Celebrating 200 Years of Tourism on Germany’s Romantic Rhine
I cannot divine what it meaneth,
This haunting nameless pain:
A tale of the bygone ages
Keeps brooding through my brain:
The loveliest maiden is sitting
High-throned in yon blue air,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She combs her golden hair;
The doomed in his drifting shallop,
Is tranced with the sad sweet tone,
He sees not the yawing breakers,
He sees but the maid alone:
The faint air cools in the gloaming,
And peaceful flows the Rhine,
The thirsty summits are drinking
The sunset’s flooding wine;
She combs with a comb that is golden,
And sings a weird refrain
That steeps in a deadly enchantment
The listener’s ravished brain:
The pitiless billows engulf him!-
So perish sailor and bark;
And this, with her baleful singing,
Is the Lorelei’s gruesome work.
Thus go the lyrics of Heinrich Heine's 1823 poem, as
translated in 1880 from German by none other than American traveller and
novelist Mark Twain. A fine translation of the simple poem, which also fits
the melody Friedrich Silcher had written in 1838 for Heine’s verses, a
song that has ever since been part of Germany’s repertoire of folk lieder.
Next year, 2002, Germany celebrates 200 years of tourism on
the Rhine. Canadians who have taken a cruise on the Rhine and through its
fabled gorge will remember the many fortresses and castles that come into
view each time the river takes a turn about 50 of them on the 120-kilometre
stretch between the cities of Cologne and Mainz. And they will surely recall
the treacherous boulders their ship had to dodge as it rounded the Lorelei
cliff. To this day captains need a special license for this stretch of the
river, or else they must let a river pilot board and steer their vessel
Visiting the Rhine is a tradition that dates back to the era
of the Grand Tour, 200 years ago. In those days, it was a custom for
privileged young Englishmen to make a post-university journey to "the
Continent" before embarking on a career. The painters and poets among
them often put the impressions of their ‘travails’ to paper. Thanks to
works by the likes of J.M.W.Turner and Lord Byron, and the rising fortunes
of an upper middle class, travel to Europe became increasingly fashionable a
‘must’ to finish off one¹s education. The Rhine gorge has been busy
with visitors ever since in excursion ships on the river and, meandering on
the former bridle paths alongside it, on bicycles, in cars or trains.
The Rhine provides a perfect entry into the heart of Europe.
In fact, the Romans used its valley the other way, as one of the conduits to
expand their empire north of the Alps and eventually to Great Britain, their
legacy in Germany such cities as Constance, Mainz, Koblenz and Cologne.
Rising in Switzerland, the Rhine borders Liechtenstein, Austria, France and
Germany on its 1320-kilometre course before emptying into the North Sea in
the Netherlands. Since time immemorial its waters have transported vessels
up and down its swift currents, loaded with people and goods; even today the
Rhine is arguably the world¹s busiest waterway. Ocean-going freighters can
travel as far upstream as the city of Mannheim, south of Frankurt and close
to Heidelberg, navigating through the Rhine gorge and past the Lorelei.
On its 850-kilometre journey through Germany, ‘Father
Rhine’ (as it’s often called in folksongs and poetry) passes through the
country’s largest lake, Lake Constance, over a waterfall at Schaffhausen
and past the Black Forest. Continuing north, it eventually reaches the
gentler slopes of riesling country, the Rheingau. before its valley
narrows into the gorge -- immortalized not only by English artists but also
by French novellist Victor Hugo, poet Guillaume Apollinaire and Germany¹s
foremost writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Here, over many millennia, the river carved its way through
some 120 kilometres of high plateau, creating rocky outcrops and dramatic
promontories from Bingen, home to the medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen,
to Germany’s former capital of Bonn, Beethoven’s birthplace. Cliffs like
the Lorelei’s 132 metre-high rock made perfect perches for robber baron
nests, medieval fortresses and feudal castles guarding their respective
territories, each lord collecting customs on goods passing up- or
downstream. The striking scenery inspired countless tales and legends, those
about the Nibelung the most famous ever since they were set to music in 1876
in the four operas comprising Richard Wagner’s "Ring of the Nibelung".
The Rhine valley continues to inspire, next year’s 200th
anniversary events and exhibitions celebrating past and present artists’
works. Some spectacles, though, are staged every year, like the open-air
opera productions on the plateau atop the Lorelei in July and August. Just
about every summer weekend, drama on an even grander scale happens in
stretches of the Rhine gorge, when river towns take turns mounting gigantic
firework displays on the rocky outcrops. And year round, townspeople take
pride in floodlighting their castles and cliffs, bringing magic to any
after-dark train or car ride along the river.
North of Bonn, the Rhine valley widens again as the river
passes Cologne and its Gothic cathedral and then industrious Düsseldorf.
Here it becomes most apparent that, as well as being a great trade route,
the river has always carried cultural communication -- the exchange of
ideas, philosophies, the visual arts and music. For millennia it brought
together not only goods from many lands but also people and their values.
About 50 years after Mark Twain published his translation of
Heine’s Lorelei, two other Americans, composer George Gershwin and his
lyricist brother, Ira, also succumbed to the siren’s seductive charms.
They expressed their fascination in their own Jazz Age style, in a 1932
Broadway show, Pardon My English, with a Lorelei song that opens with
Back in the days of knights in
There once lived a lovely charmer,
Swimming in the Rhine
Her figure was divine.
She had a yen for all the sailors
Fishermen and gobs and whalers.
She had a most immoral eye
They called her Lorelei
She created quite a stir
And I want to be like her.
For more information on the Rhine and sightseeing on Germany’s
other rivers, such as the Moselle, Main, Elbe and Danube, please call the
German National Tourist Office’s toll-free number, 1-877-315-6237, or
contact the office by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
. An interactive version of the manual is also available on GNTO’s Web
site at www.germany-tourism.de