The Danube: the story of the river flowing through Central Europe



The Danube: mirroring Europe

It is beautiful, it is always blue because Johann Strauss dedicated the most beautiful waltz of all time to it. How many artists, poets, writers has it inspired? The Danube was a dream even while blood was being spilt in it over the centuries. No borders Danube, Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav: all names for a water course which knows no borders. It cuts through eight countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. It irrigates four capital cities: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. It rises oh so modestly in the cradle of German Romanticism at Donaueshingen in the Black Forest and peters out in the east in the Black Sea in the most immense and unspoiled delta in Europe. Sulina, St George and Chilia; three generous arms covered in tropical vegetation, spill gently into an unspoiled natural world, populated by 300 species of bird and 45 species of freshwater fish. Here, where fisherman who came from Russia cast their nets. Here, where life holds its breath just before it reaches the sea. Here, where you take the time to remember that it is a mixture of cultures, civilizations, sensibilities and races. A particular soul. That of the most cosmopolitan and peace-bringing river in the continent.

Europe's shield

The Danube, the link between East and West, a connection between peoples, passes from the flamboyance of the Romantic, Gothic, Baroque and Rococo styles in the first half of its course, to the welcoming beauty of the Asian world. It is a reminder that, for centuries, it was Europe's shield for countries seeking freedom and independence in the face of assaults from the Russians, the Turks and the Slavs. It is the impassable border between North and South, between Christian and Muslim.

Its banks remember Attila, who in the 5th century, founded the capital of the Hun kingdom at the site of Budapest. On the Danube, the Romans left their fortresses which can still be seen today in the beautiful towns on the southern shore: Ulm, Passau, Linz, Vienna, Budapest. The river is the mirror of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire which, in the 13th century, became the powerful Baroque empire of the Hapsburgs until Napoleon I blew it apart in a confederation of 39 states.

A lot of water has flown under the hundred bridges which cross it. But the Danube still had to witness the definitive appeasement of the Balkan region. The European Union is aware that the future of the European continent will be played out in this region often qualified as a "powder keg".
Hungary and Slovakia have just joined, Leaving Romania, Bulgaria and Serb on a waiting list.

A peaceable river

The Danube is between 100-200 m and 2 km wide in its lower section. It flows along peaceably. Not more than 5 km an hour on average. The waters from the Alps, the Carpathians and the Balkan mountains feed it as it meanders between towns, forests, vineyards and fields of cereal crops. Thanks to a flow of 6,850 m3 per second, it can be navigated by the largest of vessels after Ratisbonne. Fifty cruise ships and convoys more than 350 m long transport dozens of tons of merchandise per year, pass each other in this water course which also provides colossal amounts of hydroelectric energy for Austria and Hungary and especially for Serbia and Romania, which share the power station at the "Iron Gate". This channel, which is 80 m wide and 3 m deep over 2,200 m, has been hollowed out of the rocks
referred to as the Iron Gate (the name given to the Djerdap gorge which separates the Balkans from the Transylvanian Alps) to eradicate forever the reefs which, for centuries, had hindered international navigation on the Lower Danube. This gorge has made it possible to link East and West.