Commuting to work in the Isar River in Munich Germany

Benjamin David swims to work daily from the Wittelsbacher Bridge to the Ludwigs Bridge in the Isar River. He takes the important precautions listed below. (Foto dpa)

Recently, there have been a number of  reports in the media about Benjamin David, chairman of Isarlust and speaker of the urbanauten, and how he swims daily to work in the Isar river. The media coverage is great! However, it is get some advice, if you are planning to do the same.

Anyone who is a healthy and experienced swimmer can follow Benjamin’s example. There are however several rules, which swimmers need to pay attention to, since the Isar is a “wild”, as well as a “city” river. Officially, swimming is currently not allowed in the stretch from the Reichenbach Bridge to the Ludwigs Bridge. However, we hope that that rule will be changed when the city updates the Bade- und Schwimmverordnung, or when an ISARFLUSSBAD  is established on the Isar between the Deutsche Museum and the Patent Office.

  1. Check the level of the river before swimming in it.

The Isar is a wild river that comes directly out of the Alps. The drainage area is large and includes nearly 10% of Bavaria. The river level can change dramatically, if heavy rains fall in upper Bavaria or if officials regulating the outflow from the Silvenstein  reservoir decide to lower the reservoir level in anticipation of heavy rainfall. We strongly recommend not swimming in the Isar when the river level is higher than 1.2 meters in Munich. Check the link below (updated every 15 minutes) to get the Isar level (Isarpegel). As the river level rises, the currents become much stronger. Up to a level of 1.2 meters, the city administration has regularly allowed the swimming for the ISARPOKAL.


  1. Check the water temperature before swimming in the Isar

The water temperature is also updated every 15 minutes (see below). The water temperature can be as low as 14 degrees in the summer, but can also be as high as 20, 22 or even 23 degrees. When the water is cold, using a neoprene wetsuit may be a good idea. Each individual needs to know his own limits. If you want to swim in the Isar or in other rivers in Bavaria, you can always get updated water temperature information or water level information by googling “Pegel(Ort) (Fluss)” or Wassertemperatur (Ort)(Fluss).

Wear rubber sandals, not flip-flops

Unfortunately, there are sometime broken glass or derelict bicycles or other items on the river bottom. Hence we strongly recommend wearing rubber sandals, or old sneakers (which can get wet) when swimming in the Isar. Do not wear flip-flops, since they can come off in the current. And never swim barefoot!!

  1. Swim with a “Wickelfisch” or some other float

You can purchase a “Wickelfisch” online in the „Isarladen“ (online) or at the Kulturstrand im „Isarladen“ vor Ort an der Ludwigsbrücke “Isarladen”. They come is several bright colors with or without the name “ISARFLUSSBAD” printed on the outside. There is a large size for adults, and a smaller size for children (or adults without much baggage). It has several advantages: you can put your clothes in it or your laptop or your smartphone. You can also use it as a float because of the air included when you roll up the flap cover. (Note that the Wickelfisch is not an official life ring). The Wickelfisch has a pre-set breakline, which can be opened if you get tangled in something in the river. If you use an alternative float, it is important that it also has a pre-set breakline.


  1. First swim in the Isar: ALWAYS WITH A PARTNER. Alternatively, participate in the Isarpokal or Isartreiben (July 9, 2017)

Swimming in open water entails certain risks. Hence we strongly recommend that, when you swim in the Isar for the first time, you swim with a partner. If there is a problem, your partner call for help. It is a bit like mountain climbing. You can climb alone, but climbing with a partner, or several partners, is always safer. One opportunity to do this in the Isar, is to participate in the „ISARPOKAL und ISARTREIBEN on July 9, 2017. On this date, 9 men and women of the Wasserwacht will oversee the Isar swim. To defray costs, it is necessary to register and pay a 15 Euro fee.


  1. Driftwood and rocks in the riverbed

Driftwood, and sometime boulders and debris, regularly get stuck at different spots in the Isar after flooding. Most of the time, but not always, these objects can be identified by waves or ripples on the surface of the water.  It is important to detour around such spots. It is also important to realize that, when the river level changes, objects that were no danger on one day, may present a real danger on another day. Wearing rubber sandals can be a great help to maneuver around such spots. It can also help to wear a wetsuit.


  1. Always stay relaxed

Swimming in the Isar can be exciting, when there is a lot of current. However, if you have a problem, it is easy to get panicked and make poor decisions.  Here are a few tips that can help in such a situation: almost everywhere in the Isar (>90% of the river) you can stand up on the gravel riverbed. In such a situation is helps to stand parallel to the flow so that your body provides less resistance to the water. If you can not stand, remember that only a short distance to the left or right there will be a gravel bank on which you can stand. Also, there are steps and short ladders at many spots along the river, which you can use to climb out. Use them, if necessary.


  1. Know your limits

Even though it sounds trivial, it is important to know your limits.


  1. NO alcohol before or in the water

Same as (8), but particularly important when in the river.

  • 10. You are ALWAYS responsible for yourself

Remember that the responsibility for swimming in open water is yours. We can only provide advice and can take no responsibility for your actions. The Isar is a “wild” river, but also a “city” river, that is constantly changing. Always stay alert and don’t do “stupid” things.


Isarlust e.V. and the urbanauten and the Kulturstrand Team