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Catwalks And Hip Waders The Rage In Cologne’s Historic Old City

February 1, 1995

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) _ With the muddy Rhine swirling around his rubber hip waders, Dieter Gees grimaces at his waterlogged tackle shop, where mounted fish with sharp teeth scowl back at him from the wall.

``Help yourself to a fishing pole if you see any fish come by,″ said Gees, in keeping with the Cologne tradition of dry wit in the midst of the biggest flood to wash across Europe since 1926.

Up and down the Rhine, the Mosel, the Nahe and the Main rivers, it’s the same sad story. Hundreds of thousands of people spent millions of dollars to repair their homes and businesses after the last big flood, during Christmas week 1993. Now they’ll have to do it again.

The oily brown floodwaters are receding. But for many innkeepers, shop owners and residents, there will be no getting back to normal. They just can’t afford to rebuild twice in 13 months.

Wine growers have suffered millions of dollars in damage. Small shops and riverside residents will have to completely rewire and rebuild.

``I was able to hang all of my merchandise higher on the walls before the flood came,″ said Gees, 37, one of the few business owners in Cologne’s Old City who returned Wednesday to survey the damage. Fishing rods, lures, trophy fish and nets dangle about two feet above the water.

Gees expects to pay about $23,000 to repaint and scrape out the smelly muck that the Rhine will leave behind when it finally settles back into its banks. That’s what it cost him to rebuild after the 1993 flood.

``That’s a lot of money for a small shop like mine,″ Gees said. ``I’m not insured against flooding, because you can’t get flood insurance in the Old City, only in places that don’t flood. What good is that?″

But Gees said he can bounce back and intends to stay right where he is.

Cologne’s Old City _ home to about 30,000 of the 1 million residents living in the metropolis _ was among the hardest-hit areas.

In the Christmas 1993 flood, the Old City suffered $66 million in damage. City officials say it could be higher this year.

Cobblestone streets have become canals. To go out for supplies, residents and shop owners clamber out of windows and onto temporary elevated catwalks. Some go to and fro in little boats.

Gees’ shop sits on the Butter Market, a cobblestone alley crammed with stores, bars, restaurants and hotels. Most are flooded and all are closed. His shop, normally about 55 yards from the Rhine, now sits in it.

A short rowboat ride away is a bar called the Beer Museum. These days, you either have to wade through the Rhine or walk on the catwalk to reach the closed pub _ through a second-story window.

Owner Eman Sulaeman figures he’s lost at least $13,000 in business.

``This was a prime time for business. There’s a big trade fair in town, and normally we get a lot of customers from that,″ he said.

Gees’ shop has been shut five days, since the flood hit last Friday.

As he stands out in the ``Butter Market River,″ as he now calls his street, a passer-by clatters across the catwalk over Gees’ head.

``How much are you selling hip waders for?″ asks the passer-by.

``Ninety marks ($60),″ he replies, then swooshes back into his shop to retrieve the green rubber boots.

``I’m back in business,″ Gees says with a big grin.

There’s that Cologne dry wit again.

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