I have a guest blogger today! I’m thrilled to have as my guest John Milton Langdon who is here to tell us all about Der Worthersee, the lake that’s called the Biggest Bathtub in Europe. Welcome to Island Chick Travels, John!
by John Milton Langdon
I would like to introduce you to our local lake and first of all I must tell you that it has been proudly nicknamed the Biggest Bathtub in Europe because the temperature of the lake water can reach 27 degrees C in summer.
Another important attribute is that the lake water is of drinking quality and the establishment of this high standard is due solely to the work of local politicians in the 1970’s when the water quality was already deteriorating. They decided that no contaminated water would be discharged into the lake and to ensure that this could be achieved in practice a ring main was constructed around the lake to collect all the domestic drainage and also the discharge from the roads.
The lake is called Der Wörthersee in German and is an Alpine lake formed following glacial activity. The lake is flanked to the north and south by steep foothills covered in dense forest and is about 20 kilometres long and has a maximum depth of 85 metres. The width of the lake varies from 1 to 2 km and is formed from three interconnecting basins separated by islands and peninsulas. The lake water is a distinctive blue green in colour and transparent. In the 16th Century a 4km long canal was cut from the east end of the lake to the town wall and this was used to transport wood, fish and other foodstuff to the main market in Klagenfurt.
Construction of the southern railway in the middle of the nineteenth century provided easy access to the lake for the Viennese nobility who quickly transformed the Wörthersee into an exclusive summer retreat. It is interesting to note that famous composers like Mahler and Brahms spent many of their summers living and writing music near the lake. The lake remains very popular for swimmers to this day and the Strandbad (or Lido) which is unique in Europe in terms of size can accommodate 16,000 people. Many people who live in Klagenfurt in apartment buildings without a balcony have a beach hut at the Strandbad and spend every suitable day by the lake. Sailing is another very popular leisure activity between spring and autumn but for those who don’t like such exercise there are regular passenger services by boat around the lake. In winter if there is a prolonged period of sub zero temperatures followed by a heavy snowfall the lake freezes over. Just like it did in the winter of 2006 much to the joy of the experienced skaters who were able to skate the 20 km from the Carinthian capital of Klagenfurt at the eastern end of the lake to Velden at the west end. When the ice is thick enough the lake is opened to the public by the local authority and everyone who can skate (and a fair number who cannot and visit the local hospital as a result) converge on the lake and have a very enjoyable time exercising in the sun. Out on the ice near the middle of the lake, local suppliers establish food stalls where they sell hot and cold snacks and drinks to the hungry and thirsty skaters who make use of the rows of trestle tables and benches that have been set up the ice near by.
The author standing on the Wörthersee ice
As you would expect there is a myth associated with the formation of the lake which goes something like this. Aeons ago the area now covered by the lake was a very prosperous farming area and the people who lived there enjoyed their wealth by eating, drinking and generally enjoying themselves in a very dissolute way. Over the years the debauchery led to a steadily declining attendance at church. One year on the night before Easter, the people were disturbed in the middle of their revelry by a little man carrying a barrel on his shoulder. He said, “If you do not mend your ways and go to church you will regret it,” but the people treated the warning with drunken distain. A few hours later the little man came again with his barrel but his warning was no better received and he left the farm people to their revelry. At midnight the little man reappeared but his rejection by the people was even ruder than before. Then as a violent storm erupted overhead he put his barrel on the ground, opened the tap and walked away.
Water started to gush out of the barrel and no one could stop it flowing. Eventually the whole area was flooded many, many metres deep and all the dissolute people in the valley were drowned together with all their buildings. It is rumoured that if you row out into the middle of the lake and listen carefully at midnight you can hear from the bottom of the lake the ghostly bells of the parish church calling the faithful to prayer.
John Milton Langdon is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and has a master’s degree in maritime civil engineering. Langdon retired and became a professional writer after an active and rewarding engineering career. Initially he worked in Britain but from 1972 until 2008, he dealt with project development in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria. Langdon lives in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt which has a history stretching back to mediaeval times. Langdon has three children and five grandchildren from his first marriage and two step sons from the second. Langdon has many interests including travel, the British canals, music and literature but hiking in the mountains surrounding his home is a preferred leisure activity. John’s latest book is a historical fiction titled Against All Odds (Tate Publishing). You can visit John Milton Langdon’s website at www.jmlangdon.com.