The road where I live
I was a little shocked to discover yesterday that I am currently living 3.54 metres below sea level.
I mean I knew I was on low-lying land since Schleswig-Holstein (my primary residence for the winter) is really just a flat pancake of former seabed with a few hillocks to break up the monotony of the hour drive between the North Sea and the Baltic (or the two-hour drive between Hamburg and the Danish border).
What I did not know was that I live less than 2 km from the lowest point of land in all of Germany — and that point is 3.54 metres below the raging North Sea to the west and the more-placid-but-still-water-filled Baltic to the east.
Speaking of which, the Baltic is called the East Sea (Ostsee/Oostzee/Ostersjon) in this part of the world that also abuts the North Sea (Nordsee etc.). The locals don’t call it the Baltic until you get over to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — those parts of the world where it’s the only sea.
But back to my starting point — which is this enormous depression (literally and figuratively) in which I live with two massive bodies of water towering over me (constantly, without cessation or interval), waiting to burst through whatever flimsy manmade constructions are holding them back and drown my hopes and dreams and poor pitiful physical being.
Do you have any concept what “3.54 metres” is in reality? That’s 11 feet, 7 inches.
That’s the height of Mike Strobel standing on Mark Bonokoski’s shoulders. Or waaaay more than Johnny Depp standing on Brad Pitt’s shoulders if you want real celebrities.
Brad Pitt and Mike Strobel: I can’t tell them apart
Or one and a half Yao Mings if sports analogies turn your crank.
Or, if crankshafts turn your crank, it’s almost as long as the wheelbase of a 1969 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.
1969 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham
And that’s how far under water I am right now. Or would be if the waters surrounding me at this very moment found their natural place in the universe (which would be, unfortunately, over my head).
In normal circumstances, that situation wouldn’t concern me too much. It’s sort of like “You could be killed by a meteorite at any moment” or “A school of piranhas could strip the flesh off your bones in 17.5 seconds.” A troublesome thought, in other words, but not one I’m actually going to lose sleep over.
But … and this is a big but …
Schleswig-Holstein has just gone through/is still going through the proverbial (or Noah’s Arkian, to be more precise) 40 days and 40 nights of rain.
Really, it rained every day in the last week of November, every day in December and every day so far in January. Not constantly, mind you (although there were days and days on end when it did), but there was downpour pouring down in every 24-hour period.
As a result the ground is like a giant sponge that has absorbed all the water it can take and not a drop more. There are lakes out in the pastures where no lakes exist — lakes deep enough for a horse to take a bath in.
Speaking of which, the horses hate tromping around in the flooded fields. The humans definitely hate it. Even the sheep hate it. The geese are the only ones who actually like it.
The drainage canals that crisscross Schleswig-Holstein, carrying excess water off to the surrounding seas (where it belongs) are full to the brim and overflowing.
See that foot bridge? There’s normally 1-2 metres of clearance under that bridge before you hit water. Oh, and there’s a road somewhere under the water on the other side of the foot bridge.
UPDATE, BELOW: This is the way the footbridge SHOULD look (and does as of Jan. 19, 2012) even with high water.
And now one of the giant pumps that push that water UP the 3.54 metres from the level where’s it’s sloshing around my feet to be dumped into the Kiel Canal a few kilometres away is BROKEN. The other pump can’t keep up with the volume of water.
So the water in the canal across the road (laneway, really) is getting higher and higher. In fact, the current is now going in reverse — backing up — moving away from the Kiel Canal and going back upstream from whence it came.
But there’s no place to go back there, so the level rises and rises. I’ve been treating this sort of lightly but some people are already being flooded out of their homes and neighbours hereabouts are keeping a very nervous watch.
The local volunteer fire brigade’s siren has gone off a couple of times this afternoon. I don’t know why but I suspect they’ve been called out to help staunch a really serious break or else flooding has started an electrical fire in someone’s barn.
To make matters worse, this area is up around the same latitude as James Bay, so it gets dark mid-afternoon at this time of year. As I write (about 5 p.m. my time), it’s pitch black outside with gale-force winds blowing and rain hammering on the windows.
I usually know where one of these diatribes is going to end up, but this time I have no idea.
One of three things could happen:
1. The rain stops for at least a week. (Unlikely)
2. They fix the canal pump and are able to push enough water out to keep the flooding from getting worse. (Possible but probably over-optimistic)
3. I find out what it’s like to be 3.54 metres under water. (Possible but likely an exaggeration)
Check back in a few days. I’ll let you know what happened.
P.S. About 10 minutes after I wrote this — and before I had a chance to post it online — the power went out. It’s back on now but who knows how long it will last.
Noah, start getting the animals on that ark.
UPDATE, THE NEXT DAY: It’s a beautiful morning, the sun is shining, the sky is blue — but all that can change in 10 minutes (and does frequently). Unfortunately everything is starting to ice over, and icy mud is a very slippery substance. The more important thing is that the water level is dropping (slightly) in the canals, which means they must have the broken pump working again. Noah, get those animals back in the barn — but keep the Ark handy.
UPDATE, TWO DAYS LATER: Rain again, canal water backing up and rising dangerously again. I’m not going to bore you with daily updates, but I just wanted to show how one beautiful day doesn’t mean a darn thing in the grand scheme of things (except that it was a beautiful day and it was great to be outside in the sunshine). I’ll do one more update next week just to wrap up — if the tide finally turns in one direction or another, so to speak.
Here are a couple of photos of Lubeck (above) and Hamburg (below), the two nearest cities to me. (Not my photos, by the way, but I’m sure the German news agencies DAPD and DPA won’t mind us looking at their work, just in a spirit of international friendship and understanding, etc. etc. Thank you, DAPD and DPA.)
FINAL UPDATE: The weather bounces back and forth between sun and rain; the only constant is the mud. Fortunately the big broken pump is in full working order again, sending 6,000 litres of unwanted water per minute from the drainage canals into the Kiel Canal. So, “Alles gut, alles in Ordnung” — the German equivalent of “Everything’s cool, babe.”