Why

‘Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power-dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They’ll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the East — they would never come back. Never, never, never!’

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This prediction was made by a man Paddy met in Persenbeug, Austria, in an inn overlooking the Danube (A Time of Gifts). Their conversation ranged from heraldry and history to lamenting the passing of an older Europe, full of wildness and mystery.

Much of the reason for me making this journey, almost 80 years later, was to see if these words became true. Has Europe been tamed? Has everything vanished?

Paddy walked through a time of gathering changes. Communism was established in Russia and Nazism loomed in Germany, but neither had yet broken their borders to sweep through the heartland of Europe, destroying entire communities, cultures and ancient patterns of life. His journey was made when Eastern Europe was still a semi-feudal society, with aristocrats playing bicycle polo on the lawns of country estates, and people still referred to as ‘peasants’ working in the fields. It was made before the Iron Curtain split the continent in two, and before the culture of mass consumption dragged it back together. It was made before motorways, supermarkets, suburbs, cheap flights and the internet — before the structure of modern life, the Europe I recognise today, had come into existence.

With Paddy’s words as a background murmur, I made this journey to explore the simple question:

How different is the experience of walking this route today?

carved head of king decebal, overlooking the kazan

3 Responses to “Why”

  1. Adrian said

    Reading here and there in your fascinating blog, I keep wondering if we somehow missed to tell you more about the region, about us… When you left for Salzburg today, you will be passing the Untersberg, our “Holy Mountain” in this region. He is full of mysteries and legends as well… New stories are told, new customs formed while people living in his vicinity return to the “old ways” of being connected to their surroundings… Maybe he’ll talk to you even without us directing your attention to him… Wish we had more time together. It would have been even more inspiring and fruitful, for all of us. Maybe you’ll stop by on your way back. You’ll be more than welcome here in Traunstein! We’ll follow your trail… Hugs and best wishes from both of us, Adrian

  2. Jason said

    As you have mentioned, a lot of people have done this route before, yet you embrace the randomness and uniqueness of Fermor’s journey. Fermor wrote his books decades after his travels as a reflection, so I am worried your work will be a reflection of a reflection without the historical training to make it interesting. If you really want to pay tribute to him, I would think you would try something original and different instead of a reproduction.

    Fermor’s reference to “everything vanishing” is not really about European culture and history, but about declining fishing stocks due to dams. Dams destroy migratory fish patterns.

    I am curious about the castles he stayed in and hope you are following up with the new generation of land owners in these places. However, many of his places are hard to find and without talking to him directly it will certainly be a challenge.

    You are also entering Hungary at a politically divisive moment, so it will be interesting to see what you observe. Take the liberty to go off course and into areas he didn’t go. Feel free to find a place and live there for a few months like he did in Vienna.

    Good luck and I look forward to the results!

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