The episode ‘Water and Ice’ takes us on an amazing journey from the highest peaks of the Bernese Highlands along the Aar and Rhine rivers to a spectacular finish at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen.
Switzerland is sometimes called ‘Europe’s Water Castle’. After all, a sizeable share of the water Europeans use to quench their thirst, water their fields or wash their cars originates in the rocky bastion of the Swiss Alps.
Europe’s four mightiest rivers – the Rhine, the Rhone, Danube and Po rivers – trace their sources to the Alps. Without the water generated by Swiss glaciers, extensive areas would fall dry. Every year, they supply enough water to fill Lake Constance 5 times over.
The journey begins on the mighty peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains, where frost is a frequent companion even in mid-summer. What looks like a hostile desert of rock, snow and ice, at first sight, reveals a population of specialised survival experts at closer inspection, such as the resilient Alpine Chough, always ready to exploit the breadcrumbs offered by hordes of tourists. The snow grouse, on the other hand, prefers to remain virtually invisible, perfectly camouflaged at any time of year.
The landscape is largely shaped by water and ice: Switzerland’s mighty glaciers depress the bedrock with their sheer weight, while flowing water scours deep chasms several hundred metres deep into the hard rock. The result is a myriad of astonishing landscapes, including the 10 underground Trümmelbach Falls and the scenic Lauterbrunnen Valley – its 72 water cascades already inspired for JRR Tolkien’s description of the realm of the elves in his epic ‘Lord of the Rings’.
As the alpine water masses make their way towards the lowlands, the accompanying fauna and flora become increasingly rich and colourful. It often has to battle against the fall-out of human civilisation, but even shy animals like beavers and new arrivals like cormorants still find quiet refuges in densely populated Switzerland.
The film doesn’t shy away from serious topics and explores these with impressive visuals: given the terrifying speed with which vitally important glaciers recede, climate change is not ignored. To illustrate its impact, we compare the imposing 18th century pictures of mighty glaciers and impressive snow-covered mountains of the Swiss painter Caspar Wolf with the same vistas today. The contrast between their extent then and now should be enough to shock even the most ardent climate change denier.
This is a film that surprises, enthrals and entertains in equal measure while providing plenty of food for thought, illustrated with stunning imagery.