You think you know the Danube River, but do you really? When I arrived in Germany I knew the facts about the Danube, it’s the second longest river in Europe at 1,780 miles. It travels through 10 countries in Europe. And it’s unique for the simple reason that is flows into not one, but two seas: the North Sea and the Black Sea. However there were plenty of other surprising facts and viewpoints I encountered on my trip along the Young Danube River.
It all starts at a spring, next to a royal castle in Donaueshigen. This spring is so important that it’s practically regarded as holy. A circular cement balustrade was the center of attention in the beautifully landscaped park highlighting the beginning of the Danube. The balustrade circled the Danube spring so that people could walk down the stairs and see it up close. I stared at the water, it was pure and clear, I saw glimmering coins in the bottom next to green plants. I looked closely, squinted my eyes, and honed in on the little bubbles coming up to the surface; the Danube was trickling upwards, yes upwards.
As the spring waters flow underground, it meets up with two headwater streams, the Brigach and Breg, just east of Donaueshingen. There, they’ve built a small temple to mark the ‘birth’ of the Young Danube River. This is known as the source of the Danube and it’s just the beginning of this fascinating river.
The surprises continue a bit further downstream near Immendingen where the Danube puts on the greatest show around…a disappearing act.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
I walked with Ranger Samantha and local expert Anita into the Upper Danube Nature Park, past the campground, and along the marked path. They told me that just last week the whole Danube riverbed was dry. It was hard to believe as I stopped and looked at the river flowing in front of me. It left me to ponder, where does all of this water go in a week? As we kept walking down the path, the water level became less and less and what seemed to start as a river, looked more like a little trickling stream.
As Ranger Samantha explained to me about the limestone that the Danube water sinks through, she suddenly told me to stop. She pointed at a little swirling eddy of water and told me to listen. I crouched down next to the water and it sounded a bit like a drain in a bathtub sucking the water in – shlurrrrpppp. This is the disappearing act of the Danube – it sinks into the limestone and travels underground through limestone caverns for nearly 7.5 miles and then reappears. You can hear Samantha’s explanation as we stand on the nearly dry riverbed/sinkhole:
As we continue hiking along the path we talk about this beautiful, and relatively little known area of Germany known as Donaubergland. Donaugberland is the mountainous area between the source of the Danube, the Danube Sinkhole, and the Swabian Grand Canyon, where the young Danube carves its way through a steep gorge. A man passes us on the trail with a stand up paddle board. I looked in surprise wondering where he’s going to find enough water to do that! The riverbed here in the Danube Nature Park is dry approximately 155 days of the year. As I stood there on the rocks with just little streams of water passing beneath my sandals, I thought about how this is the same body of water that large cruise ships and barges travel down throughout Europe.
Visit the Danube Sinkhole
To see this for yourself, Park at the camping area of Nina’s Ess Art and follow the path past the camping area. The path goes along the Danube where sometimes you’ll see water, and sometimes you won’t.
My next surprise was nearby – it was less scientific, and more jaw dropping as we entered the ‘Swabian Grand Canyon’ in Donaubergland. We wind our way up a mountain road full of hairpin turns, to a lookout point. I was stunned when I looked down 500 feet into the canyon and viewed the Young Danube from above; an entirely different angle to view this surprising river.
I had never seen the Danube River like this; a twisting, turning river running poetically through the limestone canyon. A big smile forms across my face as I know that this is the Danube few tourists see. Not only did the Danube intrigue me with its scientific surprises, but it also grabbed me with its little known beauty in this region where the river begins its journey.
I was a guest of Germany Tourism during my time along the Young Danube River, however all opinions expressed here are my own.