Austria’s Vanishing Neusiedlersee
By David Schildknecht
This summer, shrinking waterways worldwide unveiled long-hidden artifacts and remains. One lake in particular may be set to reveal matters of vinous import. Not just the vicissitudes of its waters but even their very existence have long been an enigma. Now, under the onslaught of record-breaking drought, and scrutinized from the perspective of climate change, the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl) is posing new conundrums for Austrian winegrowers.
On today’s maps, Lake Neusiedl is a slender patch of solid blue — oriented north-south and pierced near the bottom by what was once the Iron Curtain — representing roughly 300 square kilometers. Thirty kilometers in length, the lake is at its widest just seven kilometers across. However, a map won’t disclose the lake’s most curious feature: What appears to be a huge body of water has seldom exceeded three meters at its deepest, and historically averaged scarcely half that. Nor can a map attest the unique flora and fauna associated with this so-called “steppe lake,” known to ornithologists worldwide as a migratory flyway, to denizens of Austria’s capital as their “sea” — (though much of its shoreline and 38% of its surface are privately held by the Esterházy family, just as four centuries ago) — and to millions farther afield as a touristic and recreational mecca.
One aspect a map in our digital age does reveal is what Austrian wine lovers already know: The perimeter of this lake is practically one enormous vineyard...
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