Not all German legends have been turned into hit animated movies… at least not yet.
The castles and provincial hamlets along the Rhine River have been the inspiration for countless well-known fairytales and bedtime stories. Many of which have been co-opted into blockbuster films and pop-cultural icons. But a few have managed to stay out of the glare, remaining beloved but local legends.
One such story is that of Lorelei – a lovely young maiden whose beauty was so bewitching that she caused sailors to wreck their ships. There are several different versions of the myth but all are centered around the so-called Lorelei Rock. Located at a part of the river with particularly strong and treacherous currents, its eerie-sounding echo was amplified with raging waters that crashed against the jagged rock. While this ‘murmur’ is harder to hear nowadays thanks to all the urbanization in the surrounding areas, you can imagine the terrified fears of sailors as they attempted to navigate these waters. Many ships met an untimely fate here.
An early version of the tale, penned by German poet and novelist Clemens Brentano, tells of a heroine betrayed by her sweetheart who imagines she sees her love in the Rhine and falls off the cliff to her death. She remains at the cliff forever after, haunting sailors with her enchanting song.
Heinrich Heine’s well-known 1824 poem about the legend further cemented the fairytale in the hearts and minds of the German people, describing a woman with golden jewels and hair and a golden comb who fell – or flung herself -- into the river because of an unfaithful lover. Her spirit sings an enthralling, haunting melody – like a spell – that is powerful enough to send sailors to their deaths. The murmur from the waters was thought to be the sound of Lorelei’s voice.
While no blockbuster cinematic version has yet to hit the big screen, the legend has inspired countless musicians, artists and storytellers. Johann Strauss composed a waltz for Lorelei, Sylvia Plath wrote a poem, Felix Mendelssohn composed an opera, Styx performed a song, Marvel Comics created a character and Star Trek even centered an episode around a planet of beautiful women who lure ships to their world.
For travelers from the United States -- the Lorelei Fountain, originally planned to be erected in Heinrich Heine’s hometown of Düsseldorf, can be enjoyed in the Bronx before or after your trip.
Uncover even more charming local legends with our Rhine River itineraries.