Magical places: Gallows Hill, crypts and co.

Magical places let you pause for a moment; they elicit a special vibe and put people in a reverent mood. The Lower Rhine has a great deal of that to offer. Want to get goose bumps? Then come along to Gallows Hill, crypts and co.

Judgments were pronounced in Schöffenschlucht (Jurors’ Gorge) and enforced on Galgenberg (Gallows Hill): today, you can explore the courts of justice on Hinsbeck Heath in Nettetal on a 2.5-kilometre-long hiking trail. There, you can still get a sense of the atmosphere that must have reigned at these open-air proceedings in the Middle Ages: the accused faced fines, banishment or the gallows that are visible from far away.

Smuggling trips were also a life-threatening affair that flourished on the German-Dutch border after the Second World War. Coffee, butter and cigarettes were highly sought after. Orders to shoot were even issued by the British occupying forces. It no longer applies if you hike across the international smugglers’ trail that the boroughs of Straelen and Velden have set up. But a bit of shuddering still sets in…

Take a seat at Westzipfel

Grenzstein 309 B or ‘boundary stone 309 B’ is written on the plaque marking the westernmost point of Germany. It is located in the Borough of Selfkant, or more precisely, in the Urban District of Isenbruch in the District of Heinsberg, and you can even take a seat on a bench at the ‘Westzipfel’ (West Point). The bench can be found directly over the Rodebach, a river which separates Germany and the Netherlands here, and you can slide back and forth between the two countries.

What is fun today was deadly serious in the past. The Romans once secured their empire with a boundary wall, the limes. The Rhine constitutes the fortifications of the Lower Germanic Limes and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. When visiting Xantenthe erstwhile Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana with its amphitheatre, temples and thermal baths, you experience the former limes road and feel the spirit of the Roman Empire.

You get closer to the mediaeval fantasy world of Siegfried in Xanten. Knight of the Swan Siegfried, who bathed in the blood of the dragon he slayed, and the Song of the Nibelungs, are ubiquitous here, and all the plotting about Kriemhild and Brunhild sends a shiver down visitors’ spines. A truly magical place, like the crypt in neighbouring St Victor’s Cathedral, in which the tomb of the ancient martyr Victor is said to be located.

Chalices, mediaeval manuscripts, liturgical robes: the treasure room at Kamp Abbey houses such valuable exhibits. The masterpiece of the collection, though, is a piece of embroidery made of gold and silver thread, the Kamper Antependium. The abbey itself is a spiritual and cultural centre, and it radiates calm and grandeur accordingly. Yet another of these many magical places along the Lower Rhine.

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