Hiking the Siebengebirge or Seven Mountains Range
The Siebengebirge, the “Seven Mountains Range”, is said to have been the place where Siegfried – the hero of the Nibelungenlied and Wagner’s Ring cycle – learned the Art of Warcraft from the treacherous Mime and where he eventually slayed the dragon.
It is also rumoured to be the “land of the 7 mountains” where according to an ancient folk myth 7 miners of small stature once gave shelter to a pale young woman who was, at the time, on the run from a hired assassin.
Sadly, however, we could find no evidence for the veracity of this tale.
Niederdollendorf train station is where we began our hike, essentially a shortened version of the Rheinsteig hiking trail stage 2. Trains from Cologne to Niederdollendorf leave at least once every hour and take a little more than 30 minutes. Cross the rails and walk straight through the village where you can also stock up on provisions. Look for the yellow Rheinsteig sign that marks the way to the actual trail when hiking the Siebengebirge.
On the trail itself, the signs turn blue, which is a great colour for trail markings, making them very easy to spot.
The hiking trail is essentially a sequence of three hills.
First up is the Petersberg where a five-star hotel with an equally posh restaurant awaits the hiker who is not too skint to shell out twenty bob for a snack.
The entire complex is owned by the Federal German Government and the hotel is still (occasionally) used as a “guest house” – which explains the barbed wire, surveillance cameras and searchlights that you pass on the way. In truth, it had its heyday when the near-by town of Bonn was the capital of what was then West Germany.
When official guests resided here, the homeowners in the valley underneath were asked to turn all their lights on in the evenings to give the guests a good show.
The first official guest to be housed here and enjoy the view from the top (still in the days of the Reich) was Neville Chamberlain, negotiating what would eventually become the Munich Treaty. (I guess he deserved this after a day in the office with Adolf Hitler.) Of the many official guests who enjoyed the hospitality of the Petersberg hotel throughout the years: the Shah of Persia, Queen Elizabeth and Michail Gorbatchov. They all liked it so much that they came back later for a second helping.
The Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev, stayed here in 1973. When he could not wait to burn some rubber on the Mercedes car given to him as a present by the Federal Government, he tried it out on the extended driveway to the hotel – and promptly crashed it against a tree.
We wanted to use the view as the background for a staged shot to illustrate the philosophy of easy hiking, using “a picture rather than a thousand words” – so no expenses were spared, which explains the presence of the expensive props i.e. the can of beer. (Left unopened for the picture. Nobody in our family really likes beer. Not if it is lukewarm, anyway. We still have that can of beer, by the way.)
Our son, who we had cast as the “easy hiker” hiking the Siebengebirge of the shot in question, complied only after much arguing and very much under protest. But in the end, we all agreed, it was a little corny and used another shot for the banner.
Then came hill number two, the so-called Geisberg. Our hiking effort to get to the top has been carefully edited out, so as not to dishearten you, the reader. Let me just say that it was quite a schlep. Ten seconds after we arrived on top, a wiry and lean type of bloke arrived on his mountain bike, Gore-Tex T-shirt all drenched in sweat and struggling for breath.
“That must have been very hard”, we muttered sympathetically, “all this way up on a bicycle”.
To which he just nodded, before yelping: “But worth it”.
On balance, I must say, I agree.
Next stop on our itinerary: the Milchhäuschen. Not the Petersberg Hotel, admittedly, and probably not quite the Shah of Persia’s thing, but we liked it – and would come back here for a second helping, too, if only to gather some strength for the third and last ascent of the day.
Which goes all the way up to the Drachenfels, the “Dragon’s rock”, where Siegfried is said to have slain the dragon. According to Wikipedia, the hill is also known as the Mother-in-Law’s Rock. Make of that what you will.
Near-by is Drachenburg Castle, built in the 19th century as a private residence. The owner, strangely enough, never moved in. Maybe he got scared when he saw the finished building. The place has been recently restored and now houses a museum.
Finally, the highlight of the trip.
Descending from Drachenburg Castle to Königswinter train station, we passed a stall with fairground attractions from the 1950s and 60s. On offer was a mechanical fortune teller, a “paradise of beautiful women” and a few “Road Racing” machines, showing the world what Grand Style Theft Auto would look like if the computer had never been invented.
Guess what I went for.
As they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.
My son, on the other hand, a typical representative of his milk-blooded generation, rather predictably went for one of the car-racing machines. For the record, he was surprised how difficult it was to master – and a little embarrassed that the machine’s stern grading system rated his performance as that of a “poseur”.
For me, conversely, that was the cherry on the cake, and it gave me all the ammo I needed to make his life well and truly miserable on our long journey home.