During my brief stay near the Lower Rhine, I was keen to see Kleve, the home town of Ann of Cleves, and also a place where Dutch people go shopping in Germany. Indeed, a couple of bargains were soon snapped up by us. Kleve was the subject of extreme bombardment during WW2, and the centre is full of the usual unremarkable postwar buildings. So it was a particular surprise to climb a flight or two of stairs off the main street and find ourselves in the courtyard of a large castle.
This was the Schwanenburg, no less, and (as you know, Wagnerians) it was from here that Lohengrin would set out on the Rhine to look after kingdoms who had no male heir and were therefore in terrible turmoil. You’ll recall, he made these trips on a boat pulled by swans. This handy mode of transport is commemorated in contemporary Kleve by these giant polystyrene fowls (pictured) placed here and there around the streets.
It wasn’t the first time on this Rhein-side trip that my knowledge of Wagner plots, gathered unwillingly at university, stood me in good stead. Xanten (see previous post) claims to be the birthplace of Siegfried, and has a museum to prove it, quite reasonably closed when we visited the town. ‘But surely Siegfried was born in Mime’s rocky cave, where Sieglinde took shelter from the wrath of Wotan?’ Seeing these peaceful stretches of the Rhine, you realise how Wagner seized on noble early legends and ferociously remoulded them, so much so that the originals are at first unrecognisable.