At the entrance to Buchhof, a tiny village near Horb am Neckar, it is surprising to see the modern facade of a house that is still uninhabited. It seems strange in this rural setting. The owners also find it odd. They never would have exchanged their old house, into which they had poured such heart and soul, for this new one. But a fire in the summer of 2019 changed everything: Within a few hours, the Hübl family’s farm equipment, barn and home burned to the ground.
The farmers and their three children had to leave their home behind. What remained was a lot of work. 80ha of arable land and 70ha of grassland still had to be cultivated. The 500 laying hens, 150 dairy cows and their offspring also had to be looked after. But the family also gained something from this: The assurance that they could count on others in times of need.
Machines, house and grain store were in flames
It was the first day of the 2019 grain harvest. The children were playing in the garden or were out in the field with the adults. Frederik, the middle son, spotted the fire in the straw. Thomas Hübl has to swallow the lump in this throat when he thinks about how his son called out to him. Shortly afterwards, Thomas and his wife Diana stood powerless before the flames.
The column of smoke could be seen for several kilometres.
The grain store and the agricultural equipment...
... burned down completely.
A portacabin right next to the cowshed bridges the time until the new house is built.
The firemen arrived just seven minutes after the emergency call. They were unable to prevent the house, the grain store and the agricultural equipment from falling victim to the flames. Car tyres were exploding in the heat. What a disaster. ”I almost went crazy,” recalls Mrs Hübl. They were at least able to save important documents from the burning house.
Rescuing the combine
Soon the newly harvested barley field behind the barn caught fire. One of a cousin’s sons was still busy combining there. With presence of mind, he quickly drove the combine to the other end of the field and fetched the plough. He then ploughed back and forth across the field. ”A policewoman was continuously stopping him in the process,’, Mrs Hübl recalls. ”He shouldn’t have been driving around in the fire. But he knew what he was doing. So he continued to drive it around to stop the source of the fire.”
Bridging time with loaned equipment
The full extent of the damage was revealed the day after the fire broke out. The grain store, including grain cleaning and drying equipment, was completely burnt. Front and rear mower decks, rakes, bale wagons and forklifts, along with many small devices, had to be disposed of. The family car and a quad bike were also gone. During this difficult time, the agricultural machinery manufacturers helped out with loaned equipment so that the farmers could continue to run the business.
Although the house was still standing, it could no longer be saved. The Hübls were overwhelmed. In addition to the usual farming business, they now had to deal with the insurance company and the processes that follow. A friend’s father recommended a professional adviser who would take care of the insurance process in the interests of the family. A good investment with an estimated damage of almost €1m.
Help from all sides
One good idea was having the pastor who, at the request of the farming couple, assisted the grandparents and children in particular. ”Many people feel hesitant to use this service. But it is really good,” affirms Mrs Hübl.
Relatives and friends took over many tasks as a matter of course to relieve the family. One of the friends opened a donation account on the night of the fire. The daughter’s kindergarten donated clothes, and the operator of a mill donated basic cooking equipment. ”I never thought that we would have such strong support in the community and that there would be such great sympathy,” says Mr Hübl.
We had a lot of sympathy and strong support from friends and helpers.
Thomas Hübl, Farmer
The eldest son’s class organised a big cake sale. ”The teacher told me that she had never seen the students like this – how they all stuck together. Everyone tried to give their all to help us,’, recalls Mrs Hübl.
Friends and helpers pitched in
Friends and helpers even finished combining the barley. They were even able to bring the straw dry from the field. ”They did all that for us,’, the farmer says, still touched. In the beginning, the couple often felt they had no strength left. But the fact that so many people supported them helped them to stay strong during the crisis.
Back to the new normal
For the first few weeks after the fire, the family split up to stay with relatives. At some point, however, it was time to look for a new place to stay. The Hübls wanted their family life back. They no longer felt at home anywhere. Mrs Hübl wanted to eat together with her family at the same table again. ”And maybe a flower to go with it,’, she says. So she came up with the idea of renting a portacabin that would fit next to the cowshed.
Today, on this cold winter day, Mr and Mrs Hübl are sitting in the kitchen of their portacabin. Here, the flair of a construction site is combined with a living room atmosphere. Cold white recessed lights illuminate the flower arrangements on the table and the grey-blue floor. The huge Christmas tree defies the sparse ambience. Children’s colourful drawings are hung on one wall, and family photos on another.
Relatives donated supplies for the portacabin, and a furniture store donated mattresses. ”There were so many people who were worried,” says Mrs Hübl, overwhelmed.
To this day, the cause of the fire is still unknown. It wasn’t until four months after the fire that the family received a small advance payment from the insurance company. The fire set the farm back by about five years. They were still lucky: They had sold the grain from the previous year just a few weeks before the fire. But they would now have to invest – in a new grain store, for example. The new plans are already in place, but the insurance company is still processing the claim. This is not uncommon: It can take up to two years to pay out.
Crowds of customers directly at the farm
Despite this gruelling situation, the family is not wallowing in self-pity. Instead, they are eager to help others in need. After all, unity is not a one-way street. For example, a florist from Nordstetten had to close her business during the pandemic. At Easter and Christmas, she was allowed to supply flower arrangements and bouquets right next to the farm shop, and thus benefitted from the wave of customers during the pandemic.
The Hübls are also known in the village because they are involved in the fire brigade, the fool’s guild, and the marksmen’s and sports clubs. And also, of course, because their three children go to school. Nevertheless, they never would have dreamed that they would be so well known. The couple agree that it would have been very difficult without outside help. ”It gave us psychological support,” says Mrs Hübl. A family business also brings people together.
Larger range in the farm shop
Despite the uncertain financial situation, the Hübls are already making plans to sell a larger range of products in their farm shop. So far, they have been selling potatoes, eggs, milk, canned sausages and pasta. As a result of the Covid pandemic, business is booming. Eggs are constantly sold out. That is why expanding the chicken coop is in the works – that is, only if the insurance process finally comes to an end.
Even the new residential building is already in place. It was built by a construction firm and still feels strange. The Hübls had built much of the old residential building themselves. But there was no time for personal contribution. ”We want to live in a house again as soon as possible,” emphasises Mr Hübl. What’s missing now for a really good feeling about moving in is a clear statement from the insurance company.
But the silver lining is approaching. And until then, the family is recharging their batteries and regaining energy with relatives, acquaintances and friends. ”Others go on vacation in the summer,” explains Mrs Hübl. ”But our unity is worth much more than that! Nobody can take that away from us.”
As soon as the Covid situation allows, the family want to have a big party to celebrate this unity: For the firefighters and all the other helpers. ”Everyone should see that we’re doing well and how important mutual aid is.”
Check insurance policies every few years!
Check insurance policies every few years. Often, the stated values for buildings and the like are no longer correct. It is also helpful if the insurance covers costs of external experts or specialists. Ideally, the insurance should cover more than just one year of operational failures, breakdowns, downtime and other losses. This is because it can take a long time before the insurance pays out, and the business’s hands are tied for this period.