Swimming in the Rhine is not permitted. There are notices on the banks. Verboten.
In fairness, this is not a case of health and safety gone mad, nor is it pointless regulation. The fact is, at this point of the river, the current is dangerously fast-flowing, plus it also provides the effective border between Germany and Switzerland, and so to swim between one bank and the other contravenes all established customs controls. Not that a little thing like that is stopping one person.
When I first noticed the woman beginning to strip off her clothes, I thought that she was simply planning to sunbathe; when she dipped her toe into the water, I thought she was merely cooling off; by the time she was nothing more than a tiny bobbing head mid-river, I realised that she was serious in her attempt to country-hop.
She swam strongly––far more strongly than ever I would have managed––but still the current managed to drag her many degrees away from the perpendicular. I watched with horrified and helpless fascination, until she finally hauled herself out on the opposite bank, many hundreds of metres distant. I began to raise a nascent cheer to her successful bid for freedom, until I saw that she was back in the water again, preparing to swim back.
Inspired––or perhaps annoyed––by the stranger’s easy disregard of both the warning signs and the elements, I vowed to swim in the Rhine myself. However, I was sufficiently realistic regarding the limitations of my own swimming proficiency to recognise that to pit myself against the unfettered river would be nothing short of suicidal folly. Thankfully, there was a solution at hand.
The Rhybadi at Schaffhausen is an open-air swimming pool located within a cordoned-off section of the Rhine. It allows anyone the chance to swim in the Rhine’s waters, even to experience the Rhine’s formidable current, whilst remaining Swiss-safe and on the right side of the law. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of somewhere private to change and to leave your clothes; a pleasant wooden boardwalk upon which to spread your sunbathing towel; and several options for substantial pre- and post-swim meals from the frühstücks– and mittagsmenü.
The water is cool, but perfectly bearable. The current: that is something else. Swim one way as hard as I can and I make no headway whatsoever; swim the other way and I feel like I could beat Michael Phelps, hands-down; I am jet-propelled.
I pause, treading water; cling to one of the broad, wooden upright beams, which segregate me from the river itself. The Rhine is a beautiful green colour here; it looks idyllic; seductive. I am not deceived, though. It is a treacherous beauty, which would destroy me without either reprisal or remorse.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer E. C. Glendenny acknowledges her limitations in the Rhine.
Discover where else E. C. Glendenny has enjoyed wild swimming.