Press release

From the Czech Republic to the North Sea, the longest open-air pool will be opened by ten thousand people at the first International Elbe Swim Day

Hamburg, 10 July 2002 –

Next Sunday, July 14, more than 10,000 people will swim in the Elbe – which until recently had the dubious honor of being the dirtiest river in Europe. The first International Elbe Swim Day was initiated by the Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V. and the Gruner + Jahr printing and publishing house as part of their Living Elbe (Lebendige Elbe) project. The project which was started five years ago has as its objective the improved cooperation between some 400 organizations active on the Elbe, the development of a uniform protection concept for the river from the source to the mouth and the promotion of sustained development of the Elbe region.

100 million Euro has been invested in the cleanup of the Elbe since reunification. And more than 200 purification plants alone have been constructed. This changed the former sewage channel back into a river where people can bathe again. To celebrate this, people in over 50 locations along the 1000 km long river, which runs from the Czech Republic to the North Sea, will swim in the river at 14.00 on July 14 2002.

The Elbe Swim Day, which will take place on Sunday, shows the commitment and enthusiasm of the people who live on the Elbe for their river: over 50 local groups, towns and municipalities have announced their own swimming fetes and public fairs ( Hamburg residents will celebrate on the beach in Wittenbergen. The accompanying exhibition entitled Mit allen Wasser gewaschen (Washed with all Waters) in the foyer of the Gruner + Jahr press building at Baumwall depicts the history of the Elbe and the swimming culture.

In places like Hamburg, where there has been unusual bacteriological pollution due to the severe storms and extraordinary extra cloudbursts over the last few days, the Elbe Swim Day will be celebrated as a symbolic act.

Roberto Epple, Living Elbe project manager, Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.: People used to live with their backs to the Elbe. For two reasons; firstly it was a mined border and secondly it stank and unsightly foam covered it. Today people are rediscovering their river. This reclamation of the river is a first important step towards a permanently living Elbe in the context of sustained development.

Angelika Jahr, Gruner + Jahr Executive Board member: Gruner + Jahr, as a publishing company on the Elbe, feels a special connection with the former border river. With the Living Elbe (Lebendige Elbe) project we are continuing the environmental commitment which we have been practicing in our printing and publishing company, even externally, since 1990 – on our doorstep, so to speak. In addition to financial support, we are contributing our communication know-how to this project.

Prof. Harald Kächele, German President of Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.: A miracle has happened on the Elbe since 1989: a natural paradise and an international cultural landscape with good bathing water quality has emerged from the dirty, dangerous and divisive river. We at the Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German Eco Help) are looking forward to the first International Elbe Swim Day, together with the Gruner + Jahr publishing company and many other partners. Our thanks are due to everyone who worked together to make the miracle of the Elbe a reality. May the Elbe environment become a unique habitat for people and nature!

Water quality

The Elbe Water Quality Office has been testing the pollution of the Elbe water and the fish since 1977. As partner for the Elbe Swim Day, it is a competent contact for the development of the water quality situation. Although the water quality of the Elbe has improved enormously overall, some localized problems still exist. Because of this, the water will be closely tested once more before the Elbe Swim Day. According to current measurement data, the pollution of the Elbe does not pose any threat to bathers. Analysis of the bacteriological findings which affect bathing hygiene is up to the public health departments of the states bordering the Elbe. The available local measurements will be checked and based on these results, a decision will then be made on the sites where bathing can be recommended. The local organizers will provide information and explain to the public about possible dangers and risks.


The biggest water rescue organization in the world, the Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft (German Lifesaving Association), has offered its services as a partner for the first International Elbe Swim Day in order to ensure safety at the event locations with its voluntary rescue services. Together with Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Gruner + Jahr, the DLRG has published a factsheet with important rules for swimming in rivers. We agree with all organizers that the safety of many thousands of swimmers comes first, in order to ensure that swimming in the Elbe on July 14 will be a good experience, according to DLRG Vice President Andreas Fischer-Appelt.>

Media partners

Norddeutsche Rundfunk (NDR), in conjunction with the MDR, is a media partner for the Elbe Swim Day and will be in the heart of the action with lots of special TV and radio programs. For NDR, this is one of the biggest collaborative undertakings in its history. Almost all programs in the four countries covered by the NDR will take part in and support the Elbe Swim Day. For example, on the Elbe Night NDR TV will show many interesting reports, special programs and features about the 1000 kilometer river between Cuxhaven, Hamburg, Dresden and Jaromer in the Czech Republic. The NDR radio programs will provide up-to-the-minute information and will switch live to different locations in the transmission region. In addition, for visitors on July 14, stage programs with well-known presenters will be held by NDR at action stations along the Elbe. All four NDR countries are located on the Elbe – and that’s precisely why it was easy for us to say yes when we were offered the media partnership for the first International Elbe Swim Day. We also agreed because the idea behind this huge event immediately convinced us: the Elbe is becoming a living river again!, says Prof. Jobst Plog, NDR manager. NDR will also present all facets of the Elbe Swim Day on the Internet: The website can be reached at

Teamwork in Hamburg
For the celebration in Hamburg, the organizers, Deutsche Umwelthilfe und Gruner + Jahr, were able to organize an unusually broad collaboration between the city of Hamburg, environmental and charitable organizations, as well as business and media. Hamburg‘s Mayor, Ole von Beust, took over patronage of the first Elbe Swim Day in Hamburg. The celebration will be supported by the Hamburg Behörde für Umwelt und Gesundheit (authority for environment and health), the Hamburg Stadtentwässerung (HSE) (municipal sewage system), the Elbe Water Quality Office, the Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft (German Life Saving Association) (DLRG), Lever Fabergé, the Norddeutsche Affinerie, and obviously also by the organizers, Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Gruner + Jahr. Norddeutsche Rundfunk (NDR) will be present on stage at Hamburg-Wittenbergen and will report live from the Elbe Swim Day and also switch to other swim locations. Because of Hamburg’s special situation as a port and because of the shipping, a historical swimming ceremony there will symbolize reconciliation with the river. Swimming in the Elbe may be dangerous due to the shipping and the currents on Hamburg’s beaches. Visitors to the Elbe Swim Day are therefore requested to get on-site information from the DLRG stand and to observe the safety precautions.

Peter Rehaag, Hamburg Environment and Health Senator: The clean-up of the Elbe was well worth it. Everyone from Hamburg to the Czech Republic got involved. And today, the Elbe is well on the way to becomin