Die Lorelei und der Rhein

In the footsteps of Turner.

As a child I always had a fascination for the Rhine and its tributaries. I suppose being born and living in the river delta that is now called the Netherlands [the Low Countries] might have been a factor. I did not really know then that the country was just a river delta until I started to learn geography at school and then realised that my country was just a mud heap created by the Rhine with the mud carried all the way down from Switzerland.

The first time I saw the river was in 1948 when I went to Arnhem the city that had been extensively damaged in 1944 in the battle for the Rhine Bridge. I was sent there as a work experience student by the railway company to help out with the railway station’s building improvements. At that time of the year the river was semi flooded and at its most impressive. Although coming from North Holland and spending my youth beside a very sizable canal I had never encountered anything as large as the Rhine in flood.

And it flowed so calmly

After this work-experience occasion I never visited Arnhem again but during our 2014 trip in Germany from Münster to Zürich we crisscrossed the river many times and visited the historic places along the way where Turner had taken his sketches worked up in the imaginary and romantic works of art that made him famous; places such as the Pfalz, Coblenz, Heidelberg, and Colmar. And so one day we went on our way armed with a copy of Turner’s watercolour to visit the famous Lorelei felsen the rock where Lorelei enticed the unweary traveller to wreck their boats on the hidden snags below the surface. It was not the easiest place to get to because of the roads, the traffic, and the noise, so we did not actually get to the view point Turner took for his painting.

It is a caravan park.

Actually the whole river is now a superhighway with huge barges and enormous cruise ships plying their way up and down from Schaffhausen to Rotterdam and with roads and railways hemming in the river on both sides leaving no space for Lorelei to perform her Siren song. A great disappointment for an old romanticist.