Life, work and recreation on the water

Where there’s water, there’s life. Because no matter whether on the Old Danube, the New Danube, the right Danube or the Danube Canal – residents on these shores enjoy a high quality of living.

Four times the Danube – a history

One of the most difficult tasks for a Vienna city guide is to explain the many name variations of the Danube to visitors. There's the “Old Danube”, the “New Danube”, the “real Danube” and finally the “Danube Canal”.

Immortalised in the secret Austrian anthem as blue, the “real” Danube was an unregulated river in the 19th century. Today’s districts to the north of the waterway as well as Leopoldstadt which borders the Danube to the south were constantly plagued by floods of the sprawling river. Already from the year 1810 various ideas were presented to regulate the problem, but it wasn’t until 1850 that Emperor Franz Joseph set up the same body as politicians continue to do today when it comes to quickly taking important decisions: a Commission.

The “Danube Regulation Commission” took a whopping twenty years to complete its deliberations. Only then did workers start on the construction of an enclosed water course with a width of 280 metres. In addition, they created a 450 metre wide outlet for the water, known as the flood or inundation area. A large branch of the Danube remained to the north and was soon to become the “Old Danube”. Today, this is where you can learn to sail, or leisurely admire the city skyline from a rowing boat, or even go to one of the beaches for a swim.

Even despite the expansion of the Danube, floods continued to occur, so a discharge channel was dug in 1972. The excavation created an island between this new arm which was severed by weirs from the river and the Danube. This resulted in the Danube Island. The weirs can be opened at high tide so that the river finds sufficient space in the new channel, on the island and on the old river bed. Since then, Vienna has had no further problems with flooding, even in years of extreme precipitation. The new arm is called the “New Danube” while the flowing retains its original name of the “Danube” – without the slightest mention of “blue”, by the way.

The Danube Island extends over some 21 kilometres. It is a bathing and leisure paradise, the likes of which can scarcely be found in any other Central European city. You could say Vienna has moved a little closer to the sea with the Danube Island.

What still remains is the Danube Canal, to which we turn our main attention here. In the middle ages it was the main branch of the Danube. Later on, the course of the river shifted. Around 1700, the name “Donaukanal” – the “Danube Canal” – was coined for this urban waterway near the city. Today, it branches off from the main river at a lock in Nußdorf and re-connects to its big brother at the Praterspitz.

The Danube Canal – the “gem” of the Ring

Vienna has 23 districts covering an area of around 415 square kilometres. When a local Viennese says “I'm off to the city,” he’s not only referring to its smallest district, meaning the First, which bears the proud title of “Inner City”. This pars pro toto also applies to the Danube Canal. Although it already branches off the River Danube at Nußdorf and flows back into it at the Prater, it is first and foremost the section between the Ringturm and Urania which the Viennese tend to focus on. Furthermore, the Ringstraße owes it to this part of the river course that it can rightly call itself the “Ring”. Only the canal makes an O out of the large extended U and closes the open circle just as an inset gemstone completes a precious ring.

Architecture on the Danube Canal

So let’s hop on a bike and ride westwards from Schwedenplatz. The second-tallest building in the Inner City, the “Ringturm”, stands on the corner of Ringstraße. It was built during the so-called period of occupation. Only the tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral is higher. At the time, the Ninth District, which we are now approaching, belonged to the American sector, and the area on the opposite side of the Danube Canal to the Soviets. The construction of the Ringturm was intended to be a symbol of reconstruction and at the same time express the West's superior ingenuity. It was to be an urban thorn in the side of the Soviets. Today, those capable of deciphering the signals of the column of light which towers twenty metres above the tower can see at a glance how the weather is going to turn out. This display, however, does not really offer any genuine added value in the age of the Internet.

The building which follows immediately after the Ringturm once spread much fear and terror: it is the Rossauerkaserne. The distinctive red brick building was built in response to the 1848 revolution. The inner city formed the Emperor’s centre of power and therefore had to be protected from insurgent citizens. Subsequent uprisings did not occur, but the builders of the barracks reaped scorn and derision for their efforts. The Viennese liked to tell each other that the planners had forgotten to install toilets and that consequently the architect had actually shot himself. A barracks without toilets is much less fearful, they though. After the Second World War, the Rossauerkaserne once again became a place of fear. Candidates for a driver's license had to take their exam there, and more than a few people were angry or sad if they had not received the pink certificate on leaving the red building. Currently, the barracks houses parts of the Defence Ministry and serves as a base for police task forces. As a result, only crooks and criminals have anything to fear when they stand in front of the imposing building today.

The grand houses that can be found in other districts bordering the Inner City are no less impressive along the Danube Canal in the Ninth District. What soon follows is the Roßauerlände station of the U4, the underground line which runs below the route of the Danube Canal. On the riverside, you come across a restaurant that has been around for almost twenty years or so. The “Summer Stage” boasts a beautiful terrace located directly on the riverside as well as a glass pavilion for cooler days which can also be booked for events.

Much of the recent history of Vienna can be gleamed from the fate of the next bridge which follows. Here, a crossing to Brigittenau has existed for about two hundred years. The bridge was rebuilt in 1926 and named the “Friedensbrücke” (“Bridge of Peace”). Unable to do very much with such a pacific designation, the aggressive Nazi regime renamed the bridge “Brigittenauer Brücke” during its war of aggression. Like most bridges that crossed the Danube Canal, it was blown up in the course of the war by the Wehrmacht to impede the advance of the Red Army which was on the outskirts of Vienna and had already taken up some positions in the city itself. After the liberation of Vienna, the Soviets send out a political signal by quickly making the bridge, the middle section of which had remained standing, passable again and by restoring its old name of “Friedensbrücke”. In today’s peaceful times you can follow the course of the canal and gaze at the impressive houses in the Ninth District of Alsergrund from this spot.
More information on graetzlbericht.at

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