Flowing through nine European countries, the Danube River is full of history along its 2,860-mile course. The oldest capital city on the Danube is Vienna, where the rivers enters the Pannonian Plain, splitting briefly into branches and collecting tributaries along the way. To reduce impact from flooding and improve navigation for boats, the main course of the Danube was straightened as it flows through Vienna, while its old natural course kept its winding route with a concrete bulkhead as the Donaukanal. A tributary of this “canal” is a river that shares the city’s name.
It isn’t clear whether the ancient city received its name from the river or vice versa. Vienna’s founding predates the Roman Empire. Since 1899, the Vienna River has been confined to a concrete channel within the borders of the city, and in the section between Naschmarkt and Stadtpark, it runs through a tunnel.
Where it flows
In the 1929 Baedeker’s city map above, we see the Wienfluss (also spelled as Wienfluß prior to the 1996 spelling reform) running through the city’s south side, past the Shönbrunn Palace and around the old city section of Innere Stadt. The highlighted section was forced underground between 1895 and 1899, a project that intended to cover the entire urban section of the river had it not been for budgetary constraints. The Wienzelle and Lothringerstrasse roads run atop the buried section of the stream. The black line following the river is the City railway, which is today’s green subway line.
Into the Darkness
Flowing down from the Alps to the east of the city, the Wienfluss was calm except when it flooded, causing embarrassing damage to the basement of the royal palace and the city further downstream. Plans to tame this river go back to 1791, subsequently put on hold because of the Napoleonic wars. As Vienna became more developed, the river became an open sewer and a source of cholera outbreaks in the 19th century city. In the photo above, an arched tunnel is covering up the already canalized riverbed.
The river reemerges at Stadtpark (City Park), where an elaborate Art Nouveau-style portal was designed by Friedrich Ohmann and Josef Hackhofer. The park section of the river is lined with a promenade. Like the Bastejkalns park in Riga, Stadtpark occupies the site of medieval defensive walls torn down in the 19th century to make way for a public park. Above is a 1914 postcard of the Wienfluss portal. Within four years, Vienna will lose its status as an imperial capital with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Beyond the park, the river flows past a set of beaux arts government offices built in the years preceding the First World War.
In this district, the Zollamsteg pedestrian bridge crosses the river with the subway passing beneath it just above the water’s surface. Passengers on this train briefly see the river before returning to the darkness of the train tunnel on either side of the river. The Zollamsteg appeared in the 1995 film Before Sunrise. Within 500 feet of this photogenic bridge, the Wienfluss meets the Donaukanal. The ultimate destination of this water is the Black Sea.
A more accessible Wienfluss?
Seeing how low the water level is on the Wienfluss for most of the year, some city residents have proposed opening the riverbed to the public as a running and bike path, with a linear park connecting neighborhoods along its route. The flooding threat has so far prevented this vision from being realized. In the meantime, a number of smaller parks along the shoreline have been completed, such as the pocket park above in the Margareten neighborhood.
On the city’s outskirts, the Wienfluss Radweg bike path opened in 2010, following the river for 3.5 kilometers. Between the imperial embankments, contemporary graffiti murals, bike path, and terraces, the river exemplifies the various architectural and artistic periods of Vienna’s history.
Out of Town in Review
Since launching the companion blog to my book, I’ve documented 28 examples of hidden urban streams outside of New York City. Here’s a look back at some of them, based on country. There will be many more to come, enough to write a book and network with like-minded researchers around the world.
- City Creek, Salt Lake City
- Bassett Creek, Minneapolis
- Frankford Creek, Philadelphia
- Conner Creek, Detroit
- Gayoso Bayou, Memphis
- Shockoe Creek, Richmond, VA
- Washington Park Lake, Albany, NY
- Tiber Creek, Washington, DC
- Jones Falls, Baltimore
- Fort Point Channel, Boston
Great Britain (England):
In the News:
Queens Chronicle reports on the construction of a storm water outfall at MacNeil Park in College Point.
Daily Mail in Britain reports on Giethoorn, a village in the Netherlands with no roads, only canals and pedestrian bridges.