The German Danube: a new cultural highway

Stretching for 1,775 miles/2,857 km, the Danube is Europe’s second longest river, flowing through ten countries on its way to the Black Sea. But did you know that its source is deep in the Black Forest in SouthWest Germany?

On the path of history | © TMBW

The upper reaches of the Danube are an unspoiled landscape. But there is more than natural beauty: archaeological sites, with some of the oldest traces of human history are here. To raise awareness of this combination of natural and cultural attractions, the German National Tourist Board and the federal states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have launched a new project, called "The German Danube".

From its source in the Black Forest, the young Danube has flowed for thousands of years along the southern edge of the Swabian Alb. In these low limestone mountains, the river has carved out a canyon or gorge, lined with dramatic cliffs. Anyone familiar with the middle and lower reaches of the Danube, where it provides a super highway for ships, cruise boats and barges, will be surprised. This part of SouthWest Germany is home to the river’s wild side, perfect for lovers of the Great Outdoors. As well as canoeing and kayaking, there is cycling along the Danube cycle path, rock climbing and hiking the many highly-rated scenic trails.

As for archaeology, some of the oldest artworks known to man have been found near the Danube, often in the limestone caves of the Swabian Alb. Dating back 40,000 years are small figures, carved from ivory mammoth tusks. The Lion Man, for example, is the world’s earliest figurative sculpture. See it in the City Museum of Ulm, a delightful city whose cathedral boasts the world’s tallest spire: 530 feet/161.5m!

The valley of the Danube offers even more in SouthWest Germany. There are medieval castles, baroque palaces and monasteries. And only an hour from the river’s source at Donaueschingen is the Pfahlbau Museum, one of the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Lake Constance. As you walk through the reconstructed Neolithic and Bronze Age village, set on wooden piles in the lake, you see life as it was lived thousands of years ago.