Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The River of Many Names: A Musical Journey

That old and faded picture of one of the most unusual boats I've ever seen was taken about 10 kilometers downstream from the Danube town of Passau, on the border of Germany and Austria.

I would have liked to have spoken with the crew, but they cast off shortly after I took the picture. The name of the boat was "Stadt Wien" (city of Vienna) and my guess is that they had started in Ulm, a German town about 200 miles upstream.

This unusual watercraft, I found out years later, was an Ulmer Schachtel, (Ulm Box) a boat used to transport people and goods downstream from Ulm to Vienna and even as far as the Balkans. They had no motors and could only go with the current; they were steered with rudders and paddles and when the boats reached their destination, they were taken apart and the wood re-used.

My husband and I found this very beautiful campground on the way to Vienna and had pitched our tent here for several days. The owner, not having met Americans before, was thrilled to talk with us, and absolutely delighted that we spoke German. He gave us a site with the most magnificent view of the river.

The Danube has been in the news lately with the recent environmental disaster in Hungary, since the toxic red sludge flood (by-products of aluminum production) occurred in a village on one of its tributaries. Between the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and now this, our environment is under assault (again). What's really tragic is that these events were man-made, and possibly could have been prevented.

I've said my piece and it's time to get off the soap box. Today's post is a musical journey down the River of Many Names, which are: Danube, Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, and Dun─ârea.

The Danube starts in southern Germany and flows through some interesting territory (including the Balkan countries of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania), and there is music all along its banks.

This pop-folk song from Germany celebrates the city of Passau, which I visited many years ago. The architecture is magnificent, and some of the buildings date from the Middle Ages. Passau is at the conjunction of three rivers, Danube, Inn, and Ilz, and it is here that ships can travel all the way to the Black Sea.

The next video is of the Eva Quartet from Bulgaria singing a folk song. They are on a boat passing through Vienna, the Donauturm TV tower is in the background. I went up to the top of the tower, and on a clear day, you can see Slovakia, Hungary, and looking south, the foothills of the Alps.

This was taken during the Danube Music Festival, back in 2007, which was the brainchild of Bulgarian film maker Zlatina Rousseva. For more about it, click on the link below.

Now, these guys are really having fun and making music on a beautiful spring day. So they decide to take a boat on the river and sing a folk song (in English translation the title is "Danube, My Sea.") My guess is that they are somewhere in Serbia or Croatia, where it is quite wide.

This quote from Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows sums it up: "There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Let's hope the recent disaster in Hungary doesn't destroy the River of Many Names. (so far it hasn't although it has destroyed part of the Hungarian countryside, caused the death of 8 people, and killed a tributary stream, which is certainly bad enough, although a Hungarian friend told me things could have been worse).

Here is the link to part 2: The River of Many Names in Bulgarian folk music: Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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