Garden of Ruins

The ruin of Burg Rheinfels is a garden of wildflowers. Ivy spills down the walls, white-flowered vines lace up cracks in the mortar, daisies flock the windowsills, buttercups brighten the shadows, and dandelions scatter wishes across the roofless halls.

The walls look like an artist’s palette. Lichen chalks the stones with pearl and palest lilac. Moss dries in clots of ochre and saffron. Here and there, a brick wall adds a stroke of geranium.

I feel as if I am climbing through an Escher painting. Underground tunnels unwind into balconies overlooking the Rhein. Stairs steeper than gravity should allow zigzag up from a courtyard into a cavern. The curtain wall is pleated with archers’ boxes and secret passageways. If I step through an open doorway, I may walk out into another dimension.

In the cellar, unlit candelabra stretch like cobwebs across each corner. The cellar is stormy with the echoes of a dozen voices, doubled and redoubled until they thunder from the roof beams. Though the cellar is wide enough to sail a score of supper tables, festivity would drown in the seething echoes.

From the clock tower, I can see up the Rhein to Burg Katz and down to Burg Maus. Cat and Mouse crouch on the ridge overlooking the river, watching for river pirates and invading Frenchmen. Once upon a time, warnings could ricochet from fortress to fortress as signal torches were kindled. Yet those flames have been quenched in a century of drowsy peace. Poets tamed these waters. They spun golden idylls from straw legends, and made ruins into Edens.

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