Imaginary trips on the Rhine in the new “Romanticum” in Koblenz.
Sometimes natural beauty takes a little longer to be discovered, as was the case with the stretch of Rhine between Rüdesheim/Bingen and Remagen, where the river is definitely at its most beautiful. Ever since Roman times large numbers of people have travelled through the Middle Rhine valley, as the river has always been the main axis linking northern Europe to the south. Merchants, pilgrims, travellers and great armies, too, have all passed this way.The striking landscape formations and picturesque towns must have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people back in the Middle Ages, but they inspired little enthusiasm. Even the sight of the fabulous Loreley rock was more likely to bring an anxious prayer to the lips of the people of those times than awed sighs of amazement. After all, this was the narrowest point on the river Rhine and getting past its treacherous rocks in one piece was by no means a matter of course.The “breakthrough” didn’t come until Romantic poets such as Friedrich Schlegel introduced a new perspective on this landscape. In 1801 Clemens Brentano created the most famous of the Rhine myths, the story of the beautiful, sad enchantress Lore Ley, when he published his ballad “At Bacharach on the Rhine”.
The Middle Rhine had none of the idyllic scenes and cultivated landscapes which were so highly regarded in the Baroque Age. Instead it offered original, unspoilt nature, which was what the Romanticists yearned for.
This romantic view of the Rhine was soon shared by artists, too. Christian Georg Schütz the Younger and William Turner painted what the public (heavily influenced by the Romantic novelists of the day) wanted to see: rugged, wild Rhine landscapes with solitary ruined castles perched on steep cliffs.
This new fascination with the Rhine attracted other visitors from the British Isles besides the artist William Turner: Lord Byron, for example. After the French ‘Continental Blockade’ was lifted British aristocrats were once more able to go on the ‘grand tour’ of Europe. The romantic fascination with the Rhine led to the development of Rhine tourism, which reached unprecedented levels when a regular steam boat service was introduced in 1827. By the mid 19th century about 1 million visitors each year were enjoying the scenery from on board a steam vessel.