My first home on the European continent was in Bratislava, Slovakia. The city was still run down in 1994, but as an 8-year-old ragamuffin, the chaos was fuel for the imagination. My brother and I climbed the cliffs along the banks of the Danube, playing pirates and burying treasures we’d gathered along the way. A few months in, my mother discovered a fish restaurant in the riverside borough of Devin where all the furnishings were made out driftwood and “artifacts” scoured om the river adorned the walls. The entire history of the region – ranging om the Black Forest in southern Germany to the Black Sea in Romania – was written on those walls, from the creepy washed-out faces of lost porcelain dolls to the tarnished golden fixtures of a 19th century spyglass. The proprietor recounted tales and legends to us as we nibbled potato wedges and tiny grilled fish, they called Piráti.

That was when I got the feel for European identity: Each country along the river was unique, but bound together by stories. In Bratislava, the Danube was the link to Vienna or Budapest: a transportation and trade route; a vein of natural beauty, a natural engine for hydropower and a place of respite for nearby leisure seekers. Germans, Austrians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Serbians, Romanians, Croatians, Bulgarians, Moldavians and Ukrainians use the same river, cooperating, negotiating when necessary, yet autonomous in their own lands.

In our cover story, the BBC’s Central European correspondent Nick Thorpe paints a fascinating picture of the lives along the river and how they continue to shape Europe. We spoke with four people who work on, with and for the river, sailing cruise ships and ferries, preserving fishery along the river habitat and deriving electrical power from the rushing current.

The Danube is also a powerhouse and vital vehicle for many industries as we outline in our business story, like the high-tech steel manufacturer Voestalpine in Linz or Austria’s largest energy provider Verbund, with its vast hydropower plants along the river. It took several feats of engineering to tame the Danube and make it the safe, clean river we know today.

For our Melange interview we spoke with the rector for the Danube University Krems about his efforts to support both state-of-the-art adult education and help other countries along the Danube keep their highly skilled students. One of the countries where freedom of education is suffering is right next door: Hungary, with it’s capital embracing the Danube like no other, it is this month’s protagonist in our Empire to Republic series.

In Vienna itself, the Danube is a leisure zone. You’ll find a guide to the best ways to enjoy the river, right here in town and a peek into the legal shenanigans that have been keeping the area by the DC Tower and UNO City from being refurbished… until now. We take you out for a Mediterranean dinner at La Marina along the banks of the Old Danube and then for drinks along the Danube Canal, a stretch that will take over the summer nights like never before.

But it’s not all river-relevant. We’ve put together a terrific month for you, filled with great cultural and open-air activities, festivals and sports to keep you happy and inspired all June long. But we’re not the only ones with ideas. Ask a Vienna local: they’ve all got their summer secrets. Take the initiative! The best things in Vienna wait for no one,

so don’t be a stranger,

margaret childs