Chemnitz wants to swim along the Rhine in 25 days

More than 1,200 kilometers in 25 days: Chemnitz, long-distance swimmer Joseph Hess, is determined to conquer the Rhine in shorter time than anyone before him.

He’s looking for “a little bit of adventure” to make up for his office job and at the same time he wants to do science, says the industrial engineer. The “Swim4Science” project is accompanied by scientists and students from several universities in Leipzig, Chemnitz, Metweida and Fürtwangen.

Recently, Hess has been training almost every day, at the Rabenstein Reservoir near Chemnitz, at the Elbe near Dresden and at Lake Chiemsee. The countdown has now begun: on Saturday (June 11), Hesse wants to reach the waters near the source of the Rhine in the Swiss Alps, and the estuary near Rotterdam is scheduled for the beginning of July. He wants to stay in the river for eight to ten hours a day.

‘The current is a great danger’

The 34-year-old doesn’t just have to deal with massive physical stress. “The current is a great danger,” he says. Added to this is high-speed navigation and water pollution. Where the Rhine rushes through the Alps like a wild mountain river, Hess does not want to crawl, but allows himself to be carried on his feet first. Accompanied by a team serving him food from a boat.

The resident of Chemnitz would not be the first to swim along the Rhine. In 1969, Klaus Bechstein invaded the river in this way, and it took 30 days. In 2014, Swiss athlete Ernst Promes climbed the Rhine and needed 44 days including rest periods. That same year, chemistry professor Andreas Feth Marathon began swimming in Lake Toma in Switzerland and reached the North Sea 28 days later. Collect water samples along the way.

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The 57-year-old, who studies at the University of Furtwangen in the Black Forest, went to the Danube in April. Since then he has covered more than 2,000 kilometers and is currently crawling through Romania. On June 17 he wants to reach the Black Sea coast. Also this time, he is collecting samples to document the state of the Danube.

The researcher says that the river is a mirror for the people who live along it. “I can tell from the river which pesticides they use in their fields, whether they have sewage treatment plants, and what medicines they take,” he explains. “We also see that plastic pollution on the banks increases sharply the further east we go.” He had to leave a section near Belgrade because huge amounts of untreated sewage are being discharged into the Danube there. “I didn’t want to swim in the feces of over a million people.”

For Fat, marathon swimming is a way to raise awareness of the river’s pollution. Following this example, the Rhine swimmer Hess put his adventure at the service of science. For Open, it will collect data on pollutants in the Rhine. The comparison with 2014 values ​​aims to record how the state of the river has evolved.

“It’s a lone sport”

Sports psychologists from the University of Leipzig look at recovery and stress over the course of the project. Professor Anne-Marie Elbe explains that Hess has completed special training for this purpose. There they trained how to draw attention to things that give you strength in stressful situations. Students from Metoida University of Applied Sciences are making a documentary about the project. They are experimenting with producing climate-friendly films, Professor Rika Flick explains.

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Hess can build on past experiences: in 2017 he swam along the German part of the Elbe, about 620 kilometers in 12 days. He also swam in the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa and covered the road from Sardinia to Corsica. “It’s an isolated sport, because you don’t hear or see anything,” he says.

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