(AP) Stephan Richter has never been to New Orleans, but after seeing so many horrifying images of people suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the German newspaper editor felt compelled to help. He wasn’t the only one.
Richter, the chief editor of a newspaper chain in northern Germany, also started getting calls from readers asking how they, too, could help.
The result was a fund-raising campaign by the Schleswig-Holsteinischer Zeitungsverlag newspaper chain, scattered across a region where Germany borders Denmark. The effort so far has netted 131,000 euros, the equivalent of $157,000.
The newspaper group worked with Joachim “Yogi” Reppmann, a free-lance writer who came to New Orleans after Katrina, in seeking leads on how to use the donations.
After consultations with management of The Times-Picayune, the 23-newspaper group decided to funnel $60,000 to Kingsley House, a New Orleans institution that assists struggling families; $48,000 to Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief, in support of a soup kitchen in Algiers; and $36,000 to City Park, which was devastated by high waters and forced to lay off virtually all of its staff.
About $13,000 was reserved for aid to selected individual families, with a mechanism for distributing the money not yet created.
Richter, 56, said in a telephone interview that many Germans never forgot relief measures in the war-torn region after World War II, and they are well aware of 19th century immigration patterns that sent many people from northern Germany to America. In addition, Germans who are protected by seafront dikes are more than sensitive to New Orleans’ precarious location, he said.
“We are living here in a land in north Germany, between the North Sea and the East Sea. On both sides of our land there are high dikes, 8 to 12 meters high,” Richter said, recalling a North Sea flood in 1962 that killed 162 people. “The people know the violence of water and storm in this area very good.”
Richter also has personal reasons for wanting to help New Orleanians. His own parents handed down stories from the postwar period, saying they couldn’t have survived without American help. And as a child he remembers how Americans passing through a shipping lock often handed out gum and other treats to German children.
“Chewing gum was more than a dream for us,” he said.
The “Operation Bridge-building” campaign will be celebrated Jan. 28 in a gathering of thousands of people, many traveling in by bus, at a town hall in Flensburg, home of the newspaper chain. A German band will perform New Orleans jazz music that evening, as more donations for New Orleans’ recovery are collected.