Brentano, Heine and the lovely Loreley


A 197-metre slate cliff towers into the sky above a narrow section of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, where the river is just 90 metres across. It is the most famous landmark of the Middle Rhine Valley and a world-famous symbol of Rhine Romanticism. Its almost magic attraction has inspired stories, poems, fairy tales and songs about the lovely Loreley, after whom the rocks are named. In ancient times, the Lurleifels in the Middle Rhine Valley was famous for its booming echoes. Apparently, this was the work of dwarves, mountain spirits and nymphs. At the foot of the cliffs, the dangerous currents and rocky reefs in the Rhine brought many ships to a sticky end, making it perfect fodder for legends about love, beauty, suffering and death in the time of Romanticism.

Young poet Clemens Brentano was the first to take inspiration from the Loreley cliffs. His 1801 poem ‘Lore Lay’, which had no fewer than 26 verses, was the first to conjure up the unfortunate lovelorn young siren who lured all men to their deaths, a myth that is still very much the epitome of Rhine Romanticism today. The town of Bacharach is still grateful to Brentano for the fact that the ill-fated Loreley, who falls from the cliffs at the end of the tale, originally hailed from there.

Brentano was born in Ehrenbreitstein and knew the Rhine like the back of his hand, which helped him go on to become one of the most important proponents of the Heidelberg Romanticism movement, alongside his brother-in-law Achim von Arnim. His poem inspired many authors to continue and reinvent the story of the Loreley. However her name is spelled, be it Lureley, Lore Lay, Lorelei or Loreley, they all tell the tale of the beauty invented by Brentano.

View of the Loreley cliffs from the Maria Ruh viewpoint, Romantic Rhine

View of the Loreley cliffs from the Maria Ruh viewpoint, Romantic Rhine

The magic of the Loreley is still alive today – tourists flock from all corners of the world to admire the Loreley cliffs and barely a tripper boat goes past without the song of the Loreley ringing out of the loudspeakers as soon as the cliffs hove into view. But the words of the song are not by Clemens Brentano, but by Heinrich Heine, who would hardly have considered himself a Romantic, more a pre-March era revolutionary. But he, too, was struck by the Loreley and so penned the famous lines: “Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, dass ich so traurig bin; ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten, das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.” [I know not if there is a reason / Why I am so sad at heart. / A legend of bygone ages / Haunts me and will not depart. – Translation by A.Z. Foreman] Friedrich Silcher set Heine’s verse to a melancholy melody, which not only became one of the most famous traditional songs in Germany but also brought worldwide fame to the Loreley.

View of Katz Castle and the Upper Middle Rhine Valley near St. Goarshausen, Romantic Rhine

View of Katz Castle and the Upper Middle Rhine Valley near St. Goarshausen, Romantic Rhine

The famous Loreley cliffs near St. Goarshausen, Romantic Rhine

The famous Loreley cliffs near St. Goarshausen, Romantic Rhine

The view from the water up the cliffs is just as impressive as the view from the Loreley plateau down to the UNESCO World Heritage valley. The die-straight path and the narrow, winding mythical path both lead to the rocky outcrop with its six grand viewpoints over the canyon-like valley breaking through the Rhenish Massif. The visitor centre at the Loreley features an exhibition and 3D film, plus a bistro restaurant which is the go-to destination for all tourists.

View of Bacharach, Romantic Rhine

View of Bacharach, Romantic Rhine

More leisure tips for culture lovers at the Romantic Rhine:


Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site

The whole region here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a charming combination of stunning nature and important cultural heritage.

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easy

117,4 km

7:54 h
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StefanEsser/StadtBingen

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