One of the reasons why we found the sight of Valerie lying on a white fur bedcover so seductive was because it triggered in us a remembrance of a similar fur-fashioned decorative item in a lady's bedchamber--and in a hilltop castle, no less.
Yes, a castle. And not just a fortress of the imagination, nor a palace from a storybook, but a bona fide, real-life castle, one that we visited during our most recent European pilgrimage, in the summer of 2009.* * *
The greatest of all Teutonic legends is that of the Siegfried the dragonslayer. However, unlike British fables, which are often set in a realm of fantasy, Germanic myths are invariably associated with specific geographic locales. The English King Arthur slumber in the mystical isle of Avalon, a nebulous realm on the twilight borderland between this world and the next, but the Teutonic Kaiser Barbarossa sleeps under the Kyffhäser Mountains, a very real mountain range in central Germany. No one knows if Arthur's Camelot was located in Cornwall, or Glastonbury, or merely in a chronicler's imagination. But any German boy can tell you where Siegfried plunged the sword Notung into the body of the dragon, slaying the great beast, then drinking its blood to gain the wisdom of the natural world: it was on the slops of the Drachenfels ("dragon's rock"), a specific mountain overlooking the river Rhine.
In the image below, the Drachenfels is the taller mountain at the left of the frame, crowned by an ancient ruin.
That ruin is the last remaining fragment of Schloß Drachenfels (Castle Drachenfels), whose noble stones still tower above the forest and offer a commanding view of the Rhine.
Looking downriver from the summit of the Drachenfels, one sees the other castle that appears in the first image, above. This is no ruin, but a Neo-Gothic masterpiece called Schloß Drachenburg ("dragon's castle"), built in the nineteenth century by a patriotic German baron who grew up loving the Siegfried myth.
The castle was horribly damaged by the barbarism of the Allies in World War Two, to the point that it nearly resembled the crumbling shell of Schloß Drachenfels towering above it. But the Germans have been slowly, painstakingly restoring it for the last 65 years, and reconstruction was only finally completed late last year. (The final touches of refurbishment were still under way when we toured it in 2009.)
Not only is it one of the most beautiful castles in the world, but also one of the most sublimely situated, with the Rhine river flowing just below the western slope, and the Drachenfels--the most storied of all German mountains--looming above it to the south.
The Drachenfels ruin is not visible from the terrace level, but if one ascends Drachenburg's north tower, one sees the crumbling walls rising above the forest, atop the mountain.
Within, the Drachenburg is every bit as opulent as it appears from without The castle's official Web site offers a virtual tour of its many chambers, including the storied Nibelungen room, decorated with 19th-century Romantic murals of the Siegfried legend (as recounted in the medieval epic of the Nibelungenlied), as well as the opulently appointed dining room. The castle's Neo-Gothic style exhibits a quintessentially masculine character, as is evident in the mighty oaken bed in the master bedroom of the original owner.
Did you notice the floor covering? Yes, that is a black bearskin carpet, recalling the hunting tradition that was so popular with the German nobility up until the last war.
Just down the hall from the master bedroom, one finds the sleeping chamber for the lady of the castle. A quintessentially feminine aesthetic complement to the masculinity of the master bedroom, it is appointed in light colours rather than dark, in citrus hues rather than forest green, with a pair of white beds rather than a dark oaken bed. But for our purposes, the most notable item is the floor covering.
Yes, just as the darker bed suited the male proprietor of the castle, while the white beds beseemed his lady, so does the black rug in the master bedroom find a white bearskin complement in the lady's bedchamber. We immediately thought of this item when we first saw the Zay Clothing image of Valerie lounging on her white-fur bedcover. One can easily imagine seeing a golden-haired, curvaceous princess languidly stretched out on this bearskin carpet, just as Valerie reposes in the Zay image, inviting her admirer's worship.
While we have your interest, we will direct your attention to several other noteworthy sights in the immediate vicinity. First, there is the exterior of Schloß Drachenburg itself. This is the east face, with its magnificent Gothic rose window.
This, on the other hand, is the castle's western terrace, with the photographer facing northwards. Now housing a pleasant café, this terrace directly overlooks the mighty river Rhine, offering one of the most storied vistas in all of Germany.
Further down the slope from the Drachenburg, as one approaches the underlying town of Königswinter, one finds the Nibelungenhalle. Built a century ago in a consciously archaic style, right down to the runic lettering, the building houses a cycle of paintings by Herman Hendrich illustrating Wagner's epic operatic tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen, which gives the legend of Siegfriend the dragonslayer its definitive artistic expression.
This chamber inside the edifice shows a triptych illustrating Siegfried, the third installment of the four-part Ring cycle, and the opera in which Siegfried actually forges his sword and slays the dragon, Fafner. The paintings are difficult to see in the photograph, but before them stands an anvil into which a sword is embedded.
This object recalls the most famous scene in the opera, in which Siegfried, having forged his invincible sword, takes it and strikes the anvil itself, cleaving the anvil in twain.
Leaving the Nibelungenhalle, one descends to the Rhine, then travels a short distance upstream, first passing the Drachenburg itself, then the castle ruin atop the mountain.
Subsequently looking back toward the southward-facing slope of the Drachenfels, one sees the scaly cliffs that originally gave the mountain its name. Many of the steep embankments of the Rhine gorge are home to centuries-old vineyards, and this one is no exception.
However, this is no ordinary vineyard. In one area in particular, above the vines and just below the cliff face, a cave-like formation is visible, seemingly leads inside the mountain.
This is the famous Drachenloch, or "dragon's cave," the crevice in which, according to myth, the dragon Fafner lay slumbering until the fearless Siegfried entered, sword in hand, and slew the ferocious beast, then drank deeply of its blood.
Just as this is no ordinary vineyard, so do its vines yield no ordinary wine. The rest of the Rhine vintners plant their fields with white grapes, which produce the white wines for which the Germans are well known. But here alone in the entire Rhine gorge, the grapes that grow in the fields are red.
Red, like blood. Like the blood of a dragon.
And the name of the wine made from the grapes that grow in the soil of Drachenfels is . . . Drachen Blut.
Dragon's Blood Wine.
Drachen Blut cannot be bought in North America, nor anywhere else in Europe. It was therefore the thrill of a lifetime for us when we personally made the trek to the Drachenfels winery and purchased two bottles of dragon's-blood wine. (It comes in two varieties: Trocken, or "dry," and "Halbtrocken," literally "half dry," or semi-sweet.)
The bottle's elegant label is clearly marked Drachen Blut. Siegfried, with his sword, appears on the right, the ruin of Schloß Drachenfels towers on the left, and a forlorn-looking, dying dragon lies in the centre, blood gushing from its maw and filling glasses of wine.
To imbibe Drachen Blut wine is veritably to drink the blood of the dragon.* * *
There is something quintessentially feminine about the sight of a goddess stretched out onto white fur--an association that was already present in 19th-century décor. As the opulent "maximalism" of the 1800s increasingly gains favour, we may yet see further examples of such traditional motifs returning to cultural awareness. As this aesthetic restoration continues, it may bring back an appreciation for Neo-Gothic castles like Schloß Drachenburg, as well the myths and legends that they celebrate, and even a taste for the full-figured femininity that was the ideal of beauty in every century prior to the twentieth.
(All of the photographs in this post were taken by the author, except for the first, ninth, and 16th.)
- Schloß Drachenburg: official site