National Geographic : 1967 Apr
aboard one of the fast and comfortable Rhine excursion boats, and I mentioned having seen the Lorelei, the mass of rock that towers 433 feet above the river (page 469). What, I wondered, did a pilot think of the Rhine's best known legend-of a beautiful siren who sits atop the rock and lures rivermen to their deaths in the treacherous narrows below? Or of the legend that the Lorelei watches over the Rheingold, the drowned treasure of the Nibelungs that in directly cost the heroic Siegfried his life? Variations on the theme form the basis of Richard Wagner's group of four operas, The Ring of the Nibelungs. Drowned Wealth Lies at Siren's Feet "There may be a good reason for the Lorelei legends," my pilot friend observed. "The narrows there are treacher ous; we call them die Schere-the Scissors-and they can do to a ship just what scissors do to thread. In the old days of witchcraft and superstition, if a captain made a mistake and lost his ship, who better to blame than some demon? "As to the treasure, probably enough cargoes have gone down at the Lorelei to equal a thousand Rheingolds." One of the great hazards to navigation in the Rhine Gorge is the river's habit of changing levels. At Kaub, 476 Floating on its reflections, historic Strasbourg spans a network of calm canals. Man made waterways connect the Alsatian capital with France's vast river system, giving small Rhine ships access to such dis tant cities as Paris and Mar seille. Watchtowers of the Ponts Couverts mark the line of the city's old defense wall. The single Gothic spire of famed Strasbourg Cathedral rises in the distance at right. Bounty of the Rhine bursts with color in a Strasbourg grocery stand. Signs offer choice dark grapes for 18 cents a pound, beans for 24 cents, tomatoes for 8, and mushrooms at $1.09. Red paper band identifies inexpen sive table grapes.