The full devastation wreaked by Germany’s cataclysmic floods has emerged slowly. As the waters subside, survivors have cautiously waded back through the mud and rubble to salvage what is left of their communities. Last week an unusual zone of low pressure trapped between two areas of high pressure meant that two months’ rain fell in 48 hours. The Ahr, Erft, Swist, Trierbach and Volme, usually less than a metre deep as they wind through small towns and villages on their way to the Rhine, were transformed into fierce and destructive torrents.
At 10 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 February, 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen opened fire in a shisha bar in the western German town of Hanau, 15 miles from Frankfurt. Having killed four people he moved on to another shisha bar, sprayed bullets into the crowd and killed five more people. He returned home in his black BMW, shot his mother and then turned the gun, a pistol he had acquired legally and used regularly at a local shooting club, on himself.
The first I heard was a text message from a friend in London, around 9 p.m. When I opened my laptop it was already filled with images of the Gedächtniskirche in the centre of former West Berlin, its broken spire left there after the war as a memorial. But now, in front of it, a lorry had been driven into one of Berlin’s busiest Christmas markets: the wooden huts festooned with fairy lights were surrounded by the blue and red lights of the ambulances, fire engines and police cars. Blood stained the pavement and windswept reporters repeated the little information they had. Nine dead, many injured, the lorry’s passenger killed at the scene. The driver in custody. Was it worse that we weren’t even surprised?