Lake Neusiedl

On March 4, 2015 · 1 Comments

All that talk of endorheic basins in County Divided got me wondering about similar conditions in other unexpected places. It seemed farfetched to find an area lacking natural drainage to the sea on the Great Plains of North America. So did a similar condition in central Europe. I searched around and the largest place in that general vicinity appeared to be Lake Neusiedl on the border between Austria and Hungary (map), where it was called Neusiedler See in German and Fertő in Hungarian.

Lake Neusiedl

Neusiedler See
Neusiedler See by Jonathan Spence, on Flickr (cc)

The basin wasn’t huge although I took what I could get for purposes of this topic.

The lake covers 315 km², of which 240 km² is on the Austrian side and 75 km² on the Hungarian side. The lake’s drainage basin has an area of about 1,120 km². From north to south, the lake is about 36 km long, and it is between 6 km and 12 km wide from east to west. On average, the lake’s surface is 115.45 m above the Adriatic Sea and the lake is no more than 1.8 m deep.

To put that in perspective, the entire drainage basin was about six times the size of Washington, DC or about one-third the size of Rhode Island. The Lake itself was somewhere about twice the size of Washington, DC. Nonetheless, although lacking in size, Lake Neusiedl packed a lot of beauty into its enclosed basin and national park that protected it.

This region around the steppe lake, with over 2 000 hours of sunshine annually, is one of the most popular holiday areas in Austria… With its unique flora and fauna, the transborder National Park offers rare plant and bird species as well as Asinara White donkeys, Grey Hungarian cattle and Mangalitza pigs, the appropriate protection and a natural habitat.

I learned soon enough that Neusiedl wasn’t completely endorheic.

Einserkanal / Hansági-főcsatorna

Sarrod #2
Sarrod #2 by Thomas Lieser, on Flickr (cc)

A basin without a natural outlet had one major drawback: it could fill up, overflow and flood adjacent countryside. That natural cycle happened many times over the centuries. Peasants simply dealt with it, dried off and went about their normal lives. Officials finally tired of intermittent flooding at the end of the Nineteenth Century during a time when the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary were united under the banner of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Thus came the construction of the Einserkanal (German) / Hansági-főcsatorna (Hungarian) in 1895, a canal "approximately 30 km long and 4.8 m deep on average and 7-15 m wide." It served like an overflow drain on a bathtub. The canal safely diverted excess water to the Danube River whenever the basin hit a desired capacity.

Nonetheless, the vast preponderance of outflow from Lake Neusiedl happened because of natural evaporation. Perhaps only 10% of outflow went through the artificial channel of the Einserkanal. I guess that would still make the watershed endorheic.

Brücke von Andau / Andaui-híd

The canal’s route never mattered much as long as Austria-Hungary endured. That situation changed after the First World War. Austria-Hungary found itself on the losing side and the empire split. That canal then became a portion of an international border albeit completely on the Hungarian side by a few metres. It created an effective barrier, a moat, to separate Austria from Hungary for many kilometres. That condition remained unchanged after the Second World War when Hungary fell under the Communist domination of the Soviet Union.

Then came the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, crushed by Soviet forces. Hungarians supporting the revolution or those simply fleeing violence escaped towards the border, running up against the canal. They found a single modest wooden footbridge, the Brücke von Andau (German) / Andaui-híd (Hungarian) as a passageway to freedom. About 200,000 refugees fled from Hungary and perhaps 70,000 of them used the Bridge at Andau (map) until the Soviets destroyed it. The bridge wasn’t replaced until decades later, reconstructed in commemoration of its historical importance on the 40th anniversary of the revolution.

The Town of Andau, Austria recalled those days (Google Translate):

In the local chronicle of Andau we read of these events: On Sunday, November 5, was heard the roar of tank engines and the rattling of chains of armored vehicles approached the border. The population held his breath, wondering what would happen. Our firemen moved to the border and marked them with red-white-red flags … In the next few days the first refugees arrived. From day to day the stream of refugees swelled. Thousands of them came from all over Hungary on the Einserkanal after Andau, in the freedom of the West.

The author James Michener was living in Austria at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. He interviewed witnesses and chronicled events in a nonfiction book he titled "The Bridge at Andau."

On March 4, 2015 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Lake Neusiedl”

  1. Nancy Reyes says:

    I linked and borrowed a quote about the Bridge at Andau. If you object, let me know and I’ll remove it.

Comments are closed.

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