By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

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Father Rhine

Like the Ganga, the Rhine has been a source of inspiration for songs, legends, literature, art, and a lot of sentiment is attached to both rivers. However, they have quietly faced abuse for decades, with untreated industrial and domestic waste flowing into them, causing major pollution and the extinction of marine life. What’s Up, Germany? traces the Rhine’s journey, from a toxic mess to a pristine source of life.

Originating as a stream in the Swiss Alps, the river Rhine passes through six countries: Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Austria and Liechtenstein, before flowing into the North Sea at Rotterdam. As western Europe’s most important waterway, the Rhine is crucial to trade and commerce. It also serves as a border between Germany and France.

The Rhine’s Clean-up

Germany’s second-largest river became seriously polluted with industrial effluents that were pouring into it for decades. It was unfit for swimming and the fish started disappearing. Things came to a head in 1986 when a huge fire broke out at the Sandoz chemical plant in Basel, Switzerland, leaking tonnes of toxic chemicals into the already polluted Rhine. Within ten days, the river’s waters turned red and the pollution reached the North Sea. As you can imagine, the results were catastrophic: a lot of the flora and fauna were killed. This was a much-needed wake-up call.

Time to Act!

Six countries immediately came together to roll out the Rhine Action Programme (RAP) and committed to revive Father Rhine and bring back aquatic life—especially the salmon—by the year 2000. The main aim of this joint effort was to cut the discharge of noxious substances by 50 percent; tighten safety norms in industrial plants; and reduce the pollution contents of river sediments. Ladders were installed to help fish get around dams and reach the lower stretches of the river.

Together We Can!

Implemented and monitored by the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR), the action plan was a resounding success thanks to international cooperation and strict regulations. German, Swiss, French and Dutch industries located along the Rhine made huge voluntary investments in water protection and sewage treatment systems. The Rhine Action Programme is sometimes referred to as “Salmon 2000”, because of its ambitious target to ensure their return. By 1997, three years before schedule, the salmon had returned! What’s more, the Rhine waters were once again clean enough to swim in!

Former German Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer swam in the Rhine River in 1988 to raise awareness about the health of Rivers

Know the Rhine

The Rhine River & Constance
 Lorelei legend

There are more castles along the 60-kilometre stretch of the Rhine between Bingen and Koblenz than in any other river valley in the world.

Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located along the Rhine: Köln Cathedral, Trier, the town of Bamberg, Speyer Cathedral, Würzburg Residence, Stolzenfels Castle, Burg Rheinstein and Aachen Cathedral.

The Rhine Valley is the largest and most famous wine-growing region in Germany.

The river runs into Lake Constance on the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

A statue on a large rock near Sankt Goarshausen on the bank of the Rhine recalls the Lorelei legend. It is said that a beautiful maiden, heartbroken over her lover’s infidelity, threw herself into the river at this spot. She was transformed into a siren who lured sailors to their death with her sad, distracting songs.

There are more castles along the 60-kilometre stretch of the Rhine between Bingen and Koblenz than in any other river valley in the world.

Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located along the Rhine: Köln Cathedral, Trier, the town of Bamberg, Speyer Cathedral, Würzburg Residence, Stolzenfels Castle, Burg Rheinstein and Aachen Cathedral.

The Rhine Valley is the largest and most famous wine-growing region in Germany.

The river runs into Lake Constance on the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

A statue on a large rock near Sankt Goarshausen on the bank of the Rhine recalls the Lorelei legend. It is said that a beautiful maiden, heartbroken over her lover’s infidelity, threw herself into the river at this spot. She was transformed into a siren who lured sailors to their death with her sad, distracting songs.

“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

— Laura Gilpin, photographer

“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

— Laura Gilpin, photographer