The Danube and Its Metaphors

From the beginning of time, people settled around rivers. Water became a symbol of different things (life, fertility, disaster etc.) and this can be seen in the prolific life of towns around rivers, in images of ancient gods and in stories of old sailors.

Undoubtedly, the Danube has many metaphoric meanings that make it a special place for a lot of communities.

One of the ways in which people think of the river is by comparing it to our lives. Even though for many years, it wasn’t bridged and it wasn’t fully navigable and even though the Danube showed an untamed wildness, people have managed to make peace with it, to adapt to it. In the same way, life throws a lot of things at you and it’s wild and unpredictable, but we still manage to get by, to live fully and be happy with our lives.

At the same time, in Philip Barker’s lecture, he made a strong point about how the Danube is a symbol of people, cultures and traditions coming together. At the same time, he highlighted the importance of the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial in Budapest – a monument to commemorate the people who were shot by the Arrow Cross militiamen on the banks of the river. So, if the Danube is an international, a cosmopolitan symbol, then throwing people back into the river can also be interpreted as a symbol – a way to defy that diverse view. That is also a metaphor and I strongly advise people to really think about it: are you the river, the person shot into the river or perhaps the one who pulled the trigger in the first place? Or are you perhaps more than just one character in this story?

Also, from my own experience I can say that sitting on a bridge over the Danube is an unique experience, especially in the eastern part of its basin. Sitting on the bridge, with no other human noise to distract you, you can hear the intensity of the river, its power. Everything, from a branch to a boat can be taken by the currents of this strong river. And, sitting there, above it, you feel this amazing inspiration, as if the river is you and you are as powerful as it is.

And why not? The Danube might as well be a metaphor for each one of us. A human being is thought to be composed of a body and a mind. The Danube basin can be seen as the body – something stable, that we can recognize, even when it changes a bit to the left or a bit to the right in the same way our body changes as we grow older – and its forever-changing waters can be seen as the soul – because, although people think it remains the same (it certainly seems like it and the Western-type of philosophy preached this unity of the self), we all know that you cannot step in the same river twice – as Heraclitus said. This view of the changing self adheres better to the way psychology describes one person, but also with a Eastern-type of philosophy that existed even before we started studying our minds.

For some, this are the metaphors that come to their mind when thinking about the Danube. For others, it might be, perhaps, an unchanging link between past and present or something else altogether. While it is good to look at what others thought about this intricate river, it might be worth it to look in another direction:

So, what does the Danube mean to you?