Upper Middle Rhine Valley (2002) 
Germany

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The 65km-stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley, with its castles, historic towns and vineyards, graphically illustrates the long history of human involvement with a dramatic and varied natural landscape. 

It is intimately associated with history and legend and for centuries has exercised a powerful influence on writers, artists and composers. 

  • Germany 2006. Upper Middle Rhine Valley. 

Germany 2006. Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

German Federal Republic 1973. Rüdesheim am Rhein. German Federal Republic 1977. Europa Stamp. Rhine Landscape.

As one of the most important transport routes in Europe, the Middle Rhine Valley has for two millennia facilitated the exchange of culture between the Mediterranean region and the north.

The Middle Rhine Valley is an outstanding organic cultural landscape, the present-day character of which is determined both by its geomorphological and geological setting and by the human interventions, such as settlements, transport infrastructure, and land-use, that it has undergone over two thousand years. 

  • German Federal Republic 1989. 2000th anniversary of the city of Bonn. 

German Federal Republic 1989. 2000th anniversary of the city of Bonn.

The Middle Rhine Valley is an outstanding example of an evolving traditional way of life and means of communication in a narrow river valley. The terracing of its steep slopes in particular has shaped the landscape in many ways for more than two millennia. However, this form of land-use is under threat from the socio-economic pressures of the present day. 

It is well worth noting that some of the individual World Heritage Sites of Germany are located in this area. Examples are Speyer, Cologne, and Augustusburg & Falkenhurst in Brühl. 

Lorelei or Lurlei, is a steep rock in west central Germany, about 120 m (about 390 ft) high, rising perpendicularly on the right bank of the Rhine River, near the town of Sankt Goar. The Lorelei is situated in part of the river that is very difficult to navigate and is celebrated for an echo. 

German Federal Republic 1972. Heinrich Heine.

These factors inspired the German writer Clemens Brentano, who in his novel Godwi (1800-1802) created the legend of a beautiful siren who sits on the rock and entices mariners to their death. 

The story was later retold in Die Lorelei (1823), a famous lyric by the German poet Heinrich Heine. 

  • German Federal Republic 1972. Heinrich Heine. 

The legend of Lorelei 
This legend is an inseparable part of the river’s history. The best-known version of the golden-haired beauty is the one depicted in Heinrich Heine’s poem that became part of the German heritage in the song composed by Friedrich Silcher. 

Originally, Lorelei was created as a literary image of passionate love. It was in a ballad written by the Rhineland poet Clemens Brentano that Lorelei first appeared as a woman’s name. ‘Lore Lay’ was betrayed by her lover. On her way to the cloister, she wanted to take one last look at his castle from the Loreley rock. But when she imagined she saw him leaving in a boat, she threw herself into the river. 

Brentano varied the Lorelei theme a number of times. In his Rhine fairy tales, which he started to write in 1810, for the first time appears the motif of an unhappy blond woman sitting on a rock combing her hair. 

Later, Lorelei changed from a tragic ghostly figure into a femme fatale. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, she was portrayed by some poets as a Valkyrie-like national symbol. The literature of the 20th century has moved away from that motif, instead showing the figure in numerous ironical variations, thereby expanding further on the myth of Lorelei. 

Below I have given the original German text (in the left column) by Heinrich Heine. There are many translations of different qualities of this poem; the one I personally find the most close in relation to verse and music is given in the right column. 

1. Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt,
Im Abendsonnenschein.

2. Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar,
Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewalt'ge Melodei.

3. Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe,
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen,
Die Loreley getan.

1. I cannot determine the meaning
Of sorrow that fills my breast:
A fable of old, through it streaming,
Allows my mind no rest.
The air is cool in the gloaming
And gently flows the Rhine.
The crest of the mountain is gleaming
In fading rays of sunshine.

2. The loveliest maiden is sitting
Up there, so wondrously fair;
Her golden jewelry is glist'ning;
She combs her golden hair.
She combs with a gilded comb, preening,
And sings a song, passing time.
It has a most wondrous, appealing
And pow'rful melodic rhyme.

3. The boatman aboard his small skiff, -
Enraptured with a wild ache,
Has no eye for the jagged cliff, -
His thoughts on the heights fear forsake.
I think that the waves will devour
Both boat and man, by and by,
And that, with her dulcet-voiced power
Was done by the Loreley. 

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Germany (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Germany for further information about such sites. 

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Revised 03 aug 2006  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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