German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told her nation that a recovery plan will be in place within days, after visiting some of the areas that were worst affected by the country’s floods.

Mrs Merkel, who will stand down as chancellor later this year, visited the village of Schuld, which was devastated, before moving on to the nearby town of Adenau.

There, speaking in front of local residents, she said that there were almost no words to describe what had happened to Germany.

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‘We must make big changes’

But she went on to offer two things that her nation clearly needs. Firstly, a sense of calm and leadership. Secondly, a promise of action.

“I’ve come here today to symbolise that we’re standing together in solidarity,” she said.

“We will fix everything one step at a time in this beautiful area. We have to act fast.

“I am promising you that the government will issue a programme next week so that we can work towards a rapid recovery.”

Mrs Merkel’s public appearances are normally formal and highly choreographed, but this was different. She came in hiking boots, with unobtrusive security.

The message was clear – that even if Germany’s formidable chancellor is about to leave the job, she would lead the response to this crisis.

She had been in America, meeting President Biden, when the floods hit, and Germany remains one of the world’s most important, wealthy and influential nations.

Its capitulation to these floods has been heralded as both a demonstration of the impact of climate change, and also of society’s fragility when confronted by natural might.

So I asked Mrs Merkel what lessons the world could take from Germany’s plight over the past few days.

“What we invest into climate change is expensive, yes, but the impact of climate change is even more expensive,” she told me.

“You can see an example of such flooding incidents here.

“I say, very clearly, that one flood is not necessarily an example of climate change but if we look at the damage from incidents of the last years and decades then these are more frequent than before.

“We must make efforts – big efforts.”

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‘We went into our house and had to swim’

She knows that this isn’t just about empathy and support, but also about politics.

Mrs Merkel has been such a dominant figure in German politics in recent times that the forthcoming federal election feels like a step into the unknown.

The man chosen as her successor at the helm of the CDU party is Armin Laschet, but he has had a rocky few days – seen chuckling at a public event, just as Germany’s president was giving a solemn speech about the floods, and facing criticism for a perceived lack of empathy and also his long-standing support for coal mining.

Mrs Merkel knows that the German Green Party, led by Annalena Baerbock, has done well in the polls recently.

If German voters now decide to put a greater weight on environmental matters, and turn to Baerbock, then that could change the face of the election.

Mrs Merkel does not want her legacy to be one of electoral defeat for her party.

So she now treads the careful path – offering leadership of the whole nation, while also trying to boost the environmental credentials of her party.

And, all the while, recognising that her nation – her sophisticated, rich and admired nation – is still confronting the trauma of disaster and death.