A river that is unusual, to say the least, flows through ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In each country, it has a different name and has witnessed over the centuries a different history unfolding. This river is Europe’s second-longest one, after the Volga, and it is the Danube. Its length is an impressive 2.860 km. The Danube was once a long-standing frontier of the Roman Empire. There are various theories as to the origins of the Danube’s name. One links it to the old European German name for river – Donau. Another originates from a mythological source – the Latin Roman river god known as Danubius. Others point to the ancient indigenous Slavonic tribes who called the river Great Water.
The Latin Roman god Danubius
The Danube flows through the countries: Serbia, Germany, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia. The cities it touches are Ingolstadt, Linz, Belgrade, Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest.
Below is the city of Linz in Austria:
The Danube starts in Serbia and after a lengthy journey ends in the Black Sea. The most important economic use of the Danube is the movement of freight. It is a well-known fact that out of all the cities connected with the Danube, Vienna is the most liveable capital city in Europe and in the world. After watching many documentaries about Vienna, I had to agree. It also reminded me of the extraordinary story about the way coffee was first introduced to Europe. It was during the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire led by Suleiman the Magnificent. A Polish man, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, a traveller and an explorer living at the time in Vienna, decided to help King John Sobieski to repel the siege. As he spoke eight languages, including Turkish to perfection, he dressed in Turkish clothes and during the night left Vienna for the Turkish camp. Talking to the men in the camp he was able to find out what was planned. Back in the city, he was able to warn the king and prevent problems during the attack. After the siege was destroyed and the Turks repelled, the King asked him what he would like to have as a reward. To everyone’s surprise, Kulczycki asked for a huge number of bags of brown beans. No one could think what they were for. In a short time, Kulczycki opened a shop/drinking establishment, called The Blue Bottle where he served an aromatic drink – coffee made tastier to European likings by the addition of milk and honey. Everyone, including the King, loved the beverage, and that is how coffee conquered Europe.
The Turkish invader – Suleiman the Magnificent
Vienna gave the world two other gifts. The Austrian composer, Johann Strauss II, composed the waltz ‘By the Beautiful Blue Danube’. In the beginning, it received a lukewarm reception. When in 1867 at the Paris World Fair the waltz was presented in an orchestrated version, it become a worldwide sensation. It became the unofficial Austrian national anthem. And the other gift? Why, the famous patisseries about which I can hardly write without drooling onto my laptop.
What did I tell you? Who would resist the temptation?
This waltz also made the fortunes of a violinist Andre Rieu. For many years he has delighted audiences all over the world with his enchanting version of waltzes, the Blue Danube, and many others. Not quite knowing why he was so popular, one day I had the chance to see his whole concert, and it was a revelation. He and his artists, singers, and dancers perfectly represent sunny, happy Vienna. His message was obvious: be happy, enjoy life, it is the only one you will have. Others have written about him – he is quite simply a musical phenomenon like no other, a true King of Romance, having sold a massive 40 million CDs and DVDs and having had 30 Number Ones.
The Danube bisects the Hungarian capital, Budapest. The two parts of Budapest, Buda and Pest, are connected by the 19th-century Chain Bridge, which connects the hilly Buda district with the flat Pest. The imposing buildings of the Hungarian Parliament framed by the vast expanses of the Danube are the only thing I can mention of Hungary. In contrast to joyous Vienna, Budapest has a tragic history from the time of the Communist regime.
The other thing worth mentioning is Hungary’s world-famous culinary invention – goulash. If you don’t know the taste of goulash – you have not lived! Here is the recipe for Goulash from The Hairy Bikers:
- 1kg good braising steak, preferably chuck steak
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 3 medium onions, cut into 12 wedges
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp hot smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 beef stock cube (Oxo works well here)
- 600ml cold water
- 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 red pepper
- 1 green pepper
- 1 orange pepper
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3½. Trim any hard fat off the beef and cut the meat into rough 4cm chunks. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish. Add the steak and fry over a high heat until nicely browned all over, turning regularly. Tip the onions into the pan and cook with the beef for 5 minutes until softened. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a further minute, stirring regularly.
- Sprinkle both paprikas over the meat and crumble the beef stock cube on top. Add the water, tomatoes, tomato purée and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and transfer the dish to the oven. Cook for 1½ hours.
- While the beef is cooking, remove the core and seeds from each pepper and chuck them away. Cut each pepper into chunks of about 3cm. When the beef has cooked for 1½ hours, carefully remove the dish from the oven. Stir in the peppers, put the lid back on and put the goulash back in the oven for a further hour or until the beef is meltingly tender.
- Serve with small portions of rice and spoonfuls of soured cream if you like, but don’t be too generous – soured cream contains less fat than double cream but still has 30 calories per tablespoon!
After Serbia, the Danube flows through the Black Forest. This is a beautiful part of Germany, Bavaria. The district capital is Munich which was originally a duchy, established in the 6th century, and between 1801-1918 was the Kingdom of Bavaria. Years back, I was passing through Bavaria with my family and I was very impressed. The little towns, colourful and so clean that you might think they were only built yesterday, the noisy pubs full of happy people, the tables groaning with plates of sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes, sublime crusty rolls, and of course the beer. The forests envelop the Danube and the towns; it is a lovely place to visit.
I have a reader in Germany who writes to me often, always commenting very positively about the weekly posts in the blog and reading the latest one first thing on a Saturday morning (when it is published), with a cup of coffee. I thank her.
In the space available here, it isn’t possible to cover all the countries and cities. I have opted for the more interesting few. Below a picture of Belgrade, capital of Serbia, formerly the capital of Yugoslavia.