Nibelungenmuseum and the legend (Worms, Germany)

Worms, Germany

In the August of 2001 the city of Worms opened their historic Nibelungenmuseum, depicting and audio-journeying the tales about the Nibelungenlied right at the town wall where some of the legends may have taken place. They boast of “state-of-the-art” didactic aids that are led by story tellers representing the great renowned tales of the unknown 12th-century poet.

However, from our experience with the equiptment, signals got lost, units malfunctioned for half of us. But in “brand new format” of 2001, I’m sure they were “state-of-the-art” at the time. As you climb the towers of the old city wall, you approach various stations where the headphone aid starts telling the story, and you can push the button to learn more. Aids are in German as well as English. It is a guided story, nothing more. There is very little to look at, no artifacts, and without the aids, it would be a climb up two towers and across the town wall. The site states that the exhibit will change from year to year as new aspects of the myth are improved and deepened. According to the museum, there will be theme-years and networks with other organizers to present different materials. The towers and walls are part of the original town wall where you can see architectural history unfold between the old city wall and the annexes. The scenes of the legend take place at this spot and within the area of the city, so there is lots of history lessons about “Worms” itself at the museum’s presentations.

Nibelunglied: The Saga of the Nibelungs (“Song of the Nibelungs”)
Is an epic poem done in Middle High German. The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild’s revenge. The term for the people at this time were transferred from a legendary race of Germanic dwarfs and their treasure. Once the terrible dragon was slain and the enormous Nibelungs treasure taken, the brave young Siegfried from Xanten was presented before the royal court of Worms. His intentions to marry Kriemhild, the sister of King Gunther, was made known at that time. King Gunther agreed to the marriage, with the condition that Siegfried in return helps him to win Bronhild, the Queen of Iceland, as his bride. Since Bronhild had superhuman powers, she had a pre-requisite that her husband must be the man who can vanquish her in three challenges. With the aid of a magic hat of invisibility, Siegfried defeated Bronhild, so that she acknowledged Gunther as her husband, and moved to Worms with him. But she refused to consummate the marriage. Once again, Siegfried had to help. In the magic hat, he subdued her in the marriage bed, so Gunther could deflower her, surreptitiously taking her ring and belt, giving them to Kriemhild. This leads to the later events of Gunther inviting Siegfried and Kriemhild who live in Xanten to come to Worms. Upon dining at the banquet of honor, the queens quarrel, Bronhild insists that Siegfried become subordinate to Gunther. Kriemhild discovers that her husband Siegfried was the first to sleep with Bronhild, and as proof, displays the ring and belt to her, causing Bronhild to subside in shame, grief, and hate. Gunther’s mightiest vassal, Hagen von Tronje, seeks to avenge his humiliated mistress and by deceit, elicits from Kriemhild the secret of Sigefried’s vulnerability – which had been hidden by a leaf of the linden tree when he bathed in the blood of the slain dragon.

While Hagen was on a hunt in the Odenwald Forest, he plants his spear between Siegfried’s should-blades, killing him. Kriemhild remains in Worms as the grieving widow who suspects Hagen as the murderer of her husband. She seeks the help of the fabled Nibelung’s treasure that Siegfried gave her, rallies foreign heroes to Worms, strengthening her power, concerning Hagen, and he counters by stealing the treasure and sinking it in the Rhine, lost to this day. But 13 years later, Kriemhild gets revenge … she marries the mighty Huns King Etzel and persuades him to invite her brothers Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher to Hungary. They accept and ride to the Hun’s country with a large retinue. A battle occurs between the Nibelungs and the Huns, after the fall of which, only Gunther and Hagen remain alive. Kriemhild demands the treasure back from Hagen, he refuses to tell her the location as long as one of his masters is still alive, so Kriemhild has Gunther’s head cut off, but Hagen triumphs since he is the only one who knows the hiding place and said he would never reveal it. So Kriemhild beheads Hagen, and she in turn is slain by Hildebrand.

This pre-Christian Germanic heroic motif (Nibelungensaga) consists of oral traditions, reports based on historical events, and stories from individuals in the 5th/6th centuries. The legend parallels the Völsunga saga, the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, the Legend of Norna-Gest, and the Þiðrekssaga. The poem is believed to have been lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscripts as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. There are 35 known manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied and its variant versions. Eleven of these are complete. Twenty four are in various fragmentary states of completion, including a Dutch version (manuscript T). There are 2,400 stanzas in 39 Aventiuren as the text. Many of the manuscript sources deviate from one another and scholars designate three main geneological groups for the entire range of the collection: The two primary versions are the oldest known copies: *AB and *C. The presiding theory suggests that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube between Passau and Vienna, dating between 1180-1210. Possibly belonging to the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau. The “Nibelung’s lament” (Diu Klage) is an appendix to the poem proper and mentions a “Meister Konrad” who was bishop “Pilgrim” of Passau (971-991). The search goes on for the author. Some suspects are Konrad von Fußesbrunnen, Bligger von Steinach and Walther von der Vogelweide. None of these can be proven.

    Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit

    von helden lobebæren, von grôzer arebeit,

    von freuden, hôchgezîten, von weinen und von klagen,

    von küener recken strîten muget ir nu wunder hœren sagen

    Full many a wonder is told us in stories old,

    of heroes worthy of praise, of hardships dire,

    of joy and feasting, of weeping and of wailing;

    of the fighting of bold warriors, now ye may hear wonders told.

    Gunther’s wedding night (Johann Heinrich Füssli 1807)

    Gunther orders Hagen to drop the hoard into the Rhine (Peter von Cornelius, 1859)

NibelungenMuseum tower display

The Epic is in two parts: (1) Story of Siegfried and Kriemhild, wooing of Brunhild, death of Siegfried at hands of Hagen, Hagen’s hiding of the Nibelung treasure in the Rhine. (2) Kriemhild’s marriage to Etzel, her plans for revenge, the journey of the Nibelungs to the court of Etzel, the last stand in Etzel’s hall. Future tellings of the tale were placed in Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (Ring of the Nibelung) as a combined telling of the Nibelungenlied, Thidreks saga and the Völsunga saga. It was also the basis for a series of four music dramas known as the “Ring Cycle”. In 1924 Austrian-American director Fritz Lang made a duology of silent fantasy films of the epic: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache. Lang and Thea von Harbou wrote the screenplay for the first film; von Harbou has the sole screenwriting credit on the second. Remakes were made in 1966. The premise of the Nibelungenlied was made into a miniseries called Ring of the Nibelungs (also called Sword of Xanten) in 2004. It uses the title of the series by Wagner and, like the Ring Cycle, is in many ways closer to the Norse legends of Siegfried and Brunhild than to the Nibelungenlied itself. Like many adaptations, it only deals with the first half of the epic, ignoring Kriemhild’s revenge. On the SciFi Channel, it is broadcast with title Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (2006). [wikipedia ]

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