Koenigswinter and Drachenfels

Watch out - here be dragons!

Well... technically, there shouldn´t be since this is the place where the legendary Siegfried is supposed to have slain the legendary dragon. But it seems Mr. Nibelung didn´t do his job properly, since you encounter dragons virtually on every street corner in Koenigswinter.

You can have coffee or wine at the feet of (painted) dragons in one of the many restaurants which have names such as "Dragon Grill" or "Dragon Fountain", buy dragon souvenirs, see "live" dragons at Sea Life or the reptile zoo adjacent to the Nibelung Hall - which also has a cave with a giant stone dragon, and on top of Dragon Rock there´s a sleeping dragon which wakes up to the sound of a Euro coin inserted in his lair and tells the story of Siegfried and the Nibelungs. And so on, and so on.

You can even drink Dragons´ Blood (Drachenblut) which is a special kind of red wine grown here. (Sorry to disappoint you vampires, it´s a famous wine growing region.)

KB: "Since Mr. Nibelung Show-Off didn´t do his job right, it´s up to the Travel Blythe Clan to protect human travellers from precocious dragons... *sigh* MEN! (Mythical ones are the worst)."

KB: "Good thing I brought my mace just in case... and if you don´t stop taking credit for MY dragon slayings, your silly toes will have a little encounter with it, too, MISTER!"

Siebengebirgsmuseum - Seven Hills Museum

Koenigswinter is situated picturesquely between the river Rhine and the Drachenfels (Dragon Rock) mountain in the Siebengebirge (Seven Hills) mountain range. While it´s commonly translated as "Seven Hills", the name originally was "Sieben Berge" (Seven Mountains) - yes, exactly like in "across the seven mountains at the seven dwarfs´". Up to the 19th century, the hills were considered impassable, dangerous and mysterious, and many legends and stories are attached to them.

The local museum, situated in a villa in the city centre, is a quaint and quite charming place which shows a bit of history, geology, and local culture.

This diorama shows a Roman trachyte quarry around the 1st century BC. The stones mined on Drachenfels were transported on ships along the Rhine and used to build representative buildings. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the quarries were no longer used until the 11th century. Cologne Cathedral is built from trachyte from the Drachenfels.

An early Christian tombstone depicting some kind of a Jesus figure with halo.

The upper floor of the museum is dedicated to the nearby Abbey at Heisterbach, which was a picturesque ruin and popular tourist destination already in the 19th century.

One of the most popular German cartoon characters of the post-war period is Mecki the hedgehog, "born" in Koenigswinter as the brainchild of Eduard Rhein, founder and editor in chief of "Hoer zu" magazine.  He wanted a mascot for his magazine that "Joe Average" could identify with, came across a puppet animation film of the fairytale of the Hare and the Hedgehog, and chose the hedgehog character. Soon, Mecki had a regular cartoon in "Hoer zu", starred in a number of short puppet animation films, and was marketed as a plush toy in various sizes. While Mecki is less popular today than in the 1950s and 60s, he´s still around - there was an animated cartoon series just a few years ago.    (http://www.siebengebirgsmuseum.de/mecki.htm)

When we visited the museum, there was a special exhibition on the reception of the Nibelung story in high and popular culture. It was really interesting and entertaining.

Here´s a few highlights.

As legend has it, Siegfried became invulnerable by bathing in the blood of the dragon he had slain - well, almost: there was one tiny spot which was not touched by the blood since it was covered by a leaf of a linden tree that had dropped on his shoulder. (No mere bad luck, by the way: The linden was a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. Rituals and celebrations as well as  judicial thing meetings were held under the tree, and it was believed that the linden would help unearth the truth. It was still associated with jurisprudence even after Christianization.) (Wikipedia)

Hagen, probably the only character in the Nibelung story with more than half a brain cell, managed to talk Siegfried´s wife Kriemhild into marking his one vulnerable one spot by cross-stitching a linden leaf (or a cross) on the shoulder of his clothes "so he could protect him".        It didn´t occur to either Kriemhild nor Siegfried that this might perhaps not be such a good idea - granted, they trusted Hagen, but he was not the only one who could see the stitched leaf that Siegfried now wore on his back like a bull´s eye target.

During a hunting trip, when Siegfried was inattentive for a moment, Hagen hit the bull´s eye with a javelin and killed Mr. Nibelung No-Brain. This way of killing is particularly dishonorable in medieval thought, as throwing a javelin is the manner in which one might slaughter a wild beast, not a knight. (Wikipedia)

The dart board above lets you compare your own throwing skills with Hagen´s. Can you hit the linden leaf in the centre with one single throw - or does Siegfried notice what you´re trying to do and kills you? 

This mechanical dragon was built in the 1920s and was hung below the ceiling in a local pub. It could flap his wings, move his mouth and the eyes lit up. The pub is long gone, but the dragon somehow managed to survive. Did it just wink at us?

In a mock library, you could browse through the many novelisations and adaptations of the Nibelung story or listen to excerpts (including some read in Middle High German).


Richard Wagner´s "Ring of the Nibelung" opera circle is one such famous adaptation, although its story strays quite a bit from the original. But it probably is the one with the nicest music!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Ring_des_Nibelungen

It was quite surprising to see how many other works have been influenced by the Nibelung saga - with magical weapons and artefacts, courageous heroes, treasure, intrigue, and grisly dragons, it is one of the blueprints of the modern fantasy genre and its influence can be seen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Conan (just look at the Siegfried statue above...), even Harry Potter.

The Nibelung myth was also frequently (ab)used as political propaganda - the Second World War is only one example. The story was cited as  a model of Germanic fighting spirit and unconditional loyalty - never mind that King Gunther had so much "fighting spirit" that he needed the help of his brother in law, disguised, to win - and later rape - his wife Brunhild, who just hung him onto a hook in their bedroom in their wedding night... and Kriemhild who was so "loyal" to both her brother and her husband that she gave their trick away in a silly catfight, and later told Hagen about Siegfried´s one vulnerable spot).

The Nibelung exhibition was spread across three locations in Koenigswinter: the museum, the Nibelung Hall and Schloss Drachenburg.

Drachenfelsbahn - Drachenfels Railway

It was rather late when we came out of the museum, so in order to get to at least one of the two other sites and have enough time to see a bit of it before it closed, we took the Drachenfels Railway rather than walking all the way up the mountain.

Founded in 1883, it is the oldest rack railway in Germany. The line is 1.5 km (0.9mi) long and overcomes a height difference of 220 m (722 ft) with a maximum gradient of 20%. We got out at the "Middle Station" which took us straight to Schloss Drachenburg.

After visiting Drachenburg, we went all the way up to the top and walked back down.

The trains used to be steam-powered until 1958, when an accident claimed 17 lives as a steam train derailed. Nowadays the trains are powered by electricity.

Waiting at the station for the next train to go up.

Ever since the 18th century, you used to be able to ride a donkey up the hill. We didn´t see any this time, though (the picture is from an earlier visit). Donkeys used to be used as transport animals when the mountain was a quarry, and later by the wine growers.

Schloss Drachenburg

This beautiful Gothic castle was build in 1882 - 1884 for a rich business magnate from Bonn as a representative villa, demonstrating his wealth and power. He never actually lived here, though - instead, he lived in Paris most of the time.

His nephew and heir opened the castle for visitors. In 1931, after having changed owners a few times, it was made a Catholic boarding school for boys. During the Second World War, the  Nazis took over and made it into a school for future political leaders. After the War, it was used by the German Railways , also as a school. Then it stood empty for a while and began to decay more and more.

In 1971, a private investor bought the castle and started to refurbish it. Since 1989, it is  owned by the country North Rhine Westphalia and protected as a historical site. Restoration is in process, so you can only see parts of it, but even those are worth it.

KB: "I like it here. Can I move in?"

Catfight! On the steps of the Cathedral in Worms, Siegfried´s wife Kriemhild (sister of King Gunther and Queen of Netherland*) and Gunther´s wife Brunhild (Queen of Burgundy and Iceland) quarrel about who is higher in rank and has the right to enter first.

This is when Kriemhild blurts out that Gunther only won Brunhild with Siegfried´s help and reveals to her sister-in-law how she was tricked and raped. This story is not only deeply humiliating to Brunhild, but also to Gunther. This is why Hagen von Tronje decides to kill Siegfried to protect the honor and reign of his king.

*Siegfried´s kingdom at the Nether Rhine around Xanthen, not the Dutch Netherlands

Hagen sweet-talks Kriemhild into giving away the location of Siegfried´s one vulnerable spot so he can kill, err, protect him.

Another part of the Nibelung exhibition was displayed here, right next to the Nibelung Room. It had some stage costumes for all the characters (nice ones, not the crappy stuff you see in modernized productions where everyone wears suits, if anything at all); Nibelung souvenirs (beer jars, mugs, picturebooks etc.) as well as toys and comic books influenced by the saga - the dragons and knights from Lego and Playmobil were present, as well as mangas by Riyoko Ikeda and Leiji Matsumoto.


High on top of the mountain, there are the ruins of Burg Drachenfels.

The castle was built in the 12th century, but was badly damaged in 1634 and never rebuilt. In the 19th century, the ruins were somewhat restored, just enough to secure them.  I did not take any pictures of the really nasty block of concrete that is the restaurant just above the ruins. It´s an utter eyesore in an otherwise beautiful place.

Heinrich Heine wrote a sonnet here called "Night on the Drachenfels"

Die Nacht auf dem Drachenfels

Um Mitternacht war schon die Burg erstiegen,
Der Holzstoß flammte auf am Fuß der Mauern,
Und wie die Burschen lustig niederkauern,
Erscholl das Lied von Deutschlands heilgen Siegen.

Wir tranken Deutschlands Wohl aus Rheinweinkrügen,
Wir sahn den Burggeist auf dem Turme lauern,
Viel dunkle Ritterschatten uns umschauern,
Viel Nebelfraun bei uns vorüberfliegen.

Und aus den Trümmern steigt ein tiefes Ächzen,
Es klirrt und rasselt, und die Eulen krächzen;
Dazwischen heult des Nordsturms Wutgebrause. -

Sieh nun, mein Freund, so eine Nacht durchwacht ich
Auf hohem Drachenfels, doch leider bracht ich
Den Schnupfen und den Husten mit nach Hause

At midnight, we had already reached the castle, lit a fire within its walls, sat down merrily and sang of Germany´s holy victories. We drank to the country´s health from jars of Rhine wine. We saw the castle´s ghost lurk on the tower, some ancient knights´dark shadows flicker round us and ladies of the mist float gently by. Then from the depths of the ruins came a deep sigh, a rattling, owls tooting and the angry roar of the storm. This is the night, my friend, that I spent up there on the Drachenfels - but unfortunately I brought a bad cold and cough down with me...

The view from up here was celebrated by Lord Byron in his epic poem                              "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage":

The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o’er the wide and winding Rhine.
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine,
And hills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scattered cities crowning these,
Whose far white walls along them shine,
Have strewed a scene, which I should see
With double joy wert THOU with me!

And peasant girls, with deep blue eyes,
And hands which offer early flowers,
Walk smiling o’er this paradise;
Above, the frequent feudal towers
Through green leaves lift their walls of grey,
And many a rock which steeply lours,
And noble arch in proud decay,
Look o’er this vale of vintage bowers:
But one thing want these banks of Rhine, —
Thy gentle hand to clasp in mine!

The river nobly foams and flows,
The charm of this enchanted ground,
And all its thousand turns disclose
Some fresher beauty varying round;
... More mighty spots may rise—more glaring shine,
 But none unite in one attaching maze
The brilliant, fair, and soft;—the glories of old days.

 The negligently grand, the fruitful bloom
 Of coming ripeness, the white city’s sheen,
 The rolling stream, the precipice’s gloom,
 The forest’s growth, and Gothic walls between,
 The wild rocks shaped as they had turrets been
 In mockery of man’s art; and these withal
 A race of faces happy as the scene,
 Whose fertile bounties here extend to all,
Still springing o’er thy banks, though empires near them fall.

Byron - who had visited the place in 1816 and has a square in the city named after him - was only one of many poets who wrote about Drachenfels: http://www.siebengebirgsmuseum.de/lyrik.htm


We took our leave from the castle and made our way back down...


Along the way, we passed the Drachenloch (Dragon´s Cave) - said to be the cave of the dragon that was slain by Siegfried. A cruel beast who demanded a regular human sacrifice (virgins preferred) as the price for not preying on the locals.

Till the day Siegfried happened to pass by and come across a group of people dragging a girl who was tied up along. They explained to him that she was to be the victim for the dragon. Since they outnumbered him by far, Siegfried knew he couldn´t save her by fighting the locals - so he went to search out the dragon. The rest is history, so to speak.

What have we here? Have we discovered Eslapion, the home of Seron´s "Petits Hommes", or a SPECTRUM base?

A beautiful view from here of Schloss Drachenburg

The  Honighaeuschen (Honey House). The beehives with the masks on are called Immenwächter (bees´guards), Bannkörbe (bane baskets), Neidköpfe (envy heads) or Immenkönige (bee kings) and are traditionally supposed to ward off evil, such as the Evil Eye, and protect the bees. They go back to the 16th century, although the ones exhibited here are made in more recent times and feature abstract grimaces as well as images of politicians the owners consider "evil" enough.

The Dragon´s Fountain.Told you, they are everywhere!

Nibelungenhalle - Nibelung Hall

This pseudo-Germanic temple was built as a monument to the great composer Richard Wagner in 1913 (his 100th anniversary) and is an example of late Jugendstil architecture. Inside are twelve paintings by Hermann Heinrich depicting scenes from Wagner´s Ring as well as other works. Nibelung Hall was closed by the time we arrived, but Lars and I have been there years ago, so I have some pictures after all... 

A dark tunnel leads to an artificial cave in which a 13m long stone dragon sits above a pond. It looks almost alive!

  It has an attached reptile zoo with various species of "living dragons".


Picturesque Koenigswinter

Koenigswinter is a picturesque little city with many nice spots. We only took in a few impressions strolling through the pedestrian area on our way to the museum and back.

Little Britain in Koenigswinter... all that´s missing is a Tardis :-) 

(Aug 2008)

Heisterbach Monastery

Since we saw paintings and engravings of Heisterbach at the museum, how about a look at the real thing?

For a long time after its foundation in the 12th century, Heisterbach, which had large possessions and drew revenues from many neighbouring towns, was one of the most flourishing Cistercian monasteries - until its suppression in 1803. (A "heister" is a beech tree). The library and the archives were given to the city of Düsseldorf; the monastery and the church were sold and torn down in 1809, and only the apse with the ruins of the choir remains. (Wikipedia).

The Monk of Heisterbach

Soon after the monastery was founded, there was a young monk who was well-regarded because of his vast knowledge. But in spite of being well-read and studied, he could not get his mind round the words in the Bible "With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years". One day, he was walking the gardens, musing, and completely lost in thought, he entered the forest. He went in deeper and deeper without realizing where he was going until he got tired, sat down near a brook to rest and fell asleep. He dreamed that he was close to the Lord, with the waters of eternity rushing past around him.

When he woke up, he realized how late he was. The bells were already calling to prayer. So he rushed back to the monastery. He was surprised to see strange faces - there was even a strange monk sitting on his own place. The young monk was utterly confused. So were the other monks. They took him to the abbot, who was another stranger. When the young monk asked about his own familiar abbot, an incredulous stare was the answer - no abbot of that name had been at the monastery for hundreds of years!

Someone got an ancient chronicle and indeed they found an entry reporting that a young monk had vanished without a trace. Now the monk understood how "to the Lord a thousand years are like one day". He smiled a peaceful smile, sank down and closed his eyes forever.

(pictures taken in 2001)

Aggertal Cave

This cave is not exactly near Koenigswinter but I thought the pictures fit well in this section. Aggertalhoehle (Agger Valley Cave)  is to the East of Cologne. There is another cave in the vicinity, Wiehler Tropfsteinhoehle (Wiehl Dripstone Cave) that is also open to the public. Both are well worth a visit.

http://www.aggertalhoehle.de/  http://www.akkh.de/wiehlerhoehle.html

The Aggertal cave developped ca. 350 million years ago. At that time, there was a tropical climate in this area. Almost the entire continent of Europe was covered by a tropical sea. Its petrified coral reefs and prehistoric sea creatures can be seen in this cave as well as the one in Wiehl.

The cave is more than 1000 m long but visitors can only go in approx. one third of the way. It was discovered in 1773, as Feckelsberger Hoehle, but not mapped until 1910. It is accessible to the public since 1930 and was  re-named Aggertalhoehle in 1950.