Colouring the Danube's technical history

A new exhibition entitled 'blue: Inventing the River Danube', now at the Technical Museum of Vienna, Austria, looks at how 150 years of technology and design has shaped the Danube River.

Credit: Formanek
Visitors to the temporary exhibit at the Technical Museum of Vienna can sail the waters of the Danube's past glories and marvel at the technology that has reinvented the river.

"Danube, so blue…" sings the world-famous waltz - although the actual river runs closer to green, yellow or brown. Anton Bruszkay, a Viennese court counsellor from the turn of the 20th century, recorded his observations of the river's changing colours daily, rarely finding it blue. This romantic notion of the river has lived on, however, long past the age when the waltz was king.

Sensors at the entrance to the exhibition at the Technical Museum of Vienna, 'blue: Inventing the River Danube', trigger Strauss's famous waltz as visitors enter the space. The music fades away to reveal an exhibition that chronicles the technological reinvention of the Danube from the middle of the 19th century. It documents the massive construction projects that were to shape the 'new Danube' - all told through historical models, plans and blueprints, artefacts and photographs, taken almost entirely from museum archives.

A trip through time and space.
The exhibition begins in Vienna and takes visitors on a journey two thousand kilometres east along the river to the Black Sea, with stops for excursions ashore. "We wanted to use our material to tell different stories at significant places along the river," says Annina Zwettler of the Technical Museum.

In Vienna visitors learn how the river was given a new bed and in Budapest we visit the small island of Óbuda, where, for one and a half centuries, the Danube Steamship Company operated its largest shipyard. The journey continues on to the Iron Gate to find out how this once infamous passage of the river was blasted and dredged to form a modern waterway.


Engineering feats and foibles. The extensive documentation of engineering projects for the river, both successful and unsuccessful, is very revealing. "It is astonishing to see what they were thinking about in the 19th century," says Matthias Böhm, who brought his family to visit the museum."It's amazing what they were able to do then."

The exhibit doesn't shy away from controversial issues. "We have tried to deal with some political questions, regarding the bridge at Novi Sad, as well as questions dealing with the future of the river," says Zwettler. "It is important to leave these topics open for discussion. It isn’t the place of a museum to say what we should do on any particular issue, but to open a dialogue for people to better understand the background and look at the many different sides and to see how they interact."

The exhibit offers plenty of opportunities to interact with the river navigation. Using a game based on the DoRIS system by via donau, visitors can try their hand at piloting a ship along the Danube. Hands-on stations in the exhibit teach knot tying and bridge engineering. The exhibition is open through November 27.

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Kirstie Shepherd
is a freelance journalist living in Vienna
and has called the Danube River Basin home since 2000