Spending a night on a boat and waking up to views over the glimmering river is not something that happens every day. After a long night, a hearty breakfast helped us to regain our energy for the last guided tour with Peter Pisut, who specializes in the historical geography of Slovak rivers. Even though we did not have much time, it is mandatory to walk up to Bratislava Castle, which overlooks the Danube.
Traveling from Vienna to Bratislava, our day’s topics branched in quite different directions: water power and nature conservation. We first visited the Austrian National Park Donau-Auen in Orth and later the Gabčíkovo Dams, Slovakia’s biggest hydroelectric plant.
Conservation in the Donau-Auen
The national park, which spans the distance between Vienna and Bratislava, finds its roots in a story of resistance, years of struggle, and constant negotiations between opposing forces. Our guide, Manfred Rosenberger, whose personal biography is deeply interwoven with the park, vividly recounted the park’s history.
Research Channels, Sterlets, and the Danube Island of Vienna
With another early start, it was lucky that the memorable apricot jam, a local specialty, provided a good incentive to get up in time for breakfast. Only five minutes behind schedule, we departed from Krems, with its beautiful historic center and surrounding vineyards, for Vienna.
Nussdorfer Lock and Weir
Our first stop was the Nussdorfer Schleuse, a lock and weir where the Danube canal branches off from the Danube in the northern outskirts of Vienna. Between the canal and the main river lies an outdoor research channel that is used to investigate the flow dynamics of different riverbeds and flood plains. Here, we met with Christine Sindelar of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna (BOKU), who conducts her research at the outdoor research channel. The building of the research channel was part of the DREAM project (Danube River Research and Management), which was cofinanced by the City of Vienna and the European Union. The slope between the Danube and the canal allows the scientists to experiment with flow rates of 10 cubic meters per second, and hence provides unique opportunities to make 1:1 scale simulations of river flow and sediment dynamics.
Changing a paradigm is no easy task—an understatement, no doubt. It probably seems just as easy as solving the world’s environmental problems. And shifting the paradigms that underlie those problems may seem like a doubly impossible task. Yet, the fate of humanity might hang on our ability to accomplish the impossible.
So, where do we even begin? I would argue the first step is to change the conversation—that is, how we even talk about and thus view our relationship with nature. We need to rid ourselves of the cultural narratives that have enabled environmental abuse and adopt an alternative storyline.
One movement that is attempting to drastically change the conversation but, in my opinion, has been too confined to academic circles is ecofeminism.