November 2019

The Lorelei sits on a 433 feet high rock above the Rhine River at the village of St. Goar. The statue itself is about 16 feet high and sits in the area’s natural beauty, surrounded by sweeping, hillside vineyards and seated in a picture-perfect location that offers views of the winding river.

The name comes from the old German words lureln, Rhine dialect for “murmuring,” and the Celtic term leyrock.” The translation of the name would therefore be “murmuring rock.” The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this, combined with the special echo the rock produces acts as a amplifier, and gives the rock its name. The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area.

As sailing legend has it, she is the reason that so many ships have sunk on the stretch of river known as the Rhine Gorge. The reality is this is one of the most beautiful – and dangerous – stretches of river to navigate.

The 16 feet Lorelei statue created in bronze Natascha Alexandrova in 1983 quickly became a tourist attraction itself. Our onboard historian only briefly mentioned the sculptor. Although I found some information about her, I didn’t find any reference of why she sculpted Lorelei, who requested it (if anyone), or under what circumstances it sits on this rock.

Let’s ignore the mundane explanation! Folklore and legends are much more interesting. The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales.

The tales of a woman named Lorelei in the Rhine River date back several centuries. As the legend goes, in the narrowest and deepest point of the Rhine there once was a woman of such beauty that she would cause sailors to wreck their ships as they sailed the dangerous currents along the river’s jagged shorelines.

Was it the sight of her brushing her long, blonde hair? Were sailors distracted because she lay sunbathing along the river’s edge? Or after her own lover betrayed her, was Lorelei a siren who intentionally lured bewitched sailors to their doom by singing the loveliest song they had ever heard? Each version of the legend has earned a place in Rhine Valley lore.

I relate here the story we heard from our onboard historian.

When the rocks in the Rhine Valley glowed in the evening sun, or when the rugged cliffs were reflected by the moonlight in the swirling waters of the river, a slight figure could sometimes be seen on the hilltop and a mysterious voice could be heard echoing through the rocky landscape. It belonged to the enchanting Lorelei. The hearts of countless men beat faster and trembled with delight. Sailors would sink into the waves and their bodies were never found.

Her reputation spread throughout the land until it reached a wealthy young man who left his royal palace intent upon winning her. At sunset, he and his followers reached the gorge and, spellbound by the wondrous singing, they saw her figure on the cliff. Rather than wait for landing the boat, he jumped into the river, and with the cry of ‘Lorelei!’ he sank into the water, never to be seen again.

His father, in an attempt to revenge the death of his son, confronted Lorelei upon which, she threw her pearl necklaces, one by one, into the water. They rose out of the water as high as the cliff top and carried her away into the evening light. Lorelei was never seen again, but an echo sometimes still haunts people standing at the rock.

Thus, the legend of unrequited love became the substance of many artistic endeavors.

For the record, I kept my husband inside the boat where he couldn’t hear the siren’s murmuring.

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I turn now to another famous statue overlooking the Middle Rhine. Germania is the name associated with what is officially the Niederwald statue.

The Niederwald is a broad hill on the bank of the Rhine. Dense forests of oak and beech cover the summit, and terraced vineyards cover the sides. The 32 ton, heavy bronze monument stands at the edge of the forest, on the crest of the hill above Rüdesheim.

The monument commemorates the founding of the Unification of Germany after the end of the Franco-Prussian War (July, 1870-January [?] May [?]1871). Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the first stone on September 16, 1871 with inauguration on September 28 1883. The sculptor was Johannes Schilling. The 125 feet tall monument represents the union of all Germans.

There is debate on dates pertaining to the monument. Considering the size and detailed sculpting of the monument, two years seems too short a time to build. However, I give the information as related by our historian.

The central figure is the 34 feet tall Germania figure, holding the recovered crown of the emperor in the right hand and in the left the Imperial Sword. Beneath Germania is a large relief that shows emperor William I riding a horse with nobility, the army commanders and soldiers. The relief has the lyrics of “Watch on the Rhine” engraved. The peace statue is on the left side of the monument and the war statue is on the right.

The monument’s main inscription is on the pedestal of the Germania statue: In memory of the unanimous victorious uprising of the German People and of the reinstitution of the German Empire 1870-1871.

Others on the cruise described Germania as beautiful. I believe awe-inspiring is a better description. Overall, she reminds me of the Statue of Liberty.