Water Flooded His Basement Apartment As He Fought to Escape

In the middle of the night, Christian Fleischmann awoke to water rushing into his apartment. He had to escape—and fast.

It was 1:20 in the morning on July 15, 2021. I had just gone to bed, a bit drunk after celebrating my 31st birthday. I’d had some friends over to my basement apartment, in my sister’s house.

We live in Sinzig, just south of Bonn, Germany. The town is about half a kilometre from the banks of the Ahr River, and it had been raining buckets that week; there were flood warnings and evacuation orders for some of the nearby areas, but not where I was.

As a precaution, I’d placed sandbags outside my garden door and piled electronics and clothing on tables and the couch just in case water managed to seep through. Before my friends left, they laughed at me for doing that, but I thought, Why take a chance?

As I drifted off to sleep, I was awakened by the sound of rushing water, like I was beside a waterfall instead of in my bedroom. When I swung my legs off the bed, I was shocked to feel cold water already up to my knees and rising fast.

It must be a burst pipe in the bathroom, I thought. Shivering and in darkness, I grabbed my phone and turned on its flashlight. When I stepped into the hall, I saw it wasn’t a burst pipe. Water was coming—like a geyser, or a pressure washer—from the garden door. It must have breached the sandbags. Chairs, bookshelves and pieces of my drum set were floating all over my living room.

Dirl Flooding Breaker One - I tried to pull the door open, but the pressure of the water was immense. Every time I opened the door a bit, it slammed shut againSimikov / Shutterstock.com / RD.ca

I could feel the adrenalin surging through my body as panic began to set in. The Ahr, usually such a quiet, slow-moving river in my region, had violently burst its banks. And now I had to get out—fast!

Any effects of the alcohol were gone; fear sobers one up. I heard the garden door starting to rip apart, the pieces of wood cracking like matchsticks under the pressure of the flood. The sound was like nothing else, screeching, hissing and crashing all at once. Relentless.

With the water now up to my waist, in bare feet and with my boxer shorts plastered to my body, I started to wade to my only escape: the door that leads upstairs to the rest of the house. All around me things were breaking—the lamps were shattering; the fridge and cupboards were being torn apart.

Finally I made it to the door that leads upstairs and tried to pull it open, but the pressure of the water was immense. Every time I opened the door a bit, it slammed shut again.

I looked around for anything I could use to wedge the door open. In the corner there was a broom, a coat rack, and a huge, heavy sword from a medieval fair. I grabbed them all and, once again, pried open the door, throwing the broom and coat rack between the door and the frame to keep it from shutting and using the sword to wedge it open some more. I managed to make a gap of about 30 centimetres, enough for me to squeeze through and make it into the hallway.

In the pitch black, I leapt onto the stairs leading up to the rest of the house and ran to the third floor. I knocked on my sister’s door like crazy, trying to find out if she was okay, until I remembered that she wasn’t staying there that night.

That’s when I went downstairs to the main floor office—and went outside. I stood there in the darkness, soaked and panting, staring at what was now a waterscape with debris, branches and trees floating in it. The river had flooded the neighbourhood—and as my adrenalin receded, I realized that if I had woken up just a few minutes later, I would have drowned.

We’ve been assured that something like this happens only once every 100 years. I hope so. More than 180 people died and parts of villages in the region were entirely washed away.

The aftermath

These days, I’m living at my parents’ place in the middle of town. I study psychology and work with children in schools, teaching them martial arts. I can never go back to live in that apartment because I just keep thinking, What if it does happen again? There are too many traumatic memories.

We didn’t have flood insurance because the house wasn’t considered to be in a high-risk area, so we’re fixing it up on our own. Many of the houses around us were destroyed, including a home for people with disabilities. It was so awful. Not everyone got out.

My old apartment will now house my martial arts school, once it’s repaired and dried out.

In the end, the experience made me grateful and determined to live each day to its fullest. I came very close to drowning that day. But rather than dwell on what could have happened, I prefer to recall what my mother told me afterwards: “Christian, don’t remember the day when you lost everything. Remember the day you survived.”

Next, read this gripping tale of a man who found himself caught between a lion’s jaws.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada