The Isar River, located in Munich, Germany, underwent a transformation from being straightened and enclosed to recently undergoing a restoration process.
Walter Binder, the retired Coordinator of Environmental Engineering at the Bavarian Water Resources Department, introduced us to the projects and guided us along the riverbanks.
The initial concepts for the restoration initiative emerged in the 1980s when a concerned citizen advocated for “a revitalized river.” Subsequently, years of extensive community discussions led to the development of the project (1995 to 1999) and its execution (2000 to 2011, exclusively during the winter months).
Mr. Binder elucidated the three primary objectives behind the rejuvenation of the Isar River: flood protection, ecological restoration, and the creation of additional public recreational spaces.
The Isar, originating from the Alps, naturally featured branching and gravel banks that the restoration aimed to reinstate. However, the engineering efforts served as a guide, considering that the current configuration resulted from the river’s own dynamics. The project strived for the most natural solution, adaptable within the constraints of the urban environment. Exemplifying this approach are the bridge columns, ingeniously adorned with stones to harmonize with the natural surroundings, while concrete protection was repurposed into steps for public leisure. Similarly, the design concealed protective walls with textures and vegetation that seamlessly blended with the environment, rendering human intervention nearly imperceptible. The concrete ramps also posed a unique challenge, as their removal would be cost-prohibitive. Consequently, the innovative idea emerged to create rapids with natural stones in the vicinity, complete with a fish passage. Along the river’s course, one gains the impression of a natural waterway, even within the bustling downtown area.
Additionally, Mr. Binder underscored an aspect that had been predetermined long before the project’s inception. A former monarch had set aside these river spaces for both nature and the enjoyment of the public, emphasizing the importance of forward-thinking. “You have to think about the future,” Binder emphasized.