Damage after major events "The Rheinaue was not designed for this"

Bonn · Major events in Bonn's Rheinaue often culminate in a muddy aftermath. Experts attribute this to heavily compacted soil, sparking concerns about the venue's future. So what's the post-Rhein in Flammen scenario?

 Rhein in Flammen has left deep marks. The area behind the main stage now resembles a muddy wasteland.

Rhein in Flammen has left deep marks. The area behind the main stage now resembles a muddy wasteland.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

Rhein in Flammen is over, and it has left its mark, in the shape of deep muddy tracks. Will the ground be able to withstand upcoming events, or will this summer's festivals witness a repeat of last year's mudfest, "Randale und Freunde"?

According to Gottfried Hansjakob, landscape architect and Rheinaue's creator, recurring mud is a consequence of soil compaction. With increased compaction over the years, rainwater struggles to permeate, resulting in pools of water on the surface. The degree of compaction has increased so much that water seepage has become very slow - which is now visible in the Rheinaue. The city press office says that the green areas of the Rheinaue are much more polluted by large and heavy vehicles such as those used during Rhein in Flammen than by festival visitors.

The large flower meadow bore the brunt of storms and heavy rain during Rhein in Flammen's setup and dismantling. Hansjakob remarks, "It was evident from the start that it would be muddy again, the Rhine meadow is substantially damaged." Yet, measures by organizer Yannick Fugenzi mitigated further harm, says Dirk Dötsch, tenant of the Rheinaue park restaurant, who has rights for some events. Showmen had to deposit at least 500 euros to deter unauthorized removal during adverse ground conditions. Fugenzi has declined to comment on the situation and ignored inquiries from the GA.

What does this mean for the upcoming events?

"We’ll manage this year, but we’ll always have an eye on the weather," says Dötsch. There have been years when it was bone dry and there was talk of a desert of dust. "We didn't have a problem then, the problem always starts again when the heavy rain comes," says Dötsch. Due to impermeable soil, the next shower can transform the Rheinaue into a quagmire during events," Hansjakob notes.

Muddy ground at outdoor events on grassy areas is not a problem unique to Bonn, city officials assert. Other festivals, like the Wacken Open-Air in Schleswig-Holstein, faced similar challenges last year. However, the Rheinaue bears the added burden of hosting multiple events, says Dötsch. In addition, the large flower meadow with its clay soil is not generally intended for such large events, adds Hansjakob.

It took 40 years for the Rheinaue to evolve into what it is today: a leisure park and local haven.

"The city invested heavily in maintaining the Rheinaue for 40 years. Yet, recent years' events contradict this. The Rheinaue wasn't built for this." Sacrificing the leisure park for a single event series pains the Rheinaue's founding father, Hansjakob.

In principle, organisers must repair any damage caused to the site. This is regularly done by reseeding the lawn at the end of the season. This has been agreed together with the city as the owner and the organisers, says Dötsch. Before Rhein in Flammen, the leaseholder "delivered a green lawn" in April. This year, reseeding will not be enough. It’s a Band-Aid, not a solution, Dötsch points out.

Deep-rooted compaction demands extensive treatment: "The meadow's subsoil needs reworking. There’s no question about that," insists Dötsch. However, due to the short intervals between events, in-depth construction isn't feasible during the outdoor season. Yet, it's imperative, as the compaction extends at least a meter deep, according to Bonn city's press office.

The future of the Rheinaue as a cultural venue

To deliberate on the Rheinaue's future as a cultural event space, Dötsch seeks a collective effort this summer. "We advocate for collaborative redevelopment and stand ready to contribute," he affirms. After next year's Rhein in Flammen, he envisions comprehensive ground renovation. Subsequent events might relocate to alternative areas like artificial turf or the small flower meadow.

Upcoming events in the Rheinaue

The countdown has started for the next major events. The annual balloon festival will take place from 6 to 9 June. Dirk Dötsch says that the season will then start with the first planned event "Randale und Freunde" on 22 June. The Panama Open-Air is one weekend later, from 28 to 29 June. Dötsch has deliberately staggered the events to minimise the workload. "If I allow three weeks to pass between an event, the lorries drive twice onto the meadow to set up," he explains. The two festivals share certain infrastructures, thus sparing the large flower meadow the double burden of set-up and dismantling.

The open-air season could then start again in 2026 with Rhein in Flammen on a newly renovated site. "All organisers have pledged to be available for planning and have emphasised the importance of preserving cultural offerings. Failure to maintain standards could drive organisers to seek alternative venues, jeopardizing Bonn's future events. Contractual obligations mandate event planning two years ahead, which means events can’t be cancelled if the weather and the ground are unsuitable.

(Original text: Alessandra Fahl / Translation: Jean Lennox)