Trier / Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler (dpa) – The paint is covered with a layer of mud. In the middle – between the brown spots – the Graf von Neuenahr can be seen.

“It’s really terrible,” says the director of the municipal museum in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Heike Wernz-Kaiser, at the sight. The 1870 work belongs to the collection of the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, which was completely flooded in a depot in an underground car park during the catastrophic floods in mid-July.

Wave of helpfulness

In order to save what can be saved, a one-off rescue operation was launched at the initiative of the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association. After an “emergency call”, several museums in southwestern Germany seized hundreds of objects to see, clean and dry them, explains the president of the association, Elisabeth Dühr, in Trier.

The 55 paintings that the City Museum Simeonstift Trier has recovered, for example, are “in a catastrophic state”, explains Dühr, who heads the museum. “You were in the water and the mud for days.” Emergency recovery of the items was only possible after the clearance of cars, refrigerators and oil tanks washed in front of the entrance to the underground car park. Now the images with the dried mud had to dry first. “We sprayed them with an anti-mold substance,” explains Dühr.

Wernz-Kaiser stands for the first time in front of the muddy images in Trier. “I think it’s important that these things be preserved. You have an important role in the healing of our city, ”she said. The collection is “a gem for us” – because it shows the development of the city until the disaster of July 14th. “It’s what’s left of life.”

“It’s about emergency security”

The Central Romano-Germanic Museum (RGZM) in Mainz received, among other things, jugs of muddy clay, glass finds from the Roman era and wooden objects to be cleaned. The sculptures have reached the Mainz Cathedral Museum. And at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, hundreds of graphics were received in an external repository in addition to the paintings. “This is about emergency safety,” explains head restaurateur Henrike Mall in Karlsruhe. After cleaning, the task is to repair the paintings – before thinking about the restoration.

The historical archives of the city of Cologne contain documents and files frozen after cleaning at minus 18 degrees – they would then be transferred to a vacuum freeze-drying system. “It’s to prevent mold growth,” said a city spokesperson. The first steps have already been taken. Cultural goods recovered in boxes and on pallets were gradually brought to Cologne for first aid.

In total, the collection of the municipal museum in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler included more than 2,800 objects. Much of it has been stored as the museum was closed in 2013 for fire protection reasons. The collection was “a typical mixed collection of the genre that has come together in a municipality over the years”, explains Dühr. Archaeological objects, chests, cupboards and textiles were also part of it.

The memory of the city

The collection is “not of exceptional cultural and historical value,” said the managing director of the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association, Bettina Scheeder, in Ludwigshafen. “But of course it is of great importance for the memory of the city, for the history of the city.” Because: “There are portraits of bridges that no longer exist. And there are cityscapes that no longer exist today. ”Large parts of the Ahr Valley were destroyed by the flooding.

Rhineland-Palatinate Culture Minister Katharina Binz (Greens) pledges her support at the meeting on site in Trier. Where possible, the country wishes to release funds for transport and catering costs. It is important to preserve the “cultural heritage” of the Ahr valley. She also thanked everyone involved for the quick rescue.

However, around 30 percent of the coins are considered lost. According to Dühr, the flooding of the collection will continue to have an impact on the art world. “I think that was a wake-up call to a lot of people,” she says. There was a need to think more about contingency plans and the safe storage of art objects. To this end, the association of museums will offer, among other things, training.

In the meantime, following a call, big houses across Germany have also signaled that they want to sponsor the restoration of individual objects, Scheeder tells Ludwigshafen. These include the Prussian Palace and Gardens Foundation, the Weimar Classical Foundation, the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the State Museum in Württemberg. “Thousands of hours of work” are certainly needed, says Dühr. Wernz-Kaiser says: “I am absolutely overwhelmed by the help.