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The Siren Song of Lorelei

A beautiful water sprite distracted sailors, causing vessels to capsize – according to the legend of Lorelei.
A beautiful water sprite distracted sailors, causing vessels to capsize – according to the legend of Lorelei. | Photo (detail): © Adobe

Anyone who comes here – whether by mountain bike or on foot – will quickly fall in love with this region of culture, nature and wine on the River Rhine: it’s a very easy place to spend time.

By Daniel Hinz

“With a golden comb she combs it [her golden hair]
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.”

This is from the romantic poem that Heinrich Heine once wrote about the beautiful maiden Lorelei, a kind of water sprite who is supposed to have sat atop the Lorelei rock. Legend has it that she so bewitched captains of ships on the River Rhine that they were no longer able to pay attention to the dangerous currents and rocky reefs, whereupon their vessels were dashed to pieces on the rocks.

On the banks of the Rhine near Sankt Goarshausen, the slate wall of the Lorelei rock soars 132 metres into the air. The Lorelei passage used to be considered the most dangerous stretch of the Rhine, as the river is particularly deep and narrow at this point. At the same time, it’s a place of breathtaking beauty that is shrouded in legend: a source of inspiration for painters, poets and other artists.

“I know not if there is a reason” – this is the line that begins the poem that may well be Heinrich Heine’s most famous. We might rewrite the start of the poem today to read: I know very well what the reason is, namely that it’s impossible not to be happy here. Standing atop the slate cliff, the great altitude affords a magnificent view of the Rhine loop and of the Katz and Rheinfels castles. And hardly any other legend than that of the Lorelei is so inextricably linked to Rhine romanticism. So enchanting, so bewitching, so influential – that an epoch was named after the river and surrounding cultural landscape is quite something.

Does anything more need to be said? Clear your mind, put on your walking shoes and get yourself into the Lorelei valley to explore the paths that were already used as far back as the Middle Ages by traders, merchants, travellers, kings, emperors, princes, Romans, Franks, Prussians and the French. The paths pass by vineyards, grassy meadows and forests; past monastery gardens, churches and historic places of pilgrimage. And the wine from the Rhine Valley is famous around the world – thanks to the mineral-rich shale soils, sunny climate and centuries of winemaking knowledge that have been passed down from generation to generation, you may even be able to detect the taste of Rhine romanticism in the wine.

It’s no surprise then that UNESCO has designated the region a World Cultural Heritage site: the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It is not only nature and history that draw people to the Lorelei Valley – contemporary events do too: the legendary Loreley open-air theatre has played host to global stars such as Herbert Grönemeyer, U2 and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.



What does Görliwood mean, why can you find a piece of the Caribbean in Bavaria and where can you dance in front of bucket wheel diggers? In our series we take you on a trip each month to somewhere in Germany that you may not yet know but should definitely be introduced to. We reveal places that are not to be found on the usual tourist trails. Are you ready for a bit of a detour.