A early sunny start in Worms takes me to the river, a statue of Hagen throwing the treasure of the Niebelungen into the Rhine, and the vineyards that brought us Liebfraumilch. A Proustian moment – not. Too many 1970s allusions without any of the ameliorating punk songs, just loon pants and Abigail’s parties.
The Dom is not so far from the Martin Luther memorial; and the campaign that will bring the tourists here en masse for 2021 – the 500th anniversary of Luther’s address to the Diet of Worms – is already up and running. To get there, and it’s still around 8am, I’ve walked past the Jewish cemetery, outside the city walls. I know I should know about Luther and the Jews, but I don’t – I make a note to find out.
The Niebelungen museum is controversial; a lot of locals didn’t want it, there were too many bad associations with Germany’s “Illiad”. It is a very clever piece of design, built into a slice of the still remaining city walls. Standing on these walls after a couple of hours inside I wonder: where in the world has not been invaded in, say, the past two hundred years? And is there any correlation between being – or not being – physically invaded and a country’s relationship to overseas war? It is just a thought.
The museum is an audio-visual experience of the good kind. In fact the entire point of the museum is that it is a fascinating series of spaces, towers, which the visitor climbs to watch and listen to the story, and some of the recital, of the German saga. Who knew it was centred in Worms?
The narrator of the piece is the anonymous author of the German version of the Niebelungen. Even in English he has a nice fruity voice, and a gentle sense of humour. On small video monitors clips from old black and white German movie tellings of the myth, including Fritz Lang’s play away, moodily. And there’s a modern music score that adds to the atmosphere.
“When I wrote this story, some 800 years ago, the world was a very different place…Over the centuries I have seen what you, the living, have made of my story, and how you have interpreted it…” The narrator disagrees with some of Snorri’s version…”many interpreted my poem as they pleased, not really caring for the truth…There were many who let themselves be compared to him [Siegfried]. All this has nothing to do with my work. What fiendish interpretations were these! Oh sceptre of misfortune!”
It makes me think of Luther, his “re-interpretation” – his going back to The Word – of the Bible. It is the curse of all texts to be too open, too malleable. I think too about the word “freedom” in the past decade. Then back inside, our narrator does not rate Wagner’s take on the myth so highly. Indeed the museum’s creators say that they “deliberately shied away from all of the Romantic epics…”
In the “Listening Tower” there is a real panorama across the city to the cathedral, and in the other direction to the Rhine. There’s also a series of audio clips of where exactly the “Burgundians” – yes indeed, the original Worms folk were Burgundians – travelled. Iceland, Hungary, Jerusalem, Denmark…It shames us, even Tom, how far they went.
The cycle path to Oppenheim starts at the railway station in Worms. I buy sandwiches and water from a shop there. The woman behind the counter is wearing a nice Burberry scarf. I praise it, “from England,” I say.
“Ach, from Istanbul,” she laughs. “It’s a fake.”
This morning I’ve received an invitation to talk at the European Parliament, at a conference about copyright. Brussels. Not on the route, but not so far away. Copyright a year on from Britain’s Digital Act. Should be interesting. But what to wear? The travel clothes will be walking by themselves soon, leaving their stinky presence…Hope the shops are good in Brussels. Maybe I should – like Tom in 1612 – hop to Istanbul…
I start at around 12 and it’s still warm, the weather doesn’t break until Thursday. Still the one hour detour around an inlet that leads nowhere puts me back an hour, though I do get to see some archery fields. Another sport for the list. It’s plain sailing down the river, but a long way, and when I’m forced to take the ferry across to Gernsheim and find that at 5-ish it is still about another 20 kilometres I wilt, sit and have a water and a giant Snickers bar. And head for the cycle route.
Go wrong, first time on the right bank of the Rhine. Always been a Left Bank kind of Guy.
Hot, tired. A vision. She’s a schoolgirl, well just finished, going to study mechanical engineering at Darmstadt next month. She leads me to the railway station, explains the complex train route I’m going to have to take to get to Oppenheim (it involves going to Frankfurt, briefly), and then marches me off to the supermarket to get provisions as I have 20 mins in hand. By the time I collapse in my somewhat swanky just off the hill hotel in steep-streeted Oppenheim The Schoolgirl has already tracked me down to be a Facebook friend. She may well Rule the World shortly.
In the morning I wander the hilly streets and enjoy a small city museum that fills in a few Tom gaps. I realise I am not reading Tom much at the moment, am too ensconced in Don Quixote. There’ll be time in Mainz. I leave at midday and am in Mainz by 5.30. The walk through the vineyards of Nierstein is fantastic.
And for tomorrow.