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.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Germany features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

Syria has been shattered by conflict since March 2011; more than 5 million people have been forced to flee the country and rebuild their lives elsewhere. Jessi…

28 Dec 2017 • Jessica Bateman local_activity Special feature
20 picturesque Christmas destinations

20 picturesque Christmas destinations

Dreaming of a trip this Christmas? We're here to help. From glittering cities to a few snowy escapes, here are 20 classic destinations for a festive break. …

12 Dec 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
A beginner's guide to the best German beers

A beginner's guide to the best German beers

Think Germany and you think beer. It’s a country whose beer culture is so ingrained and recognised that Oktoberfest (16 September–3 October 2017) is celeb…

14 Sep 2017 • Daniel Neilson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right