Tales of the Rhine

The other day on the bus I went past a stop called ‘Rheinsteinstraße’. That reminded me of the English word ‘rhinestone’, which is used primarily as a name for little fake gems that decorate clothing items (‘Strasssteine’), as in the (cheesy) song Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell. So what’s the connection with the big long river on which Cologne is situated?

According to the eponymous Wikipedia entry, rhinestones were originally indeed gathered from the river Rhine. This river, one of today’s most important waterways, has a great deal to offer. Not only does it run through (and lend part of its name to) Germany’s most populous Bundesland North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), passing its largest cities Bonn, Cologne and Duesseldorf, but it is also the setting of many a rambler’s wet dream, the Rheinsteig. This leisurely and beautiful hiking trail follows the course of the Rhine. It sets off in Bonn and soon passes the Siebengebirge mountains, whose Drachenfels (‘Dragon’s Rock’) is supposed to have been the stage of Siegfried’s famous battle with the beast, as purported in the Nibelungen saga. It continues its path along the Middle Rhine, an area of astounding beauty which has inspired scores of writers in the Romantic period, including Lord Byron. Eventually, it takes you through the lovely Rheingau region with its superb wines (don’t miss out on Kloster Eberbach, the very monastery where part of The Name of the Rose was shot) and finishes in picturesque Wiesbaden.

And then you have the whole saga thing involving the Rhine going on. If you’re an opera aficionado, you’ll know Wagner’s Ring, as the four-part Ring der Nibelungen is referred to. Really great stuff, if you can turn a blind eye to the composer’s dubitable qualities as a human being. Or, if you’re a bookworm like I am, you’ll devour Stephan Grundy’s Rhinegold, which compellingly retells the Scandinavian version of the famous legend.

Next week, let’s look at the British person’s paragon of romanticism.

The Pommes Buddha says: Roses are red, violets are blue, rhinestones are tacky and so are you.

Listen to this text as a podcast episode:

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