Bathing in Danube has its charm as well its downside

Bratislavans used to bathe at the legendary Lido but also in unique floating pools

Lido during the second world warLido during the second world war (Source: Courtesy of OZ Bratislavské Rožky)
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The heat waves hitting Bratislava are luring people to cool down in swimming pools. Nowadays these exist in almost all boroughs of Bratislava. In the past Bratislavans used to swim in the Danube River. On its Petržalka bank there was a legendary river beach and pool called Lido. Now this area is covered with dense greenery and is waiting for re-development.

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The waters of the Danube continue to tempt people since a swim in a river provides a much different experience than in a regular swimming pool with chlorinated water. But those wanting to try a river swim must take into consideration the dangers such a big river bring. Moreover, there are no official river beaches in Bratislava for swimming and doing so on the Danube’s banks in Bratislava is actually prohibited.

Historical Lido

“When my sister and I were small and summer temperatures rose above 22 degrees Celsius, we went with our parents to Lido. For us it meant the river and gravel beach,” said Bratislavan Soňa Balážová in recalling her times at Lido. “We liked going to Lido much more than to the Tehelné Pole swimming pool.”

Lido began in the 1920s on the Petržalka bank of the Danube between the Old Bridge and the site where the Apollo Bridge now stands. The river creates a natural gravel beach at a mild curve at this spot.

At the beginning there was only a river beach but very soon booths for changing clothes, a restaurant and other facilities were built here. Later pools filled with river water were added as well. The one built in 1934 was 33 metres long. At that time it was the biggest pool in Bratislava. Bratislava’s swimming champions also trained in it.

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But after Petržalka was annexed to Nazi Germany in 1938, Bratislavans were stripped of their popular river pool. At that time Bratislava started the construction of three pools on the opposite bank. The first one was Tehelné Pole, which is still functional today. Another one, called Vydrica at that time, was built in the recreational Železná Studienka resort. It has not been used for years and it is awaiting its next future.

The third one, the most splendid, was to be built in a former quarry at Podhradie. It has never been completed and put into operation. These days only a ghostly empty pool on Žižkova Street hidden in greenery provokes the mind into imagining what a beautiful facility could have been built.

Lido also kept developing during the Second World War when a toboggan was added to the pool and the area was designed as a park. But the pool did not escape destruction during the war.

“One bomb also hit the pool at Lido when Bratislava was bombed,” says historian Vladimír Tomčík, remembering when the pool was functional.

The pool was repaired after the war when Petržalka again became part of Bratislava. But over the following decades its condition deteriorated and it vanished completely in the 1990s.

More than just Lido

In the past there also used to be floating or pontoon pools on the Danube. They consisted of pontoons on which there was a wooden construction. In the middle there was river water flowing through the pontoons.

“It was a kind of rarity,” says Tomčík, who remembers them from his childhood. “Such pools used to be on the Danube until the 1950s. Each spring they pulled them to their place in the river by tow boat. I remember as a child when one pool pulled them away.”

Where to swim today

Today there is no official river beach in Bratislava. It is permissible to swim in the Bratislava Danube only in the river branches, since all the river banks in the capital are actually part of the local public port. Swimming in the port is strictly prohibited due to safety reasons, according to Martin Kontúr, spokesperson of the Verejné Prístavy public ports company.

Eva Oravcová, spokesperson of the Transport Authority, specified that the public port in Bratislava consists of the port’s harbours as well as both the river’s banks from kilometre 1871.35 of the river up to kilometre 1862. This means from nearby Lafranconi Bridge down the river to the approximate place where the Zuzana river arm returns to the river.

Experts warn that swimming in the Danube is not risk-free due to ship traffic on the river as well as the water currents.

Nature conservationist and water athlete Jaroslav Šíbl, who himself swims in the river, agrees that one should not underrate the river and overestimate one’s own abilities.

“Swimming in the Danube has its specific features,” said Šíbl. “One should take into considerations ships and other obstructions in the river and, of course, the strength of the currents.”

He said that water in the Danube is clear enough because the river has excellent self-purifying capacity.

Those who have drowned in the Danube are commemorated each year on the eve of All Saints’ Day in November. It is a very old tradition going back to the Middle Ages. It is maintained in all the countries through which the Danube flows. On that evening people lay wreaths at the river’s level to commemorate sailors, ship masters and others who have drowned in the river.

One of the latest victims of the Danube in Bratislava was economist Martin Filko. He drowned on March 28, 2016, when his canoe capsized on the Danube close to Bratislava’s Prístavný Bridge. The second man on board survived.

Popular places for swimming

There are a few places where people swim in parts of the Danube: either at the Karlovoveské Rameno river arm or the arm Zuzana close to the Economic University of Bratislava in Petržalka.

Other popular spots are the gravel river beaches on the Austrian part of the river in Donau-Auen national park. Those interested can find places with permissible swimming on the map of the national park.

One such place is a gravel river beach on the opposite bank of the Austrian town of Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Here the river creates small bays with gravel or even sandy beaches as well as an elongated gravel island protecting against the river’s main current.

“I really like to swim here. It’s really worth trying,” says Bratislavan Andrea Nováková, who discovered this possibility two years ago. “The water smells a bit of mud and it’s a completely different experience than being in a pool. This mass of water fills you with awe. So I never go too deep into the river.”

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