The Drachenfels is at 321m high hill in the Siebengebierge close to Bad Honnef and marks an important tourist attraction of the area. Between 1138 and 1167, a castle was build on top of the hill and called Castle Drachenfels by Archbishop Arnold of Cologne. The original purpose was to protect the region around Cologne. It stood for several hundred years without any remarkable incident until it was destroyed during the 30 Years’ War in 1634 by protestant Swedes and never rebuild. Eventually in 1956 the area became a national park.
However, the remarkable interest in the castle is not at all related to its military history. Several legends and myths are told about the castle and one of them is the Legend of the Dragon. Even more famously, it is rumoured to have been the place where the Siegfried killed the dragon in the opening story of Germany’s most well-known saga: the Nibelungenlied. Thus, the castle has found fame in paintings by Hermann Hendrich and the operas of Richard Wagner.
Due to these legends and the romantic setting, the castle and hill enjoyed popularity throughout the romantic ear once the Napoleonic Wars had finished. Lord Byron, the famous British poet, brought the rock to international attention by mentioning it in his poem Child Harold’s Pilgrimage:
The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o’er the wide and winding Rhine.
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine,
And hills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scattered cities crowning these,
Whose far white walls along them shine,
Have strewed a scene, which I should see
With double joy wert thou with me!
The Drachenfels soon became the highlight of any romantic Rhine journey, which often took visitors along the river the see the landscape and various castles. Several other poems were composed, including the famous German writer Heinrich Heine.
The popularity of the area was quickly recognised and in 1882 Baron Stephan von Sarter build a neogothic castle (Schloss Drachenburg) at the bottom of the hill to cash in. The Drachenfelsbahn, a train connecting the two castles, was build to transport growing numbers of tourists. Germans sometimes jokingly refer to the Drachenfels also as Schwiegermutterfelsen (mother-in-law rock) or ‘the highest rock in Holland’ due to the large numbers of Dutch visitors to the area.
The restaurant that was opened in 1970 was quickly demolished as its brutalise architecture was seen as an eye-sore in the romantic landscape and the castle was reopened and renovated by 2013.
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