Opinions & People

The man who swims to work

by Samar Al-Montser

With a passion to revive the Isar River in Germany back to the way it was, one man inspires others to share his dream.

While people just talk about ecosystem preservation, others try to go a step ahead by plunging into the water they wish to preserve. One man with an environmental awareness did just that. 40-year-old Benjamin David commutes to work not by bus, nor by car, but by swimming down the Isar River. Currently, swimming is prohibited in the Isar River but Benjamin continues his efforts to make the river into a public bath.

Benjamin David swimming to work

As the chairman of the board of Isarlust eV, a non-profit organisation committed to the sustainable upgrading of the urban Isar area in Munich, Benjamin is dedicated to these sustainable projects.

The Wickelfisch
He started swimming in 2015, when he was introduced to a Wickelfisch at an International River Bath and Pool workshop. A Wicklefisch is a waterproof bag designed to keep clothes and belongings dry and allows them to float in water. This workshop and project by Isarlust eV carried the slogan ‘This is an ISARFLUSSBAD’, which means ‘Isar River Bath’. It was an international gathering of river pool and river bath representatives from Plus Pool New York, Copenhagen Harbour Baths, Zurich river baths and Flussbad Berlin. Last year, Isarlust eV reached a grant from the city council to invest EUR 120,000 into a feasibility study of the project to make the Isar River a public bath.

Another reason Bejamin started swimming was the increasingly aggressive public spaces and highway, especially at the bridgeheads during rush hours. What makes him feel sad is that while the summer weather is really good, people are still cooped up on the road in traffic. The traffic problem he says is rapidly growing and there is not enough public space for bike lanes or public transport.

He swims not only to reduce traffic and to keep healthy, but also to reduce stress by enjoying the sight of the riversides. The Isar area has undergone a major clean up and that explains his preference for the relaxing journey through nature instead of the bustling congestion on the road. Going further down the river into the city, there are beautiful historic buildings on both sides. He encourages anyone who is healthy and an experienced swimmer to follow his sustainable mode of transport and gives a list of what and what not to do here.

Swimming down history lane
He swims two kilometres downstream from where he lives in Wittelsbacherbridge, to where he works in Kulturstrand at Ludwigsbridge. The father of two says it’s faster and it gives him peace of mind every day, especially as the river current helps sweep him into the city. He thinks if more people start swimming as a mode of commuting it might improve the city living conditions. He notes that the state of Bavaria in Germany recently started providing real-time data on the water level and temperature of the river; this makes it easier for potential swimmers to plan their activities.

Benjamin mostly swims in the summer, but sometimes also in the fall, winter and spring. In winter, he wears a long wetsuit to keep him warm.

Part of his passion is Isar River’s history. Isar is a three-kilometre long river located in the city of Munich which was historically used as a transport route up to the 1850’s. It was used as a waterway for over 150 years and it was one of the most important modes of transport routes from Rome to Vienna. However, in the past century this slowly vanished. He says today it’s hard to imagine this scene since there’s no single transport-boat or raft in the inner city of Isar.

Recently he started to see other swimmers in the river and he thinks more will join as traffic worsens. However, he reassures, it could take about 100 years before it gets congested. Although rules and regulations haven’t been put in place, his efforts continue to keep a sustainable environment for the future generation. This could also open new business opportunities like the Wickelfisch bag to help ease people’s swimming journey.

Though he may not be the first to swim to work, Benjamin’s definitely highlighting an alternative, affordable and healthier mode of commuting. This could drastically alter the way pollution and traffic is being perceived, but that, according to Benjamin, may only appear in a few 100 years or so.


11 Jan 2018
Last modified: 16 Jul 2018
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