A tale of the bygone ages…
The Rhine Valley can be accurately described as Germany’s first major tourist destination. As early as the mid 19th century there were an impressive one million visitors! But why did people flock here from all over the world in such numbers? Each visitor can discover the answer for himself in the breathtaking landscape.
A tourist destination? Far from it!
Travellers such as pilgrims, merchants and trades people had always taken the
route through the narrow Rhine Valley, as it was the quickest way to get from
Frankfurt or Mainz to Cologne. But the wild and often perilous terrain bore little
fascination for these wayfarers. It presented itself as rough and threatening and
they were lucky to get past the treacherous shallows in the river and the jagged
rocks without coming to grief. All travellers were greatly relieved when they and
their belongings came through this part of the journey unscathed. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that a completely new understanding of the wild beauty
of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley began to develop.
A new yearning
Up till then many people had found the well-ordered form of the precisely
structured baroque garden the ultimate expression of all natural beauty.
But from the end of the 18th century until well into the 19th century a new generation of poets and philosophers now turned to embrace the primeval beauty of nature. Suddenly, untamed nature with all its elemental power was perceived as part of the aesthetic ideal. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley perfectly
embodied the new image of a raw, wild landscape. Here there were no quaint,
idyllic scenes nor could one find cultivated landscapes in the Classical tradition.
The rocks were rugged, the slopes steep and throning above everything like so many eagles’ nests was a multitude of ruined castles – witnesses to the heroic Middle Ages. Clemens Brentano and his poet friend Achim von Arnim paved the way for the nascent spirit of Rhine Romanticism with their literary works and their correspondence. Lore-Ley, the beautiful blond siren sitting high up on her rock, achieved a level of fame both for herself and the whole region which has remained unabated to this day. Many books of Rhine legends were published around this time and soon views of the Rhine portraying the wildly rugged scenery became bestsellers both at home and abroad.
Very British, but quintessentially German
In England in particular, this new perception of nature and the nostalgic idealization of the Middle Ages found a receptive audience. For many years English travellers had been prevented from crossing the Channel by Napoleon’s‘Continental Blockade’. Now the English with their romantic notions were free to travel once more. The poet and painter Lord Byron praised the romantic Rhine landscape, inspiring many of his fellow countrymen to visit the wild, rugged Loreley Valley. Gothic novels were extremely popular in the British
Isles. They exercised a ghoulish fascination on their readers and the wild Rhine
Valley perfectly embodied the landscapes they described. When a regular
passenger steamer service commenced in 1827 tourists flocked to the Rhine in
great numbers. This fascination with the Rhine attracted artists such as Turner
and novelists such as Victor Hugo. The English writer Mary Shelley was directly
influenced by a trip to the Rhine when she wrote her famous horror story ‘Frankenstein’.
The Hohenzollern family was also caught up in the enthusiasm for this unique section of the Rhine Valley. The Prussian crown prince personally oversaw
the rebuilding of several castles. Famous architects such as Lassaulx and
Schinkel produced buildings that were idealized visions of chivalrous medieval
charm. In the 19th century the Middle Rhine Valley experienced a new Golden Age
and became a fashionable destination for wealthy tourists from all over the world. One simply had to have seen the Rhine Valley!