Was it Really Illegal to Swim in Germany as Shown in 1883?

Image Credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+

‘1883’ is a story set during the American Westward Expansion of the 19th century. It follows a group of German immigrants traveling across the Great Plains and hoping to settle down in Oregon. The group is guided by Shea Brennan and other cowboys who help the inexperienced travelers survive the hardships of life in the American West.

The series blends various real-world elements into its fictional narrative to a great effect. However, viewers are still puzzled by some aspects of the show, and one of them is the immigrants’ inability to swim. The show hints that swimming was banned in Germany. Is that really the case? Let’s find out! SPOILERS AHEAD!

What Happens to Immigrants in 1883?

In the fourth episode of ‘1883,’ titled the ‘Crossing,’ the caravan arrives at a river and sets up camp on its banks. To progress in their journey, the group must cross the river. However, the rise in the water level and strong current make the crossing difficult. The challenge becomes more daunting when Shea learns that the immigrants cannot swim.

Josef, the leader of the immigrants, states the group is incapable of swimming as the activity was banned in their native country. He also mentions that the bodies of those who drowned are whipped before they can be buried. Josef’s words indicate stringent anti-swimming laws were in place in the immigrants’ native country.

Was it Really Illegal to Swim in Germany?

The statements made in ‘1883’ have left some viewers baffled. The immigrants are from Germany, and viewers have grown curious to discover whether the country had banned swimming. According to our research, the Germanic people (living in Central Europe and Scandinavia) had swimming skills for centuries until they adopted the Romanian bathing customs. By the 16th century, the number of deaths by drowning in Germany had increased. As a countermeasure, a total ban was placed on swimming in the town of Ingolstadt on the Danube. The dead bodies of the drowned were punished by whipping before they were buried. Therefore, it seems like the show’s take on swimming in Germany has some merit, after all.

Image Credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+

However, it is important to note that the swimming ban was mainly in Ingolstadt. We did not find sufficient evidence that confirms swimming was banned all over Germany. While some of the immigrants in the series may be from Ingolstadt, the ban was placed in the 16th century. On the other hand, the show takes place in the late 19th century. Therefore, the timeline also does not add up. For a few decades, swimming was generally frowned upon in Germany, but saying that it was outlawed might be a stretch.

Furthermore, German educator and teacher Guts Muth included lessons on swimming in his books published in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the perception of swimming among Europeans had changed, and it was quickly becoming a sport. Some form of a governing body for the sport reportedly existed in the country since 1882. Therefore, it is hard to argue that there was a nationwide ban on swimming in Germany in the late 19th century. In conclusion, while the show’s statements have some semblance to reality, they are best taken with a grain of salt.

Read More: Does Elsa Dutton Die in 1883?