• Switzerland edition
 
1 MAN, 1 RIVER, 1 MONTH
Why I'm swimming the length of the Rhine
PHOTOPRESS/Schweiz Tourismus/Andrea Badrutt

Why I'm swimming the length of the Rhine

Published: 04 May 2012 16:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 May 2012 16:33 GMT+02:00

Swiss extreme athlete Ernst Bromeis explains to Meritxell Mir what’s motivating him to become the first ever person to swim the entire 1,230-kilometres of the Rhine, from its source in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

It was 7am on Wednesday May 2nd when Ernst Bromeis waded into the frozen waters of Toma Lake, where the Rhine’s source lies at an altitude of 2,344 metres. Unable to swim in a surface covered with a 40-centimetre layer of ice, the endurance athlete plunged into a small pool carved in the ice for the occasion.

After this symbolic act to mark the beginning of his aquatic adventure, the 43-year-old “water activist,” as he likes to define himself, skied down to the village of Disentis, in canton Graubünden. There he began the real swim – one that will take him downstream to the six countries that straddle the Rhine as he seeks to swim the entire length of the river in just one month.

“I’m nervous,” the experienced swimmer told The Local the day before he started his journey.

‘The Blue Wonder – Rhine 2012’ is a joint project between Bromeis and Switzerland Tourism to promote the Alpine land as “a country of water” and a sustainable destination.

To characterize Bromeis’s adventure as daring would be to downplay this gruelling task. The Swiss activist will swim an average of 50 kilometres per day, a distance that will take him between five and six hours depending on the current, the mountainous nature of the terrain, and weather conditions. On the stretch between the source and Lake Constance, he’ll contend with water temperatures of between four and six degrees Celsius. Further down, as the Rhine approaches Rotterdam, it rises to 12 degrees at this time of year.

But biting temperatures won’t be his only hurdle.

The nature of the Rhine changes a lot during its course. In the first stretch, where the river crosses a dramatic canyon 20 kilometres long, he will have to be careful not to bump into the rocks and logs that dot the rapids as well as avoid multiple swirls. At Lake Constance, where there is no current, he will have to swim about 12 kilometres. For anyone wondering how he will overcome the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, there is no great mystery: he will briefly hop ashore before resuming his adventure at the bottom.

“I really want to make it to Rotterdam, and not die on the way,” he said.

Once in Basel, the water travels at a speed of 10 to 15 kilometres per hour, although he claims he won’t be carrying one of the floatation devices that are so popular during the summer there.

“I’m a real swimmer,” he said laughing.

Although escorted along the way by a small boat with a rescue team, Bromeis is concerned about swimming near the port of Rotterdam.

“The ships there are so big and I am so small,” he explained.

But the Swiss swimmer is no rookie when it comes to endurance swimming.

A former teacher and Olympic triathlon trainer, Bromeis has been a full-time water activist for the past four years through his project, The Blue Wonder, which he hopes will help raise awareness about water-scarcity issues.

In 2008, Bromeis crossed the 200 lakes of his home canton Graubünden, most of them in glacial temperatures. Two years later, he challenged himself again to swim across the largest lake in each of the 26 cantons, covering a total of 300 kilometres.

“My motivation comes from deep inside,” he said, adding that he feels “great passion” for environmental issues.

“Water means life in the whole world,” he said. “We, in Switzerland, are so privileged to have such a wonderful resource, but we have to be careful because the Rhine is also very fragile and its water is limited.”

So when Switzerland Tourism decided two years ago that the focus for its 2012 summer campaign would be promoting the Alpine land as a “country of water,” they realized there could be no better “water ambassador” than Bromeis, says Rafael Enzler, head of marketing at the organization.

His travels through six countries also offer an excellent opportunity for the tourism board to sell the blue wonders of a country often seen solely as a mountain destination, a circumstance Bromeis describes as “a paradox.”

According to the Swiss Federal Office of the Environment, about 6 percent of the fresh water resources in Europe originate in the Swiss Alps. With 7,000 lakes, 65,300 kilometres of rivers and streams, and 122 glaciers, Switzerland is as blue as it is green.

“There are 50 million people living along the Rhine in Europe, but a lot of them don’t even know where it starts,” said Enzler. “The river is not so nice everywhere it passes, so many people cannot imagine how beautiful it is at the source.”

But Bromeis, with his adventure, is hoping to change all that.

Follow Ernst Bromeis's progress on the Blue Wonder blog.

Meritxell Mir (news@thelocal.ch)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swiss-EU relations on discussion table in Rome
Burkhalter and Renzi are meeting in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Swiss-EU relations on discussion table in Rome

Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is on the agenda today as Swiss President Didier Burkhalter meets Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on an official visit to Rome. READ  

Swiss customers react to 1kg meat import limit
The regulations apply to fresh meat and charcuterie. Photo: Marijke Blazer

Swiss customers react to 1kg meat import limit

Butchers in Italian border towns have seen a 25 to 30 percent reduction in trade after a Swiss law limiting the importation of meat to one kilogramme came into force on July 1st. READ  

Basel dogs embark on National Day trip abroad
Give dogs a break this National Day, says TBB. Photo: Michael Gil

Basel dogs embark on National Day trip abroad

An animal protection group in Basel is organizing a holiday for dogs over the Swiss National Day long weekend in order to protect them from the trauma of fireworks. READ  

German starts solo Rhine swim in Switzerland
Money raised by the swim will go to university research into river pollutants. Photo: Jessica Gardner

German starts solo Rhine swim in Switzerland

A German chemistry professor started a gruelling four-week solo swim down the Rhine river on Monday for the benefit of science and the environment. Andreas Fath is the second swimmer to embark on the challenge in recent weeks after 46-year-old Swiss man Ernst Bromeis set off three weeks ago. READ  

Swiss researchers seek prehistoric Greek village
PlanetSolar sails through the Corinth Canal. Photo: Valerie Gache/AFP

Swiss researchers seek prehistoric Greek village

The world's largest solar boat, the catamaran PlanetSolar, will embark on a Greek mission to find one of the oldest sites inhabited by man in Europe, organizers in Switzerland said on Monday. READ  

Low-IQ ‘IT genius’ leads school computer theft
iMacs were among the computers stolen from nine schools. Photo: Jamie McCall

Low-IQ ‘IT genius’ leads school computer theft

A youth with an IQ of just 65 helped mastermind the theft of dozens of computers from schools in the canton of Vaud before reconfiguring them for sale at a Lausanne second-hand shop. READ  

Farms opt out of Swiss National Day brunch
Brunches are increasingly popular, despite the decline in farms taking part. Photo: SVB/Brunch.ch

Farms opt out of Swiss National Day brunch

The number of farms in Switzerland offering a traditional brunch as part of Swiss National Day celebrations has fallen by more than a third since the initiative began. READ  

Emmental takes the brunt in weekend storms
Storms uprooted trees and flooded villages in Emmental. Photo: Caroline Bishop

Emmental takes the brunt in weekend storms

The Emmental region is in the middle of a clear-up operation after further bad weather caused major damage over the weekend to the tune of four million francs ($4.4 million) READ  

Andujar aces Monaco to take Swiss Open title
Andujar holds his Gstaad trophy. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Andujar aces Monaco to take Swiss Open title

Spain's Pablo Andujar broke a title drought lasting for more than two years on Sunday as he defeated Argentine Juan Monaco 6-3, 7-5 to win the Swiss Open. READ  

Lausanne woman among Mali plane crash dead
The Air Algérie plane was en route to Algiers. Photo: Farouk Batiche/AFP

Lausanne woman among Mali plane crash dead

A communications officer from Lausanne is listed among the 118 people on board the Air Algérie plane which crashed in Mali on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Tech
Hackers exploit 'holes' in Swiss online banking systems: IT experts
Sport
Video of Bern football player's spectacular own goal goes global
Tech
Switzerland stays on top of innovation rankings for fourth year
National
Roger Federer and Lindsey Vonn play tennis at Jungfraujoch (VIDEOS)
Business & Money
Competition commission launches probe into Swiss car leasing 'fiddle'
Health
Down's syndrome cases in Switzerland more than double
National
American family files hefty lawsuit over deadly Swiss balloon crash
Features
Graubünden's panoramic Bernina Express celebrates rail history
National
Study rates Zurich as world's fifth most expensive city for expats
National
Swiss-based human brain project directors hit back at research critics
Business & Money
Switzerland gets the edge on EU with China free trade agreement
National
Entries for new Swiss national anthem competition swell over 200
National
Zurich-based helicopter firm denies role in Schumacher medical leak
Culture
Montreux Jazz Festival debuts live internet streaming of concerts
Features
Tour of Bern’s historic fountains tells story of Switzerland's capital
National
Swiss media lament football team's 'cruel' and 'bitter' defeat
International
The Local expands its reach with the launch of new website in Denmark
Sport
Jubilant press hails hat-trick hero Shaqiri as 'Swiss Messi'
National
New website study reveals inequality in Swiss disposable income
Travel
Switzerland’s largest ski area 4-Vallées breaks up over lift dispute
National
VIDEO: Zurich Zoo launches contest to name newborn baby elephant
Business & Money
CEO-to-worker pay gap grows at biggest Swiss firms: union study
Culture
VIDEO: Swiss performance artist plans naked stroll at Art Basel
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,146
jobs available