In 1815, the Congress of Vienna placed the Rhine under an "international regime" and, seeking to promote free trade among the nations along its banks, established the Rhine Commission to manage it. From an economic standpoint, the scheme worked, but from an ecological perspective, the same engineering feats that made the river profitably navigable also sapped its natural dynamism, making it "Europe's romantic sewer." As demonstrated by historian Cioc (Pax Atomica: The Nuclear Defense Debate in West Germany during the Adenauer Era), the defilement of the Rhine is a case study in the tragedy of unintended consequences. But it is also a fascinating story because the river today is the product of the complex interplay among all of the major forces that shaped modern European history-industry, technology, economy, politics, and, finally, ecology.
From University of Washington Press