HAMBURG, Germany , July 8, 2002 (ENS) - Once a stinking, polluted waterway running through Germany and the Czech Republic, the Elbe River has recovered enough to become a swimming attraction. On Sunday, people will flock to the river for the First International Elbe Swimming Day, a project of the Living Elbe campaign, symbolizing the reconciliation of the Elbe River with the people living nearby.
To celebrate the cleansing of the Elbe, more than 10,000 people are expected to gather Sunday afternoon along a 1,000 kilometer (620 mile) stretch of the river. They will jump, wade, dive, and splash at 55 swimming spots from the source of the Elbe in the Giant Mountains of the Czech Republic to the North Sea at Hamburg.
Since the reunification of Germany in 1989, hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on a broad restoration program, including the construction of more than 200 water treatment units.
Living Elbe project leader Roberto Epple said, "The Elbe is coming out from the darkness in which it had been sinking since World War II. People were living with their back to the river, it stunk and was covered with poisonous foam, children were forbidden to come close to it, there were no fishermen, no life."
"Today people are rediscovering their river," said Epple. "This reconquest that we are celebrating is a first essential step towards a long term living Elbe, in the framework of a global sustainable development project."
Organized by the German Environmental Aid Association and the international printing and publishing firm of Gruner + Jahr, the First International Elbe Swimming Day has been met with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, local authorities, sports groups, and private companies are taking part in this celebration of the river.
"In 1989, the quality of the water in the river Elbe was 20 years behind the Rhine water. Now the water quality of the two rivers is almost the same," says Professor Dr. Heinrich Reincke, director of the Elbe Water Quality Monitoring Agency and partner of the Living Elbe project.
The Elbe flows through four national parks, two UNESCO biosphere reserves, and other protected areas. Salmon and 40 other fish species are back, and the Elbe is once again asource of quality of life for people, for animals and for plants.
The Living Elbe campaign credits the success of the restoration program to the huge self-cleaning capacity of the river, the protection of its floodable areas, and the conservation ofits free flowing nature - no dam has been built over 700 kilometers (434 miles) from Dresden to Hamburg.
The main objectives of the Living Elbe project are promoting the Elbe landscape to UNESCO World Heritage status, connecting all the groups and agencies working on the Elbe River Basin conservation, and further protecting the river through a global sustainable development concept.