Old Danube

Swimming in front of the skyline of Vienna

Boats at the dock

The beautiful Old Danube (Alte Donau)! Any way you look at it, the Danube is old – and you can convince yourself of its beauty, at best on its old river arm, as it is here that the river is at its most Viennese. This is where people sail, ride pedal-boats, row and canoe, all of it in the open, in front of the impressive skyline of the relatively new suburb Donaucity, and the international flair of the Vienna International Center in which the United Nations has its permanent seat.

“Gänsehäufel, what a rarity. Not in Berlin, not in Paris, not in London, no! Only Vienna has the Gänsehäufel!” The chorus of the first song of the farce “On the Gänsehäufel” by F. Antony (around 1908).

Up until the 18th century the Danube was a river with numerous branches and tributaries. What we now know as the Old Danube was in those days the youngest, and after the flood catastrophes of the 18th century became its main arm, before being summarily degraded to an oxbow lake as part of the regulation of the Danube. Nevertheless the residents of Vienna remained loyal to the old beauty and made its calm waters into a popular and versatile recreation area. With a water area of about 1.6 square kilometers and an average depth of 2.5 meters it’s perfectly suited to this – you can enjoy nature while still being in the city.

If you’re not into boating you can enjoy swimming in the calm waters, at best at one of the several public baths. One of these enjoys a legendary reputation: the Gänsehäufel.

 Motorboat in the Danube

 bathing spot

 changing room

Everybody in Vienna knows the Gänsehäufel

and not just since it has been heritage-protected. Quite apart from its dimensions (an area of 330,000 square meters, 4,000 trees, 1,200 meters of beach including a nude-bathing area) it is simply typically Viennese – with all of the associated pros and cons. For some it is too intense, but even 100 years ago the Viennese “coffeehouse writer” Peter Altenberg recognized the value of what was originally a drop-out colony, and called the air and sun baths a “paradise of naturalness”.

Text: Lucia Czernin, Fotos: Christine Wurnig