One week in the life of a photojournalist
By Wolfgang Rattay
Being a news photographer and a senior photo editor is never boring. The past seven days will, I think, impressively explain what I am talking about.
Last Saturday I went to Munich to edit Germany’s soccer cup final (the DFB Pokal). I finished at midnight after looking at some 3,000 files of which about 60 images hit our services following Bayern Munich’s historic “Treble” – victory in the Champions League, the national soccer championships and the Cup.
Early Sunday morning I went to Munich’s famous square Marienplatz to reserve a spot for my Reuters TV colleagues and myself at a podium in front of the balcony where the team was expected to show up a couple of hours later. I took an early picture of a hard-core bare-chested Bayern fan who had been waiting since 9am for the 5pm show. It had been raining all day and the thermometer reached a maximum of 7 degree Celsius (44 degrees Fahrenheit).
The team was expected at 2pm but didn’t show up before 4pm. It was raining cats and dogs. When they finally left the balcony an hour later all my gear, including myself, was totally soaked. It was a disaster for everyone (except our hardcore fan).
On Monday I was supposed to have a day off but due to the never-ending rain, I was sent to cover the floods at the junction of the three rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz in the southeastern Bavarian city of Passau. Tuesday morning Chancellor Merkel, bidding for re-election in Germany’s general elections, visited the flooded city of Passau.
Later in the afternoon our Berlin office had finally found a pilot that was able to fly us over the city. None of the nearby German smaller airports were willing to fly me through this atrocious weather conditions.
But a 22-year-old pilot in the nearby flooded city of Schaerding in Austria was prepared to take me. Roland and I removed the right side door of his Cessna and off we took to come back an hour later with story-telling images.
In the evening I went back to Passau and photographed people fighting against the effects of the flood.
By Wednesday morning the clean-up had started in the Austrian city of Schaerding that produced front page images for our Austrian clients.
Once Robert and I took off again that afternoon he let me steer the Cessna to Deggendorf by myself. Flying was great fun. But what we saw was anything but funny. Houses were completely surrounded by water. Trucks were stranded on the flooded A3 motorway – one of Europe’s most frequented traffic routes. A film of oil floated on the water caused by flooded heating tanks from households. Hundreds of homes had to be evacuated in the region’s worst floods in a decade. We were both shocked.
On Thursday, the Bavarian federal prime minister Seehofer, also seeking re-election in his home state later this year, was to visit Deggendorf. I took a bread-and-butter picture and then moved on to another place where the police had started to evacuate several villages endangered by dams that could no longer stand against the massive water pressure. I was not allowed to enter because it was too dangerous to enter the area of a possible dam break.
But I moved on to a nearby village where I had seen soldiers carrying sandbags. I took some pictures and then Hubert found me. Hubert, a landscape planner, offered me a boat tour through Niederalteich, a village of 2000 people south of Deggendorf. He had never steered a canoe himself but luckily for him, I am an experienced kayaker and canoe driver. Our three-hour tour through the flooded street produced impressive images of how people handled these tough times with pride and a huge amount of improvisation.
On Friday, news reports said that parts of the highway A92 that crosses the Danube river and the still-closed A3 motorway could be re-opened in the early morning hours. I steered my car onto the bridge and stopped with my hazard lights on to take pictures. It took less than a minute for a police patrol to discover me. A German press card doesn’t always works well – but I was lucky that I had met nice guys who secured the street for me while I took pictures of the still-flooded A3 down below.
After filing these images to our Berlin office directly from the camera I went to the helicopter landing area nearby hoping to get a free chopper flight with the German Federal Police Bundespolizei. I was lucky to meet a very professional press officer (thanks Frau Borgschulze) and an hour later I was sitting in the door of a Super Puma helicopter while the police gave local politicians a tour over their flooded homeland. All I can say: shooting from the open door of a chopper at some 400-500 feet over ground is much, much easier than shooting from a removed Cessna door at an allowed minimum height of 2,000 feet.
After all this, the week has not been boring, I can tell you. And there will be more to be done when the water of the Danube hopefully recede. The evacuated people will return to their homes and a lot of tears will be shed. Let’s hope I did not produce nice images for the politician’s upcoming election campaigns and they stick to their promises to “non-bureaucratically paid compensation” to the victims of the floods.