When visiting Vienna, a stroll along the shores of the Danube river is a must. The 2850 km long stream is in fact not only famous for being the second longest European river after the Volga, but also for playing an important role within the urban landscape and social life in Vienna.
It is indeed a surprise to any visitor of the Austrian capital, that the answer to the question »Excuse me, where can I find the Danube river?« is most of the times »Which one?«.
Let’s take a step back
Yes, you understood well, there is not only one Danube river flowing through Vienna, but a total of 4 streams, which all proudly bear the name Donau. Before we get to the names of the Viennese streams, let us go back all the way to the origins of the Danube and find out where the mighty watercourse comes from.
The river is born within the limits of the Black Forest in southwest Germany, where two streams called Brigach and Breg meet. Brigach and Breg take their names from two beautiful spring nymphs, each with a character and attitude of her own. While Brigach was always known to be gentle and easy-going, Breg was definitely the most turbulent and confident of the two. Legends say that the two water nymphs met one day while crossing the same path directed East. As they genuinely liked each other at first, Brigach and Breg decided to flow together and share a part of their journey. It was just a matter of time, until people started referring to them as »Danube«, which surely made the nymphs laugh, but did not bother them at all.
As peaceful as the journey was, the differences between Brigach and Breg came to light very soon, making both unhappy with sharing their way. After a dispute between the two, the spirit of the mountain decided to put an end to their suffering and quietly divided the nymphs’ water streams. Breg was now a free wanderer, as she always desired. In the meantime, the mountain spirit helped Brigach recover from the dispute and fell madly in love with her. As much as she loved him back, she could not leave her water stream be, as it was her responsibility for the stream to reach its destination. And so, the two came up with an idea.
Brigach reached Lake Constance, where she met the river Rhine and convinced him to take care of her water stream. Rhein agreed and took off direction North, where he eventually crossed with Breg and gave her some of Brigach’s water back. And so it happened that Breg continued her path undisturbed, carrying water streams and meeting other spring nymphs all the way up to the Black Sea.
On its path between the Black Forest and the Black Sea, the Danube always played an important role in history, not only for transporting people and goods, but also as the geographical and political border of the Roman Empire. Within Vienna, the Danube was unfortunately quite a big problem for quite a long time, as the water stream would suddenly change path and destroy inhabited areas as well as crops.
By the 19th century, the North-East districts of Vienna (2,20,21,22) were a floodplain area, which would regularly be flooded every time the Danube stepped out the riverbanks. Exhausted by the instability and the danger brought about by the river, the administration of Emperor Francis Joseph I decided to go ahead and regulate the river in the 1870s. A main bed for the river was excavated, while a side stream called Danube Canal was left running through the city. A third arm called Old Danube was separated and laid still, in order to keep an emergency riverbed available in case of floods.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the creation of the 3 Danube streams helped with but not solved the problem of floods completely. It was only in 1972 that a new flood-control system was developed, and the Danube was regulated again. During the second Danube regulation, the inundation area separating the Danube and the Old Danube was excavated and a 210m wide new channel was created. This stream, called the New Danube, is divided from the main Danube stream by an artificial island made from excavated material.
So which Danube should we go to?
If you made it so far, congratulations, though you may be quite confused. Let me sum up then!
When in Vienna, you will encounter streams that go by the names of Danube, Old Danube, New Danube and Danube Canal. Despite they all somewhat share the same springs, they have different functions and are used for different purposes by us Viennese. Should you want to have a nice walk in the sunshine while enjoying street art and a drink, you may want to go to the Danube Canal. Should you rather go for a swim, the Old Danube is famous for its beaches, bars, and sailing clubs, while the New Danube offers a nice swim in a wider stream with less entertainment. How about the main big Danube? The main stream of the river is still used for cruises and transport, and as romantic as it may look, one should definitely not swim in its deep and strong current.
Oh, and before I forget: no, my dear readers, the Danube is not blue, but nobody needs to know this.
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