Hey, there’s a tree floating there. And Johan, 69 years old, from Eindhoven, is the first to spot him. Together with his wife, Lennie, 65, he is sitting on the terrace of a restaurant in Broekhuizen (half an hour from Roermond) right on the Maas. The water just barely laps over the side of the terrace, the two drink coffee quietly.
On Friday evening Johan and his wife (they don’t want to be recognized with their last name in the newspaper for fear of being recognized) saw on television how money had been invested in the vicinity of Broekhuizen in recent years in a project that should ensure that the water does not reach the houses. And now, less than a year after the project is completed, it is being tested right away. The duo wanted to see that “water spectacle” in real life. Johan guiltily: “Yes, I am a disaster tourist.”
No catastrophe without curious citizens. On Saturday, the municipalities of Roermond and Venlo called on people not to peek at the dikes that are fighting against the water. Enforcers issue fines if they see people climbing the waterblocks.
On Friday, curious people in Roermond had already made up their minds. Until late in the evening it was busy on the Maasboulevard, just outside the center. Young people and the elderly came to take a look and take a picture and got in the way of the emergency services.
The municipality of Venlo is also tired of this type of tourism. There, young people climbed on the bulkheads to hold back the water. Those partitions can break, the municipality of Venlo wrote on Twitter on Saturday, “thereby endangering the safety of many people”.
Johan understands the message of the municipalities very well. He really does not go to Valkenburg, emphasizes the late sixties, where the water caused much more damage. And no, he and his wife didn’t take a selfie either, he says. “Others do.”
But he does have a history with water. When he was about nine or ten, somewhere in the sixties, there were also floods. He lived with his parents in Gulpen, Limburg. “The water flowed in at the front of our house,” he says, “and out the other side.” Since then, the water has not let go of him. He also learned to swim in the Gulp River. And as a child, he often went to a nearby water mill. “Water is powerful.”
Also read: The Netherlands was surprised by the water. Is the water management in order?
In 1993 and 1996 Johan also came to watch when there were severe floods in Venlo and the surrounding area. “If I don’t get in anyone’s way, it’s not a problem, is it?”
Their outing is also a way, says Lennie, to better understand the Netherlands. How does the water run? How do we manage it? And it raises a big, difficult question: are we capable of really managing nature and imposing our will? The duo does not know the answer.
On Sunday Johan and Lennie have another outing. They go to visit their son. He also lives near a river. The maas? “No, the Waal.”