Midway between Speyer and Mainz – both 50km away – WORMS is one of Germany’s oldest cities, famous as the fifth-century home of the Burgundian kingdom, as celebrated in the Nibelungenlied, on the subject of which Worms has an excellent multimedia museum. But the city has also flourished in several eras since, first under Charlemagne, who made it his winter residence, and particularly during the Salian dynasty (1024–1125) when the city’s grand Romanesque Dom was built. Worms also occasionally served as a seat for the imperial parliament, most famously when it sat in judgement on Martin Luther in 1521.
For many centuries Worms was also home to a powerful Jewish community, which began to grow prodigiously in the eleventh century to became – along with Mainz and Speyer – one of the foremost in Germany. It survived the fifteenth century when many other cities expelled their Jews, only to be virtually eradicated by the Third Reich. Nevertheless important reminders remain, above all in its Jewish graveyard and rebuilt synagogue. All this is fairly quickly explored leaving you to wander Worms’ pedestrianised Altstadt, which was attractively rebuilt following almost total destruction in World War II. The old town always has a reasonable bustle about it, but is best during the mid-August Nibelungen Festspiele, a two-week theatre festival based on the epic, and the Backfischfest, a wine festival that follows, when fried fish is the accompaniment of choice.Read More
Written at the end of the twelfth century, the Nibelungenlied is the German epic tale, based on legends surrounding the destruction of the Burgundian kingdom: Roman allies who ran Worms for about twenty years in the fifth century AD before being driven out by the Huns. It’s a captivating tale with a glut of mythic beings like dragons and giants, and much drama in the form of love, hate, riches, treachery, revenge and lots of death.
Nibelung himself was the mythical king of Nibelungenland (Norway), who, with twelve giants, guarded a hoard of treasure. Siegfried, prince of the Netherlands and hero of the first part of the poem, kills Nibelung and his giants and pinches the hoard as a dowry for his new wife Kriemhild of Burgundy. Siegfried then helps Kriemhild’s brother, Gunther, King of Burgundy, to gain the hand of Brunhild of Iceland. This is no mean feat since the immensely powerful Brunhild will only marry a man who can beat her at the javelin, shot put and long jump. Siegfried helps Gunther to cheat – using his rather handy cloak of invisibility – and win Brunhild over. After the marriage, Kriemhild indiscreetly lets Brunhild know how she’d been tricked, which infuriates her so much that she arranges for Gunther’s aide, Hagan (the poem’s chief villain), to murder Siegfried, grab the treasure, and toss it in the Rhine. The plan is to recover it later, but by the end of the poem everyone’s dead, so the treasure’s lost.
The second part of the poem tells of Kriemhild’s subsequent marriage to Attila the Hun (called Etzel in the poem). Kriemhild invites the Burgundians to the Hunnish court, where Hagan lets rip once again and ends up killing Etzel’s son. Aghast, Kriemhild decapitates Gunther and Hagan with her own hands, only to be killed herself.