the hazardous situation. Or because people just couldn’t afford it,“ reports the Club President. “They’re really on the brink.”
With donations of around 3,000 euros, the Club is trying to help people get back on their feet, buy the things they need, or simply give them a roof over their head. “The donations have enabled a single mother to buy clothes for her children again and give them something proper to eat.” An old lady, with no children and therefore with nobody to help her, was able to equip her emergency accommodation with household items, says Mischlich, who outlines the Club’s goal as follows: the aim is to find three families in need every week and transfer money to them directly.
The motto is to provide fast, targeted and effective help, especially since, according to reports, state aid payments are slow to arrive and those affected do not have the opportunity to apply for help online. As it stands, there is still no functioning infrastructure and many older people are simply unable to use the online processes. “The unbridled gratitude that we receive shows that we are doing the right thing. We don’t act according to the ‘watering can’ principle where everyone receives the same amount of aid regardless of their actual need; the state can do that.”
Mischlich and his volunteers visit the crisis region several times a week. They work in shifts. For him and the Club, it is a long-term commitment. “It will all take some time. People don’t know how long they will need to stay in the emergency accommodation for and whether they can return to their homes at all. And if they can, then tradesmen are needed, as well as building material, heating for 23,000 households and reconnection of the electricity supply, sewer system and gas supply.”
He is convinced that the Club is on the right track, even if it is a difficult process. “There are certain situations when it’s simply time to give something back, be it money, work or time. We have all benefited from the region here.” Mischlich finds it hard to imagine how long it will all take. However, he will not give up.
In October, Mischlich wants to celebrate the Club’s 60th anniversary. On a large scale and on the Nürburgring. He had considered whether it is appropriate to celebrate and have fun when there is so much suffering and hardship all around. He was also asked by participants about how they should handle the situation now. “We are all sticking together in the region, helping people as much as we can, going above and beyond. Together with VLN and Nürburgring GmbH, we have decided to use the event as an opportunity to call for donations.” The event should also be seen as a sign, explains the Club’s boss. “We also came up with something for the participants. And we will be organising charity campaigns for the region.”
Life goes on. The season is also resuming at the Nürburgring: the central operations of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief at the Nürburgring has now been redistributed to the surrounding areas so that the infrastructure can be made available again for events. Even though normality is slowly returning for some, Mischlich is aware that the return to normality will be long and arduous for many people in the region. “But we don’t let anyone down here. We are part of the region, and here in this region you stick together.”