For well over 500
years European maps carried the legend: ‘Beyond
Here- There be Dragons.’ But it was more than
hyperbole or superstition. It was part of their
historical legacy and lineage.
Today while it is hard
to find a travel map that contains the warning it is
probably even more difficult to find a country in
Europe that doesn’t have some close ties to dragons
or other related beasts.
France has its
Guiver and Gargouille, Scandinavia its
Jormungander, Lindorm, and Fafnir,
Austria has its own version of the Lindorm Worm,
in Bavaria there’s the Tatzelworm, Sicily has
its giant snake that has the features of a dinosaur,
Poland its Wawel dragon, and even the reserved
English touts their own Dragon with a Patron Saint
protector of St. George to boot! The English also
have the Lambton Worm and a handful of other
lesser but still colorful nasties.
It doesn’t stop there
either. In Germany, just up the Rhine River from
Koln and near the old West German capital of Bonn, I
discovered Drachenfels castle in the heart of
the Seibengebirge or Seven Mountains.
Okay, so maybe I
didn’t discover it as it had been there for a good
thousand years before I arrived and sure, the Romans
quarried rock from the site long before the Castle
was built. However, I did discover that
Drachenfels is German for ‘the Dragon’s Rock’
and on a mist covered morning with shards of sun
light cutting holes in the natural gray curtain
against the ruins like talon scars it certainly
It had been a long
night, longer too since I hadn’t slept all that well
in my sleeping bag in the woods just below the
castle’s walls. With my rucksack as a pillow I spent
a dark night trying to get comfortable on roots and
rocks as I waited for my own dragon sighting.
I had been making my
way across Europe and had become somewhat fascinated
about this whole dragon business the more I traveled
and the more the legends turned up. Dragon tales
seemed to be everywhere and nowhere more prominent
than the ruins atop the rock outcrop on the Rhine.
This I learned on the
train from Coblenz when I found myself in the
company of a boisterous group of amateur but avid
opera enthusiasts and several bored-looking spouses
who were on their way up river to visit the mystic
to spy the ghost of Siegfried…” said one of the
enthusiasts; a large, loud woman who appeared to be
the leader of the informal tour group. She had that
certain dramatic Diva tone and the train was her
“Or the dragon…”
chimed in another in a supporting role.
“Dragon?” I said,
peering up over a paperback.
“Well, at least the
castle ruins,” said the husband of the Diva.
“As I’m sure you’re
aware Drachenfels is where Wagner got his
inspiration for the Ring,” she said. She had
pronounced Wagner as Vognur which had caused
her husband rolled his eyes. He’d obviously
been through this before.
I wasn’t aware but I
nodded any way.
“And to think we’ll
get to stand in the Fafner’s cave in the
mountain,” added another of the obvious fans.
“Just think of the
“Fluffy’s cave? Who’s
Fluffy?” I asked as the Diva and several of the
group turned to me in horror.
the now annoyed Diva, narrowing her eyes and
correcting my mistake. “Apparently you’re not
familiar with Wilhelm Richard Wagner’s Der Ring
des Nibelungen, are you, the Ring of the
“Is that the one with
the Hobbits and Orcs?”
“Certainly not,” said
the exasperated woman. “It’s the Ring Cycle- The
Rheingold, the Flight of the Valkyeries, Siegfried
and Gotterdamerung. Tolkien stole from the Maestro
even if he never admitted it.”
Others in the group
nodded and came to her verbal assistance as they
eyed me now with scorn and barely concealed
contempt. She was blowing smoke but several others
looked capable of breathing fire.
“Everyone knows it was
blatant plagiarism,” said one.
“Both the magic ring
and its curse!” offered another.
“Not to mention the
“Even the dragon!”
“And the brave women
“Who?” I asked as the
“The Valkyeries,” said
It was the Diva’s
husband who offered a better explanation. “Big
blondes, bronze bras,” he said.
“Ah, those Valkyeries.
That’s right. They had that famous music.”
“The Flight of
Valkyeries,” said a hopeful neophyte.
“Sure,” I said and
began humming, “Da, da, da, da, dum, DA, DA, DA, DUM!”
“YES!” the Diva cried.
There was hope for me yet.
“So Wagner’s the guy
who did the soundtrack too for the movie Apocalypse
All hope was gone.
Beyond here, I found my dragons. For that major
operatic faux pas and for calling Fafner
Fluffy the Diva dismissed me with a raised chin
sniff while her husband smothered a small chuckle
and the others drifted back to their musical mob.
Shunned as a
non-believer I decided to join them on their quest
to Drachenfels anyway. I had a flexible
schedule and it sounded promising. They were hoping
to catch a glimpse of the dragon and perhaps like
the Diva’s husband I too was hoping we’d find the
dragon who would devour the large and annoying woman
and perhaps a few others in their group.
Okay, so I didn’t know
my Operas but as a Scandinavian American I wanted to
tell her that I was familiar with the legend of
Siegfried and the dragon and that it was in reality
an ancient Norse epic about the step-son of a Danish
King who killed the dragon, Fafnir at the
urging of a sniveling lying little dwarf named Regen
who was out to steal its treasure.
if you too are being dialectically picky) also
plagiarized and doctored the story a bit but I held
my tongue. No easy thing for the
great-great-great-great, not so great grandson of a
Berserker, which by the way is something else
we Scandinavians introduced into the everyday world.
The word berserk, that is. It comes from two
words; bjorn meaning bear and serkr
for shirt, the kind of garment certain Vikings wore
on their weekend cruises to England, Scotland and
Another word we
Scandinavians gave the English language was the
F-word. That’s right. The F-word but my guess is
that it was the English, Scottish and Irish who
probably put it to frequent use when they spotted
the my kin pulling up to their shores in their
Dragon long boats, which in reality were pre-Volvo
SUV’s- four by oars.
“It’s the Northmen,
“Oh goodness,” said
the woman wiping her hands on her apron as she
stared out the window of her hovel and ran a quick
hand through her hair. “You’d think they would at
least phone first!”
I myself might have
used the F-word a time or two on my long hike up to
the castle ruins when I occasionally slipped
dragging myself up to a wooded area just beneath its
walls. I know, I know…‘but you’re not supposed to
sleep in or around the castle ruins. It isn’t
Sure, I know this now
but not then. Then I was young and impertinent and
needed the essence and feel of a place to go along
with the geography. Did I mention that I was also
traveling on a tight budget and was trying to hold
on to enough money for a halfway decent hotel room
on my next stop which was Amsterdam? It wasn’t a
good excuse. It just was what it was.
Besides we had
arrived too late to visit the ruins and while the
opera enthusiasts appeared slightly disappointed and
went off in search of their hotel reservations in a
nearby town I went up in search of Fafner
with a bottle of dark German beer, a half a loaf of
bread and enough cheese and ham in hand to share
should he decide to visit.
In the German version
of the story, Fafner is the dragon
Siegfried’s allegedly slays. In my version I would
interview the dragon and hear his side of the story.
Were Dragons the scourge of mankind or simply much
maligned serpents with glandular problems in dire
need of better PR?
For most of the
evening I had envisioned the dragon rising out of
the cave (which I hadn’t found either) but slipped
off to sleep instead. By morning I was still hoping
he’d show up, maybe talking on his cell phone trying
to get an approximate time when the cable guy would
be by to install his cable while taking a few
minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me.
“You the writer, yo?”
Chin up nod on my
part. “Sup?” I’d say.
“Trying to get HBO and
the Hiss-tory Channel. Time’s tight so ask your
“You bet,” I said,
flipping open my notebook. “What’s with the damsel
in constant distress thing?”
“The tabloids. My Ex
and me go through a bitter divorce and she tells her
attorney I’m a beast, have a fiery temper and that I
frighten her friends. She’s just upset because I ate
her family, tasted like stringy chicken, by the way.
Anyway, she claims ‘irreconcilable differences,’
goes on Oprah and a few other talk shows, gets a
book deal and the next thing I know she’s driving a
Mercedes convertible. Meanwhile, I get slapped with
huge alimony payments, her attorney fees and a
Charlie Sheen rep…” says the Dragon in a ‘you can
guess the rest’ shrug.
“And the Siegfried
The dragon spreads his
stubby arms and sharp claws as he gestures to the
scenic wonderland around him. “View property,”
Siegfried was into real estate. I needed money and
he needed the mountain top for a wealthy client so
we hit upon a plan to make us both happy. He plays
the hero, I get to keep my cave and make a little
spending money under the table and the rest is just
“So you don’t really
eat people anymore?”
“Oh no, I do. I tried
being a Vegan but it just didn’t take. So what are
you about a healthy 190 pounds?” asks the dragon
smacking its green leathery lips as he visually
pokes and prods me with yellow serpentine eyes.
“Yeah, about that.”
“Not much fat on you
either, I bet.”
“I eh, try to
workout, stay in shape.”
“Atkins Diet,” replied
the dragon sucking in his stomach. “Lotsa meat, no
starches. So what kind of meaty work do you say you
“I’m a writer,
“Oh yeah, that’s
right,” says the dragon more than a little
disappointed. Writers, he knows, aren’t very tasty,
let alone filling- too much cynical bile, toxic
alcohol residue, and over abundance of bull fecal
“Hate to rush you but
I have a ten o’clock. My people will call your
people. Perhaps we’ll do mittag essen sometime? You
“What? You mean like
pork noodles and rice?”
“No, I mean the
people. It’s a long flight from here but worth it
when you’re hungry for a little take-out.”
“Eh…no. I’m…trying to
cut back on MSG.”
“A pity,” says the
dragon turning to leave.” Ciao!”
“Auf Wiedersehen,” I’d
In the near distance I
could hear the small cog train as it brought up the
day’s first visitors to the castle ruins. And as I
was packing up and getting ready to head back down
the mountain one of Dragon’s people actually did
On the train the large
heavy-set woman opera enthusiast was singing
something out of key from the Ring opera while
others in the group squealed in delight.
There wouldn’t be
lunch with the dragon now. It was over and I knew
The fat lady was