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Water as the basis of our life accompanies us every day. However, with its seemingly unlimited availability, water remains predominantly unnoticed in our perception today. Through hidden pipes, water tanks, canals and sewage treatment plants, it finds its way into our rivers, which in turn are mainly thought of and used as infrastructure. The climate crisis as a consequence of our way of life has a threatening effect on the existing water cycles and requires fast as well as collective action. However, due to the invisibility of precious freshwater, there is a contradiction between the value of this resource and the collective awareness of it.

Resource water

• irreplaceable resource for life
• globally usable freshwater 1%

Water is an irreplaceable resource for life on planet Earth and therefore the most valuable for humans. Only one percent of the water on the blue planet is available as usable freshwater for us, most of it is found in the earth's soil. Another portion of fresh water is carried by rivers.1


• 27 locks make the Neckar navigable
• ships have a max. length of 105 m
• river expansion should enable navigation by ships up to 135 m

As early as the 7th century, merchant shipping was operated on the Neckar. For centuries, it was the economic lifeline of the region. Goods were transported by rafts, later by towboats, until the railroad was established.19 To counter this, Neckar AG was founded in 1921 with the business purpose of expanding the Neckar from Mannheim to Plochingen. The stretch is more than 203 kilometers long in total and has a drop of 160 meters. Through 27 locks, the route is navigable to this day. The port of Stuttgart was inaugurated in 1958. At the same time, settlements grew explosively in the region and global companies founded here created today's prosperity as well as the city's image.20 While global trade is increasing, shipping, once a driving development factor, is stagnating. The increasing freight traffic is reflected by trucks on our highways - free way on the river.21 Today, the Neckar can be navigated by ships up to 105 meters in length. In order to reconnect with global trade, the locks of the Neckar are to be expanded in the coming years to allow for the navigation of 135-meter ships.22 The ship as an energy-efficient means of transport has the potential, along with rail transport, to become a more sustainable mode of mobility for long distances.23

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River Neckar

• Neckar valley: one of the oldest settlement areas
• total length: 367 km
• source in the Black Forest, estuary in the Rhine

Because of the drinking water available there, people have always settled along rivers.2 This is also the case in the Stuttgart region - the Neckar valley is one of the oldest settlement areas in Central Europe. People were already living here more than 6000 years ago. The Neckar provided drinking water, irrigation for agriculture, and early industrial development in the region through the use of water power and rafting as a means of transporting goods.3 Today, our drinking water comes primarily from Lake Constance. The 367 km long river flows right through Baden-Württemberg - from Donaueschingen in the Black Forest, its source via Stuttgart to Mannheim, where it flows into the Rhine.4


• Numerous actors on, around and in the river
• Neckar as a waterway is owned by the federal government
• the city of Stuttgart has only a few areas at its disposal

Ownership, responsibilities and use around the Neckar have developed historically and shape the river's image today. As a federal waterway, it belongs to the federal government along with the riverbanks and is operated by the Waterways and Shipping Administration. The surrounding federal roads have been cleverly routed topographically and logistically to the riverbanks and are also subject to the federal government.10 Deutsche Bahn also crosses the Neckar and thus has ownership and rights to and over the river.11 In Stuttgart, the centrally located Wasen area, the Schleyerhalle and the Porsche Arena belong to in.Stuttgart Veranstaltungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG: a company founded by the city in 2005 that combines all of the city's major events and event spaces in one company.12 The Port of Stuttgart is also owned by an associated company of the state capital of Stuttgart, Hafen Stuttgart GmbH.13 EnBW, a listed energy supply company, is one of the largest private players on the Neckar. Its land along the river has been used for fossil fuel energy supply. With the Energiewende, these areas are being freed up and converted into residential neighborhoods by the stock corporation itself.14 In addition, EnBW also owns the water rights of the Neckar until 2034 for electricity generation by the hydroelectric power plants.15 Mercedes Benz also owns a large part of the Neckar riverbank and the test track between the Wasen and the harbor. This was granted to the automotive group by the city of Stuttgart via a ground lease. The current contract expires in 2030.16 The areas that the city can directly dispose of are few, and here, too, many actors are involved. The Stuttgart City Council and the adjacent committees at the district level have political decision-making authority. A wide variety of offices are responsible for planning, execution and management. The city planning office develops plans and commissions planning offices for implementation. The Office for Environmental Protection and the Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments have a say in overseeing nature and water conservation and the preservation of the Neckar as a cultural monument. The management, i.e. the house rights, usually lies with the Civil Engineering Office or the Garden, Green and Forestry Office. The Neckar also serves drainage purposes. The Eigenbetrieb Stadtentwässerung Stuttgart, affiliated with the Tiefbauamt, is thus another player on the river. The water quality and the protection of the mineral springs are monitored and organized by the Regional Council of Stuttgart and the State Health Authority.17 Between the city and the state, the Verband Region Stuttgart is another politically active actor that, among other things, promotes regional renaturation and upgrading projects.18 In addition to these large or institutional actors, a large number of small businesses, restaurateurs, and civil society organizations such as associations and initiatives also shape, design, and use the Neckar and its banks.


• through power generation, the Neckar received financial value
• Hydropower plants on the Neckar in need of rehabilitation
• Neckar provides only small share of state's energy supply

Since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the world's population has grown steadily, and with it its energy needs.24 To meet this demand, the Neckar River was converted to hydroelectric power generation starting in the 20th century.25 The hydroelectric plants and weirs, together with the locks of the major shipping route, became emblematic of technical and seemingly sustainable innovation at the time. This is because these enormous structural and engineering interventions altered the river and its natural capabilities.26 Habitat for millions of creatures slowly disappeared and the river's self-purifying potential was greatly minimized.27 By converting the water to electricity, the river was given a new, financial value. The weirs divide the Neckar into giant bathtubs, damming it up and maximizing the flow of the turbines.28 Almost a century after the innovation, all weir and hydropower facilities on the river no longer comply with the applicable European framework directives (WFD) and require extensive rehabilitation.29 Despite the complete conversion of the Neckar to electricity, it still provides only a relatively small share of the state's energy supply.30 The ground leases of all weir and power plant facilities on the Neckar, which expire in 2034, therefore open up new spaces of opportunity for the river.31



• early interventions in the river bed
• Settlement of large-scale industry as the cornerstone of today's prosperity
• more infrastructure than living space

Originally, the Neckar was known as a wild river, which is where its name comes from. Its natural course changed again and again over the decades. To protect against floods and create better conditions, people intervened in the riverbed early on: Sections were straightened, the river was diverted and weirs were built.5 The development into a major shipping route boosted the transport of goods and trade.6 Large-scale industry became established and laid the foundation for today's prosperity in the region. To this day, industry uses the Neckar's water as cooling water for power plants and for the delivery and removal of goods.7 The Neckar also serves as a receiving watercourse. Treated wastewater from a catchment area inhabited by around 11 million people is discharged into it.8 Man has built over and straightened the Neckar to such an extent that it is now more infrastructure than natural habitat. As a man-made structure, the Neckar Canal in its entirety has been designated a cultural monument.9

Radical positive visions of the future

• sustainable development linked with bathing in the river
• Canoes and stand-up paddles allowed on Neckar river

We have made the Neckar what it is today. That's why we can also rethink and redesign it - as a recreational and meeting place with renaturalized areas for all creatures and stairs that reach down to the water. We can retrofit our weirs and increase permeability for fish and other river wildlife. We can talk about the future of navigation and ships powered by renewable electricity that can transport our goods in a carbon-neutral way. We can upgrade our wastewater treatment plants and treat stormwater separately from wastewater. We can upgrade our wastewater treatment plants and think of our cities as sponges. We can use the water stored there to irrigate cooling trees in the increasingly hot and dry summers. To kick off these transformation processes, we need an active river culture. With an early warning system for water quality and a broad understanding of the dangers of the river, it will soon be possible to swim in the Neckar without infrastructural measures. Experiencing the river is already allowed and safe with canoes and stand-up paddles. Those who prefer to observe from the land will find many small areas along the Neckar that are already small oases today.


• natural capabilities of the Neckar River disturbed by anthropocene uses
• River ecosystem at risk
• Only 7.4 % of German rivers in good ecological condition

The river as an ecosystem provides a variety of natural services that are essential for humans and for all flora and fauna. Starting with the basic services of soil formation, nutrient cycling, primary production of oxygen, and habitat for plants and animals, the river contributes greatly to our natural cycles. At the same time, these processes largely determine water quality.32 Without human intervention in the natural course of the river, flowing waters have a regulating effect on floods, pollutants and greenhouse gases, and thus have a positive influence on the urban climate and the level of groundwater.33 However, the Neckar as an anthropocene instrument for society, industry and the energy sector has only a fraction of its natural capabilities left. Dammed up, burdened by pollution and rising temperatures, the river is deprived of its self-purifying power.34 Lack of treatment stages overloads the water body with trace substances from, for example, medicines.35 Industrial use of river water, such as for cooling power plants, alters the oxygen content. This increases the average temperature in the river and thus its evaporation rate. Infrastructural interventions for energy generation or making the river navigable cause habitats for fish and other creatures on the river to disappear for an indefinite period of time.36 By direct or indirect means, so many individual factors change the ecosystem and endanger it. According to the Federal Environment Agency, the Neckar is not an isolated case. Today, only 7.4% of German rivers are in good ecological condition.37


Anthropocene - Age in which humans have become one of the most important factors influencing biological, geological and atmospheric processes on Earth.
Biodiversity - biological diversity
Rafting - transportation on the river by means of a raft or logs floating directly in the water.
Habitat - specific habitat
Interdisciplinary Water Laboratory - Knowledge and Water Laboratory of the Neckar Island
Combined sewer system - rainwater and wastewater is discharged through the same sewers
Middle pier - artificial fill in the water fixed by concrete structure
Sheet piling - A shoring system used to secure excavation pits or terrain slopes that performs a sealing function.
Receiving Waters - A receiving water body is a surface water body into which stormwater and/or wastewater may be discharged.

1 ARTE: Unser Wasser
2 Bundesamt für Naturschutz: Ökosystemleistungen von Auen und Fließgewässern
3 Netflix, Explained: World’s Water Crisis
4 Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrtverwaltung des Bundes: Von Fischen und Frachtern
5 Ministerium für Umwelt, Klima und Energiewirtschaft Baden-Württemberg: WRRL Bewirtschaftungsplan BG Neckar
6 Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung
7 Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsamt Neckar: 110523_Endfassung_Kompendium_ Bundeswasserstraße Neckar.pdf
8 Interview Dr. Birgit Schlichtig (Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart) am 13.04.2021
9 Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart: Beantwortung Anfrage der CDU
10 Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (LAD): Unser Neckar
11 Interview Walter Braun (Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrtverwaltung des Bundes) am 17.05.2021
12 Deutsche Bahn, aus:
13 Stuttgart Veranstaltungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG
14 Hafen Stuttgart GmbH
15 Interview Julia Hampe (EnBW) , 07.06.2021 16 Interview Peter Geiz (Landschaftsarchitekt), 25.03.2021
17 Interview Cornelia Lutz und Wolfgang Maier (Stadtplanungsamt), 18.05.2021
18 Interview Dr. Birgit Schlichtig (Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart), 13.04.2021
19 Interview Dr. Christine Baumgärtner (Verband Region Stuttgart), 06.05.2021
20 SWR: Industrie Landschaft von Geschichte & Entdeckungen, Der Neckar - Ein Fluss und seine Geschichte, 2017
21 Stadt Stuttgart: Erlebnisraum Neckar - Ein Masterplan für Stuttgart als Stadt am Fluss, 2017, S.63-64 22 Sekretariat der Zentralkommission für die Rheinschifffahrt (ZKR): Jahresbericht 2020 europäischen Binnenschifffahrt Marktbeobachtung, 2020
22 Interview Walter Braun (Leiter des WSA Neckar), 20.05.2021
23 CE Delft (2016): STEAM Freight Transport 2016, Emissionen nach Wellto- Wheel-Ansatz
24 Our World in Data: energy-mix
25 Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsamt Neckar: 110523_Endfassung_Kompendium_ Bundeswasserstraße Neckar.pdf
26 Neckar
27 Öko-Dilema am Neckar
28 Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsamt Neckar: 110523_Endfassung_Kompendium_ Bundeswasserstraße Neckar.pdf
29 Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit, Wasserrahmenrichtlinie (WRRL)
30 Statistisches Landesamt Baden-Württemberg: Energiebericht kompakt 2021 31 Interview Cornelia Lutz und Wolfgang Maier (Stadtplanungsamt), 18.05.2021
32 Bundesamt für Naturschutz: Ökosystemleistungen Auen
33 Prominski, M. (ed.) (2012) Fluss - Raum - Entwerfen: Planungsstrategien für urbane Fließgewässer. Basel: Birkhäuser. S.21ff
34 European River Network
35 Umweltbundesamt
36 Bundesamt für Naturschutz
37 Tagesschau 38 ARD: planet-wissen
39 Wikipedia: Badekultur
40 Stuttgarter-Nachrichten: Baden früher
41 Neckar Aktionstag
42 Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart: Beantwortung Anfrage der CDU, 31.05.2021
43 Internationaler Schutz für den Rhein
44 Petition für Schwimmbäder
45 Immer weniger Deutsche können schwimmen
46 Stadt Stuttgart: Gelbe Karte, 2021