A tributary of the River Isar flowing through the English Garden park in Munich. Wikimedia/Harald Süpfle

The beautiful Isar River is groaning under the weight of parties, barbecues, and trash, say environmentalists.

Can you love an urban river too much? In Munich’s case, it seems you can.

In the Bavarian capital, environmentalists are warning that the city’s charming Isar River is skating close to being spoiled because it’s just too damned popular. Beloved by Munich residents for summer parties, there is now official concern about controlling access to it, lest the Isar’s green riverbanks degenerate into to a bottle-strewn pissoir filled with whooping drinkers and sausage smoke from makeshift grills. As the head of Munich’s Nature Federation league warned newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung:

"The Isar must not degenerate to the next party strip […]The attractiveness of the river that has been achieved through restoration would be lost again straight away.”

That extreme picture might seem a little doom-laden, but there’s some hard facts behind the hyperbole. Last summer, the city had to remove 150 tons of trash from the Isar’s banks, while the city’s fire department were called to illegal campfires 22 times. Now a full-moon party, modeled on the notorious bacchanals held on Thai islands, is looming on May 21, in which 54,000 people have expressed an interest on Facebook. If even a portion of these turn up, mayhem seems likely.

It’s all too easy to see how things got this way. On a summer’s day, the Isar’s pleasures are hard to resist. Rising due south of the city in the Austrian Alps, the river still has many of the characteristics of a mountain stream when it arrives in town, flowing fast and sometimes milky-looking with spring snow melt. Protected by tall embankments from traffic, it carves out scrubby islands as it flows, easy places to tether large log rafts. The banks fill with grillers and sunbathers, and you can even surf off of one of the river’s tributaries, where super fast white water is squeezed through a weir.

You can’t expect people to avoid a spot of such obvious charm. Except, maybe, when its great popularity risks rubbing out exactly that charm. Nature groups such as Bavaria’s State Federation for Birds (LBV) say it’s time to stop the rot:

“The Isar is beautiful—and therefore we risk loving it to death…every love relationship requires respect on both sides. Commercial events such as the planned Full Moon Party, or the leaving of huge amounts of trash go completely against that.”

No one wants the river closed-off. The environmentalists’ suggestions—cutting the number of grill spots and raising fines for litterbugs—actually seem pretty sensible. A public space that’s overly monitored is no one’s idea of fun, but there are few things more dispiriting than visiting a beautiful spot, only to find a pile of trash.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  2. photo: A vacant home in Oakland that is about to demolished for an apartment complex.
    Equity

    Fix California’s Housing Crisis, Activists Say. But Which One?

    As a controversy over vacancy in the Bay Area and Los Angeles reveals, advocates disagree about what kind of housing should be built, and where.

  3. Environment

    The City Known for ‘Sewer Socialists’ Actually Has Great Sewers

    Milwaukee now averages a mere 2.4 combined sewer overflows a year, thanks to a massive underground tunnel, green infrastructure, and flood-control measures.

  4. A syringe sits on top of a car. Houses are behind it.
    Life

    The Changing Geography of the Opioid Crisis

    A new study shows that the country faces different opioid challenges in urban and rural areas.

  5. photo: a high-speed train in Switzerland
    Transportation

    The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High-Speed Rail

    At the Cascadia Rail Summit outside Seattle, a fledgling scheme to bring high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver found an enthusiastic reception.

×