Budapest in our sights!
THE Harley tour into history - for the 120th company anniversary along the Danube!
The best tips for Harley riders interested in history! What do the Nibelungen, Frederick Barbarossa, the Huns and Robin Hood have in common? More than you think! For the 120th Harley anniversary in Budapest, many Harley riders will take the route along the Danube.
Several thousand years of history
Passau - Donau-downwards
Passau - down the Danube
If you like it fast, you can also get to Budapest quickly from Western Europe: Munich – Salzburg or Nuremberg – Passau on to Vienna or Dresden – Prague – Brno. The routes meet in Bratislava and continue to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. However, if you switch off your sat nav and look at a map, you will quickly discover a different route: Downstream of the Danube – at least from Passau – the route winds its way along picturesque castle ruins, gigantic monasteries and vineyards where the Romans used to grow their wine.
What you want to include up to Passau depends on personal preferences – and the time available – but from the Austrian border at the latest, the Danube tour becomes wild – and historic.
At Passau, the Ilz and Inn rivers flow into the Danube, occasionally creating a confusing play of colours when each river mixes its own “colour” with the Danube water. Here the Danube valley narrows.
Along these banks have passed countless merchants and armies – including the Nibelungen, the German contingent of the 3rd Crusade in 1189 and most recently in 1945 American GI’s to secure the secret weapons of the III Reich from the Russians advancing from Budapest and Vienna.
Up to Engelhartszell, the river is the border to Germany, with the main route running on the Austrian south side. Those who want to enjoy a view of Passau – and something to eat – beforehand should do so from the Café/Restaurant Blaas in Freinberg. From the Austrian side, you have a unique panoramic view of the city and the Three Rivers Corner.
Near Engelhartszell you will pass the first monastery – founded in 1289 – and an exhibition area entitled “The Return of the Legion”. The matching Roman fort, the “Quadriburgus”, however, can only be found a few kilometres downstream in Oberanna right next to the Nibelungen Road. At Schlögen, the Danube makes several wild loops, while the main route leads past Aschach in the direction of Eferding. Aschach has a bridge, castle and Schopper and Fishery Museum, the term “Schopper” referring to the master shipbuilders of the Danube region who “schoppten” (= stuffed) their boats with moss to seal them. Around Eferding you only meet the river again at Wilhering Abbey and pass one of the most important rococo complexes in Austria. Founded in 1146, at least Frederick Barbarossa was seen riding past here on his way to Jerusalem – and on the way he passed through one of the most interesting cities in Austria: Linz.
Linz: Not only for cakes...
Linz: Not only for cakes...
The big city on the Danube is definitely worth considering as a “stopover” on a 120th Tour stage – and more than worth a day visit to give yourself a sugar shock with the legendary “Linzer Torte”. There are numerous sights and museums to visit in and around Linz, even though the city’s industrial boom is mainly due to the construction activities of the period 1938-1945. The Linz basin has been inhabited since Celtic times – and the salt trade ran from Gmunden via the ports of Linz and Mauthausen for thousands of years.
Consequently, the Budweis – Linz – Gmunden horse-drawn tramway was one of the first railway lines on the European continent – and parts of the route are still preserved today, although some are difficult to find. In the district of St. Magdalena, several monuments have been erected along the former route, but the curve of the horse-drawn railway promenade around St. Magdalena, where the painting with Emperor Franz I was created in 1832, has been “blocked” in the meantime – as has the view from the further route in the direction of Budweis.
The best overview of the city and the basin can be obtained from the Franz-Josef Warte, the Schlossmuseum (tip: Schlosscafé!) or the Pöstlingsberg (tip for rail/tram enthusiasts!) or simply from the – what else should it be called – Nibelungenbrücke. Today’s bridge construction replaced the one from 1910 and was commissioned by the very builder who even knew the wooden bridge with the horse-drawn railway line from Urfahr to Linz – and who was still pondering over the model of “his” boyhood home in Berlin in April 1945.
If you are looking for traces of the later German Chancellor in Linz, you should inform yourself beforehand: No other city shaped him as much as Linz. A few keywords to help you: Urfahr, Hauptplatz, Freinberg, Landestheater Linz and Leonding Cemetery – if you look, you will find. Even if the city of Linz makes every effort not to realise any of the visions of the “Führer’s City of Linz” and to alienate the few completed buildings – the Nibelungen Bridge in 1940 and the two “bridgehead houses” on the Hauptplatz. It does not succeed.
The new town hall on the Urfahrer Ufer looks like a bunker from the Atlantic Wall that has been moved to the Danube, and the city has an art museum almost exactly on the spot where it was already planned from 1938. “Siegfried”, “Kriemhild”, “Gunter” and “Brunhild” as equestrian statues were no longer erected at the Linz end of the bridge. “Hagen” and “Volker” were to stand at the Urfahrer end. The former at least managed a brief appearance as plaster models. German and world history was written on the Hauptplatz – and the city of Linz was redefined. A short detour to the main square in Linz and its half-timbered buildings is definitely recommended – the tourist information is also to be found here if you want to stay in the city for a few days. Harley-Davidson Linz – conveniently located on the northern side of the Danube – will also be “history” by June 2023: The shop in Freistädter Straße will close at the end of April.
From Linz to the East...
We leave the town via Landesstraße 3, past the Voestalpine steelworks, formerly “Eisenwerke Oberdonau”, where the first sod was turned on 19 September 1938. The armour steel cast here was used in tanks at the Nibelungenwerk in St. Valentin. Of a total of 8500 Panzer IVs, 4786 were assembled in St. Valentin – and from the end of 1944 the “Jagdtiger” was also produced. St. Valentin – and the factory that still exists today (!) – are off the A1 to Vienna, but we follow Landesstraße 3 along the north bank of the Danube.
Before we get to the “gastronomic” part of the route, there is the possibility of a visit shortly after Linz, which puts the visit to the city of Linz in a completely different light. Be warned, though: after this visit you might see the world with different eyes. The “big version” leads via St. Georgen an der Gusen and past the Gusen concentration camp memorial, the latter a rather shapeless and ugly concrete block.
In and around Gusen, German secret weapons were produced in tunnels with the camouflage name “Bergkristall”, and the area was constantly expanded. Blown up after the war and often forgotten, the Gusen quarry is still in operation and only a short detour from the main road on the banks of the Danube.
The Mauthausen concentration camp, which follows on the route, is one of the best-preserved concentration camps and is worth a visit on the heights above the Danube for that reason alone. But it can easily take 3-4 hours, even if you don’t take a guided tour.
If you don’t have time for this tragic history lesson, you can still get an idea of the horror of this time with just one short stop: Turning off in the direction of the memorial, one continues to follow the Wienergraben along the Rieder Bach and after a few hundred metres reaches the openly accessible Wiener Graben quarry with the hellish “death staircase” of a stone staircase leading from the quarry floor to the camp. The rest is explained by the information boards set up there…
Continue on the Nibelungenstraße...
Continue on the Nibelungenstraße...
Mauthausen itself is a picturesque place and was probably already settled in the Neolithic Age. Here, the Limes Road – which was undoubtedly followed by the Nibelungs and the 3rd Crusade – crossed the Salt & Iron Road coming from the south, which kept the trade routes to the north open via Budweis. This was an ideal place for a toll station, especially as the Danube was wide and shallow here and a ford allowed the crossing. Today’s bridge connects car and railway traffic and is located at the tributary of the Enns. Here you could switch back to the motorway to Melk, but we stay on the north bank and follow the “3” to Grein and on to Ybbs. Here we are again spoilt for choice on which bank of the Danube to approach the impressive monastery complex of Melk: via the state road 1 or – along the river – via the “3”.
Before Melk, however, there is another excursion that should not go unmentioned – especially because of its historical significance, which still resonates today after more than 100 years. For this we have to jump a few kilometres ahead in the Danube tour – to Vienna – and go back in time: to 28 June 1914. On this day, the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie became victims of an assassination attempt in Sarajevo which subsequently triggered the First World War. His bloodstained uniform and even the carriage in which the two travelled are expressive contemporary witnesses in the Museum of Military History in Vienna, but in the ducal crypt of St. Stephen’s Cathedral one looks for them in vain. The reason for this was the “unseemly” marriage of the future emperor to Sophie Chotek, a former court lady. “Buried” – for several reasons, including political ones – the two were buried at Artstetten Palace. A detour from the “3” of Klein-Pöchlarn that you should definitely treat yourself to if you are interested in history. Pöchlarn itself was the home of the important Margrave Rüdiger von Bechelaren in the Nibelungen saga and was an important stopping point on the route to ruin.
Monastic bastion above the Danube...
Monastic bastion above the Danube...
Even the sight of the gigantic Melk Abbey on the rock above the Danube gives an idea that a long history looks down on the Danube valley here. There is no longer any evidence of a Roman fort, because the mighty rocky outcrop has been built over many times. Even fires and catastrophes did not set the site back. One is reluctant to pass the huge complex without a visit, but the magnificent building erected in 1702-1746 will still be standing on the way back.
From Melk we head into the wine region of the Wachau – roads and castles now exist on both banks of the Danube. We stay on the north bank, not only because of the wine. After a few kilometres we reach the small village of Willendorf where a female figure was found during the construction of the Danube bank railway in 1908: The “Venus of Willendorf”.
Radiocarbon dating has revealed that the figure was made around 26,850 years B.C. – a small museum invites you to visit and the site on the railway line is also easily accessible. Obviously, the Danube region was already populated at that time. You have to find out where the original Venus is before you travel. It is rather rare to find it at the place where it was found – which is by no means the place where it was made (!).
Richard was here...
A few kilometres downstream, the Danube makes an S turn towards the east and behind Weißkirchen in the Wachau, it forms the Danube island of Pritzenau. Just at this bend, an equestrian figure suddenly stands between the main road and the railway line: Richard the Lionheart. Richard I, King of England on the Danube?
In contrast to the Nibelungen saga, whose march is based on only a few surviving song fragments and is perhaps composed of several elements from different time periods, Frederick Barbarossa’s 3rd Crusade – can certainly be documented in writing: on 11 May 1189, the troop with 15,000 participants set out from Regensburg, walked along the Danube and crossed the German-Hungarian border as early as 22 May to celebrate Pentecost in Bratislava.
More than a year later – only a special tax had provided the necessary funds – Richard I and Philip II set out on the same crusade from their meeting place at Vézelay in France on 4 July 1190. In contrast to Barbarossa’s wanderlust, they chose the route by sea – and took their time. It was not until 10 April 1191 that Richard set sail from Sicily and first headed for Cyprus – by which time Barbarossa had been dead for almost a year. Drowned in the Saleph River on 10 June 1190.
Richard reached an agreement with Saladin which allowed Christian pilgrims access to Jerusalem and Richard hastily made his way back to England. On 9 October 1192, he boarded a ship which did not take him very far. His return journey had to be overland and – in view of Leopold V of Austria, who was hostile to him – anonymous. This went wrong: in Erdberg, of all places, now submerged in Vienna, Richard was recognised and captured in December: At Dürnstein Castle, the ruins of which perched on the hill at the next bend in the Danube bend.
On 6 January 1193, Richard was transferred to Regensburg, but was brought back again for lack of an agreement. Richard the Lionheart must have had plenty of “Danube valley” experience. When the ransom modalities were settled, the captured Richard was taken to Trifels Castle in the Palatinate Forest and to Hagenau.
In March, he accepted payment at the Court Day in Speyer – and here we are again in the home of the Nibelungs – which, in addition to various mortifications, also corresponded to 24.4 tons of silver – and was collected in England by means of a special tax. On 4 February 1194, Richard the Lionheart was released at the Court Day in Mainz and returned to England. He recovered from the hardships for a few days in the forests of Nottingham – which later resulted in a beautiful story: Robin Hood…
The delivery of the bride...
The delivery of the bride...
To even “scratch” Vienna within the framework of this tour seems impossible. Vienna needs its own tour. So many sights, so much art and history – so much traffic, if you are not driving along the Ringstraße and to the Hofburg on Sunday mornings at 5:00 am. In short, Vienna is almost impossible to do “in passing” and the pictures shown here are from several short visits, even on Whit Monday morning at 5:00 am.
Depending on one’s interests, everyone will find “their thing” in Vienna. On the author’s “to do list” is the only preserved horse-drawn carriage on the Budweis-Linz line in the Technical Museum, the Hundertwasser House and the “Cemetery of the Nameless” – perhaps on this trip, perhaps another time.
Past Roman borders...
Bratislava, the former Bratislava, is also worth more than a day’s visit: in fact, the capital of Slovakia 2020 was on the list of places to visit for the Custom Chrome 50th Anniversary Bike built by Thunderbike, which was to be shown at the Motorcycle & Boat Show there. The emerging Covid panic prevented this, exhibition and Bratislava visit were cancelled – but the city remains worth seeing. One tip should definitely be put on the “to do list” of the Danube tour: A visit to the “UFO” above the new Danube bridge! The “Most SNP” is named after the Slovak National Uprising in 1944 and was built between 1967 and 1972 with a restaurant/viewing platform with a breathtaking view of the Danube and the old town. Another spectacle can be seen in a TV documentary: You can walk roped up around the entire diameter of the “UFO”! More or less floating above the Danube bank. A real tour highlight.
Before you know it, you have crossed the Hungarian border on the south bank and are on your way to Györ. The Danube here forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary – until 1918 everything belonged to Austria-Hungary. Which route to take? Hard to say, because this part of the Danube Tour will not be “experienced” until June 2023. Numerous meandering Danube loops and tributaries on both sides show how often the course of the river has changed here. Györ on the Hungarian side played an important role in the Turkish Wars and in the Second World War – and can also look back on Roman history. In the meantime, in addition to “Rába”, founded in 1896, Audi, Märklin and LGB also produce in Hungary…
Der Nibelungen Tod...
…should also conclude this Danube tour. From the inflow of the Váh into the Danube, Komarno in Slovakia, Komarom in Hungary, main traffic arteries run on both banks of the Danube.
The destination of both routes: Gran. Today’s Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th to the 13th century, inhabited in Celtic and Roman times – and according to legend and song, the place where Kriemhild and Etzel/Attila received the Burgundians. The story is told in songs and operas, in sagas and illustrated in several films – and those who familiarise themselves with it before the tour will quickly realise that this story and the resulting carnage make some of today’s action films look really old!
Even if there are no “tangible” sites, places or monuments here, you can certainly feel the “breath of history” after a tour along the Danube. Frederick Barbarossa’s 15,000-strong crusading force was received and lavishly entertained by the Hungarian royal couple in Gran on 4 June 1189.
The free passage through Hungary had been negotiated a year earlier. In the meantime, the “Huns” had become “Hungarians”, but the next disaster also came from the East: at Christmas 1241, the Mongols laid siege to the city and almost completely destroyed it. The new capital became: Buda. 50 kilometres across the country, almost 70 km along the Danube towards the Black Sea. History may have passed – the routes and places remain…
Text & Photos: HRF – Horst “Motographer” Rösler
On the trail of the Nibelungen: Where to start?
On the trail of the Nibelungen: Where to start?
Since the Saga of the Nibelungs and the events it describes span several years and decades – and there are also several versions – it is not easy to make a selection. For Thunderbike customers, a visit to Xanten is of course the ideal starting point: after all, Siegfried and his father are said to have ruled here – and there is even a Sigfried Museum. However, Xanten at that time probably still largely corresponded to the Roman colony of Ulpia Traiana, visible from the eastern side of the Rhine and well worth a visit.
Thunderbike’s “Kickstart Party” or the legendary “Jokerfest” are good starting points for such a tour. Along the Rhine at other noted places of the legend such as the “Drachenfels” near Bonn (the dragon, however, now sits in front of the city wall of the “new” Xanten at the Krimhild Mill), Worms is of course ideal as a second starting point.
Not only is this said to have been the home of the Nibelungs at the time, but Hagen of Tronje is said to have sunk the treasure of the Nibelungs in the Rhine here and most of the “jealousies” between Brunhild and Krimhild are said to have caused the fatal chain of events here. In the nearby Odenwald, several sources dispute the dubious honour of being the place where Siegfried of Xanten was murdered.
Moreover, one should be aware that the courtship of Etzel, the journey of the bride to the handover in Tulln and the trek to ruin must be distinguished – and these are several years apart. On the Danube there are also other possible starting and stopping points that have little to do with the saga, but still make for a nice tour along this great artery of European traffic. On your own Harley, you can always find a nice route to Budapest – and further along the Danube…