They are heroes seen only by a few: Our channel diggers. Many meters below the ground, they ensure that everything happens that needs to happen - involving extreme physical effort. They need to worm their way through the narrowest channels, sometimes crawling on their stomach. Nevertheless, they maintain their good mood in the process. This report concerns itself with one of these heroes.
Everything works like clockwork: "But today is a somewhat quieter day," believes Lothar Schwalm, even though he has already successfully fulfilled two assignments in Ludwigsau. It is November 19, 2014, a cool November day. A raw six to a maximum of eight degrees Celsius have been announced on the radio when Tina Pfeiffer-Dresp of the Schwalm public relations department, meets Lothar Schwalm at 10 am at already the third building site of the day to experience how a working day goes at the rinser.
Lothar Schwalm, 50 years old, has been working for Schwalm since 2006. The career of the learned plant mechanic began in production at Schwalm Robotic. This was followed by his work in sewer redevelopment as a specialist for pipe, channel and industrial service. For four years now, he has sat on workdays from 7 in the morning at the latest in his rinser, a powerful high-tech vehicle with 320 hp. With this vehicle, water pressure of up to 130 bar allows a pumping capacity of up to approximately 152 liters/min. He thus empties both public and private channels, cesspits and soaking pits, domestic sewage treatment systems and separation systems. And the order book overflows in the truest sense of the word.
When I arrive at the agreed meeting point in Ludwigsau, he is already about to lift up a 150 kilogram manhole cover in order to get to the underlying, plugged line. The line is located in the garage of a private household. The homeowner as well as his daughter and the occupant of the house are also there and bring light into the dark. A torch helps Lothar Schwalm to open the closed line in order to gain an overview of the plugging. In the process, he is completely calm, for it looks like he will be able to free up the outflow, which is plugged with deposits and baby wipes, again soon with a few high-pressure rinsing processes. Relief spreads. Confidently and with expert hand movements, he operates his rinser as well as the necessary equipment and despite the unpleasant smells that are now spreading in the garage he still has a joke on his lips.
The line is rinsed several times; Lothar Schwalm asks the occupant to shake a colored, biodegradable contrast agent into its outflow for monitoring purposes. A short time later, this contrast agent is running through the main channel of the street. The problem is solved, the cable free again. After indicating what should no longer be flushed down the toilet in the future, Lothar Schwalm bids farewell. Everyone is satisfied. The next assignment is already waiting.
On the way there, Lothar Schwalm tells me that he was positively surprised that the supposed causer of the plugging that has just been removed was there too and was interested in his work. Normally, he said, that was not the case. After all, we generally like to turn our back to things we find unpleasant.
The next place of deployment is the landfill of the administrative district of Hersfeld-Rotenburg. Here, no photographs may be taken. So I leave that out and observe the order here without a flurry of camera flashes. Lothar Schwalm is well known here; he is greeted in a friendly manner and is immediately waved through. Once a year, he drains the soaking pit here. The suction hose is lowered and the contents are vacuumed up within 15 minutes. 2.5 m3 of waste water disappears in the interior of the rinser.
It is 1.15 pm. We take a little break at a sandwich bar located on the way. Normally Lothar Schwalm does not take a break for lunch but today he makes an exception. While eating his sandwich, he tells of his job and his life. "I enjoy being out and about with the rinser. Each day is different, so my job is varied. I am very pleased to be able to help, particularly in emergency situations. The most important thing for me is to keep at it until the problem is solved. Of course, now and then it is nasty. For me personally, the least pleasant thing is rinsing grease separators. That is really an awful stink." When he tells me that, I am, to be honest, a little relieved that this job is not on today's order list.
After eating, we set off again with the conspicuous rinser. Again, a passerby waves at us in a friendly manner and produces a smile on Lothar Schwalm's face. Yes, not only is he well known in the area, but he is also highly appreciated by many customers for what he does. And somehow, I get the impression that he likes to be accompanied on his tour today.
Our short journey ends at the Bad Hersfeld sewage purification plant. The waste water picked up at the landfill is discharged here for purification and the vehicle is filled up with fresh rinsing water.
While the vehicle is being refueled with fresh water, Lothar Schwalm receives a phone call. An existing customer asks him to come by. There is an abrupt change of plans. We pass through narrow, snake-like streets and stop in a residential area in Bad Hersfeld. In the garden of the private house there are shovels and large tools. The basement skirting of the house is laid open and waste water pipes are visible. The paraffin resin used to insulate the house has penetrated the wall and plugged the discharge pipes. Today, the company Maier Stein- und Pflasterarbeiten is there to solve the problem. However, unable to look into the pipes lying underneath the house, they cannot work. Lothar Schwalm is the solution, taking a look into the interior of the lines through Schwalm's mobile camera. Upon looking at the images into the pipe, the parties deliberate on which areas of the basement floor need to be prized open and equipped with new pipes.
Even though this job has not lasted all too long, it is nevertheless already 3 pm.
The next crime scene for Lothar Schwalm on this day is a bathtub in a residential area in Asbach. A young couple moved into the new apartment two days ago and established the plugging. Just a few expert flicks of the wrist and the water is flowing again. "Now we can finally use the shower," says the pleased young tenant.
Lothar Schwalm was out and about for nine hours today. When asked if he is now retiring for the evening, he replies: "On the rinser, yes. At home, no. I am currently renovating and am now going to remove some wallpaper." So as not to keep him any longer, I thank him for the numerous insights that he has allowed me to gain and I wave as he drives off in his drivable high-tech workplace. It has already grown dark and in my thoughts I bow to the challenging work of a channel digger.