The DOCKS collective took photos of the community spirit in Germany


“Sometimes we would just put the camera aside and listen,” says Maximilian Mann of the rare times when interacting with flood-affected community members took precedence over taking photos. He is a member of the DOCKS collective, a team of five young German documentary photographers founded in 2018. The group documented the destruction caused by unusual rains and floods in parts of Germany in July 2021. They also photographed the spirit of survivors and helpers. who came together to rebuild affected communities.

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The devastation caused by flooding can be difficult to gauge unless you see it for yourself. While I’ve seen flooded areas in the past, the closest I’ve ever been was about 75 miles from Dubai, in a town called Fujairah. Unusually high rainfall for the summer month of August has wreaked havoc in various parts of this city. Decades of rain poured down in less than 24 hours, pushing water levels to dangerous heights. People across the country have stepped up to help restore normality, hand in hand with government authorities. The same scenario happened in the regions of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, but with devastation on a larger scale.

DOCKS Collective’s coverage of the impact of this flood and continued efforts to rebuild the lives of those affected earned them a shortlist for the 2022 Leica Oscar Barnack Awards. The band has five members, and Maximilian Mann has spent time with us , sharing how the members came together for this project. Other team members are Aliona Kardash, Ingmar Björn Nolting, Arne Piepke and Fabian Ritter.

The essential photo equipment used by DOCKS Collective

Maximilian told us:

The Phoblographer: Hi Maximilien. Tell us about yourself and how you and the other members of the DOCKS team got into photography.

(Maximilian, on behalf of) Collective DOCKS: We all have different backgrounds with our starting points in photography, but we have all been interested in photography since our youth. And then we met while studying photography together at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts, realizing that we had the same ideas on how to approach subjects and that we shared values ​​and beliefs. moral standards regarding documentary photography.

Parts of the annex to the historic “Blessem Castle” on the outskirts of Erftstadt-Blessem were destroyed due to rapid and massive erosion on July 16, 2021.

The Phoblographer: Was the 2021 flood the first you experienced? How were the first days in terms of realizing the damage?

DOCKS Collective: We remember the news we saw as children about the Elbe flood in 2002, which claimed at least 45 lives and caused damage totaling around 15 billion euros. But the flood in western Germany last year was the first flood of this magnitude in Central Europe that we as photographers have experienced, and then a flood directly accessible in a very short drive. Among the number of people killed and infrastructure and houses destroyed, many refer to it as the flood of the century, which unfortunately far exceeds the Elbe flood of 2002.

People on the balcony of a house in Ahrweiler, Germany, on July 15, 2021. On the first day after the flood, the extent of the destruction was difficult to assess, so there was a catastrophic shortage of equipment and emergency personnel in the flooded area.

The Phoblographer: When did DOCKS Collective come together and decide to start documenting this natural disaster? Who had the idea?

DOCKS Collective: We recognized the extreme amount of rain because some of us traveled from France to Germany that day; it didn’t stop raining the whole trip. At first, the highways were closed due to the amount of rain on July 14, 2021. We all quickly realized that something historic was happening when the first media reports arrived and the situations we saw with our own eyes. At one point, we found ourselves simultaneously in a destroyed setting of a nearby town and formed teams within the collective to cover everything as best we could.

Milena Zeyen (24) and volunteers lay sewer pipes for Milena’s Tiny House in Altenburg on December 19, 2021. Milena has been living in her Tiny House for a month, Chris and Andre help her lay sewer pipes ‘sewer. Milena Zeyen’s parents’ house was right next to her current Tiny House and had to be demolished.

The Phoblographer: Are any communities still reeling from the devastation of the flood?

DOCKS Collective: The dimensions of the destruction are difficult to explain to someone who has not visited the affected areas, even with good video or photographic documentation. We don’t know if every village will recover and re-establish itself as a tourist destination, as many villages were once famous wine and touring destinations.

A view of Dernau, Germany, during the first night after flooding on July 15, 2021. Rescuers are searching for survivors with boats. On the first day after the disaster, the water in Dernau was still high, leaving some people locked in their homes without electricity or mobile reception and no way to call for help. Some lingered on their rooftops, sending SOS signals into the night with cellphones and flashlights.

The Phoblographer: The flood itself could be considered a weather anomaly, but what do you think is the reason it’s taking so long to recover?

DOCKS Collective: Early warnings were not taken seriously by local authorities; at one point, it was simply too late for the protection of civilians. The recovery also took a long time due to the typical German bureaucracy, even though there were so many volunteers who helped the affected regions a lot.

A clothing store destroyed by the flood in the city center of Euskirchen on July 16, 2021

The Phoblographer: What is being done to ensure that future floods will not have such a long-term impact on communities?

DOCKS Collective: The first steps are taken, but we do not recognize any major changes on the political side. There are somewhat stricter development plans for riverside areas, but also many gray areas and borderline cases. The local population is now much more aware of the risks of flooding and the dangers that the future could bring them.

Volunteer firefighters from Vettelschoss take a break in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, July 17, 2021.

The Phoblographer: The reconstruction of these places could take a long time. how are surrounding communities coming together to support those most affected by this?

DOCKS Collective: We saw it very simply in the first weeks following the flood: young people from the surrounding villages, little or not at all affected, came for weeks to help. There was also a lot of solidarity with people who had lost their homes. Many families from surrounding villages and towns took in people who had lost almost everything.

Volunteers during the ‘bottle rescue’ at a warehouse of the Mayschoss wine cooperative in Mayschoss, Germany, August 7, 2021. Bottles recovered from the rubble and soggy cartons are cleaned and sold as ‘flood wine’. The winegrowers’ cooperative, founded in 1868, produces an average of 1.2 million bottles of wine per year.

What we really like [about the Nikon Z cameras] is the high sensitivity to light when it comes to higher isos, as we don’t use artificial light for most of our projects. The camera body and lenses also have a very low weight for the quality they offer, which can help cover extra miles in environments with weak or destroyed infrastructure, such as the flooded areas on which we worked last year.

Maximilian Mann

The Phoblographer: Tell us some of the stories of the people you have photographed. Which ones touched you and your team?

DOCKS Collective: It’s very difficult to highlight individual fates here, but it’s the stories of lost family members or completely shattered lives that moved us the most. Sometimes we just put the camera aside and listen.

Sadeta and Imer Sokoli clean their apartment after the flood in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, July 17, 2021. The water had risen 80 centimeters on the first floor, so they spent the night of the flood with their neighbors on the floor above. Sadeta and Imer fled Kosovo for Germany more than 20 years ago independently of each other, started their families here and raised two children. Now they have to start all over again.

The Phoblographer: How do those most affected by this keep their spirits up?

DOCKS Collective: There is great solidarity within the communities and the continued help of volunteers, who come even from afar, months after the disaster. Of course, for some seniors it is difficult to organize a reconstruction, but in most cases a younger person steps in to help. We also recognized the first village festivals that took place after the flood and the people trying to enjoy the neighborhood again.

Tim Himmes (left) and his mother in the living room of their house in Schuld, Germany, December 18, 2021. Their house is located right next to the Ahr river and the entire interior was destroyed by the flood. Thanks to in-kind donations, they were able to renovate and refurbish the living room and bedroom.

All images by DOCKS Collective. Used with permission. Check out their website and Instagram page to learn more about their work. Want to be featured? Click here to see how.


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