What are your dream surfing destinations? Ask this question to any surfer anywhere in the world and, along with familiar names like Hawaii, Malibu, or Bondi Beach, his wish list will probably also include Munich. Now a decades-old feature of the English Garden, the “stationary wave” of the Eisbach attracts visitors as one of the world’s most famous surfing spots. This is where members of the international surfing scene come to meet all year, whatever the weather. Even if you’re not a member of this group, you can look up from Prinzregentenstraße avenue and marvel at these artists practicing their sport as they balance like skilled dancers atop the Eisbach wave.
This pastime existed only a few years in Munich before it was banned. But in 2010 the ban was officially lifted following a land exchange between the state capital of Munich and the Free State of Bavaria. This coincided with the film release of the multiple award-winning German documentary Keep Surfing, dedicated to the phenomenon of city surfing in Munich.
Have Fun and Get Swept Away—Literally!
The untamable force contained in the Eisbach River is reflected in its name, and while the waters are indeed cold, the German word “Eis” is not used in the sense of frozen water. Along with the Isar, Isen, and Eisack Rivers, the Eisbach takes its name from the Indo-germanic root eis, meaning “fast flowing.” And the narrow, yet torrential, distributary of the Isar certainly lives up to this attribute. Because of this, it’s a good idea for surfers to know what they’re doing before they take the plunge and enter the water—this is not for the novice surfer. Or maybe you just want to take a dip and escape the heat of the summer sun. But be careful, as you’ll have to be an excellent swimmer!
Swimming in the Eisbach
Unlike surfing, swimming in the Eisbach is still banned, but the famous Bavarian live-and-let-live attitude remains true. If you jump or climb into the water (an almost daily occurrence in the English Garden in summer), you need not fear a fine. You can climb into the river 50 meters behind the surfing wave, and then simply let yourself be carried by the current. Running parallel to the main bed of the Isar river, the current carries you two kilometers, taking you through the eastern part of the park and under two bridges until the Eisbach rejoins the river some 500 meters beneath John F. Kennedy Bridge. This is where things can turn dangerous, however, so make sure you exit the stream at the second ladder at the very latest. If you want to make doubly sure, it’s best to ask somebody who has already successfully completed the adventure for tips. You are also advised to follow the route by foot beforehand so that you have a good idea of what to expect. And, if the water is too cold, you can always wear a wetsuit.
There is, of course, a more relaxed way of enjoying the Eisbach, and it’s the preferred option for the vast majority of Munich inhabitants. Find a good spot on the green grass, bask in the warmth of the summer sun, and watch others drift past, shivering in the cold water. After all, that’s what the English Garden is all about.