The Ister is a 3000km journey to the heart of Europe, from the mouth of the Danube river at the Black Sea, to its source in the German Black Forest. The film is based on the work of the most influential and controversial philosopher of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, who swore allegiance to the National Socialists in 1933, in particular the 1942 lecture course he delivered, Hölderlins Hymne «Der Ister», concerning a poem, Der Ister, by the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin. By marrying a vast philosophical narrative with an epic voyage up Europe’s greatest waterway, the film invites the viewer to unravel the extraordinary past and future of ‘the West.’
The Ister features extensive interviews with the French philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, as well as with the German film director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. Other interviews are conducted with a bridge engineer (Nemanja Calic), an amateur botanist (Tobias Maier), and a Romanian archaeologist (Alexandru Suceveanu).