The Eifel Has a lot of Claims to Fame
You might know some of them already. For example, the Eifel is home to the Nürburgring, which is the most famous race track in the world. The Eifel-Moselle boasts Germany’s oldest city (Trier), as well as Germany’s oldest wine festival (Winningen). They gave us Bitburger beer and Gerolsteiner mineral water – beautiful cities like Monschau and romantic castles like Burg Eltz.
But, I’m willing to bet there are a least a few claims to fame that you don’t know about.
In fact, I bet I can give you four claims to fame you’ve never heard before and one that only a handful of you will know.
The Eiffel Tower is Named After the Eifel Region
Okay, it’s a tad more complicated than that. The Eiffel Tower was designed by a man named Gustave Eiffel, who was born in France. Now, you might initially think there is no connection between a French guy – whose name is spelled differently – and the Eifel region of Germany. But, there is. Gustave was actually born Gustave Bönickhausen. Yep. German name. And that’s because his family was originally from Marmagen, Germany, but when his great great grandfather emigrated to France, the French people had trouble pronouncing “Bönickhausen,” so they called him “Eiffel” since he came from the Eifel hills of Germany. That name stuck with the family members, and when Gustave was older, he legally changed his name from Bönickhausen to Eiffel. Now, the skeptics might be wondering why the Eiffel Tower has two “f”s instead of one if the name does in fact come from our very own Eifel region. That’s because back then, people spelled the name of the region “Eiffel.” Over the years, they dropped that second “f.”
If you take a trip up to the village of Marmagen, you’ll see a plaque in the center of town dedicated to Gustave Eiffel and his connection to the area.
They Have Their Very Own Eifel Tigers
Eifel Tigers are a breed of wild cats who call the Eifel their home. You may have even seen one before and mistook it for a house cat out in a field. These little guys are similar in size to house cats, but there are very tiny, very subtle differences between them. For example, their skin is a little bit thicker and their fur patterns are very distinct. Researchers believe there’s at least 1,000 of these little cats living in the region, and they are the only known wild cat in this part of the country.
If you want to learn more about them or even try to catch a glimpse of them up close, you can take a drive up to the Eifel National Park where around 50 Eifel Tigers live in a protected area.
The Eifel Has its Very Own Genre
It’s called Eifelkrimi, and it means Eifel Crime. These stories are mostly murder mysteries set in the Eifel – but not because the Eifel is such a scary place. The landscape here is rich with dark forests, hidden waters, and sprawling hillsides. But this landscape doesn’t have a huge population of people in it. Couple that with the thick fog that hangs over the region from time to time, and you have the makings of a good scary story. Eifelkrimis are often set in real-life towns and areas. Most recently, the genre has even moved to the screen with a number of TV shows – similar to programs like Criminal Minds or NCIS – all set and filmed in the Eifel.
You can even visit the Eifelkrimi capital, which is the small city of Hillesheim. Here you can see the largest collection of Eifelkrimi books and even go on a hiking tour of areas made famous by different Eifelkrimi authors.
Numerous Movies Have Been Filmed in the Eifel
The landscape isn’t just for German media, though. Hollywood has also come a knockin’ in the Eifel a few times over the years. Parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed at Schloss Bürresheim, just outside of Mayen. Last year’s action thriller Collide, starring Anthony Hopkins, was shot in part in Monschau. One of the producers specifically chose Monschau as one of their filming locations because he said it was one of the prettiest cities in all of Germany. John Malkovich fans might remember his movie from 2000 called Shadow of the Vampire. The castle scenes were all filmed in Vianden, which is still part of the Eifel even though it’s in Luxembourg. (In fact, almost all of Luxembourg is in the Eifel.) The same goes for Patrick Swayze fans. He also filmed a movie in Vianden called George and the Dragon. And just recently, the BBC filmed scenes for an episode of “The Missing” in Monschau.
The interesting thing, though, is that even though these scenes are filmed in the Eifel, in the movie or TV show, many of them are supposed to be somewhere else. For example, the castle in Indiana Jones is supposed to be along the German-Austrian border, the village in “The Missing” is supposed to be Switzerland, and Vianden Castle is once in England and once in the Czech Republic.
President Reagan Created an International Controversy in the Eifel
Now, my military readers might be familiar with this event, but younger members might not. Back in 1985, President Reagan visited the Kolmeshöhe Cemetery in Bitburg with then German chancellor Helmut Kohl. Now, Helmut Kohl was a very beloved man by the German people. He sought to reconcile Germany with the world. Between his election in 1983 and the controversy that would hit Bitburg in 1985, he helped to establish the foundation of the European Union. He met with leaders of other countries to commemorate the deaths of those in both World Wars. So, when President Reagan came to Germany in 1985, Chancellor Kohl wanted to do something to show that same symbolic reconciliation between Germany and the USA. So, he suggested that they lay a wreath together at the Kolmeshöhe Cemetery where military members of WWII were buried. Now, there was a bit of a flub here because when the President’s aides checked out the cemetery, there was snow on the ground, which covered many of the tombstones. So, they didn’t realize that there were members of the SS buried in this cemetery along with non-SS soldiers. They also mistakenly thought that there were American soldiers buried there as well. The itinerary was agreed to, and only later did they realize their error. There was an uproar from a lot of people in the States because they thought it was wholly improper and disrespectful for a US president to visit a cemetery where SS soldiers were buried. They demanded President Reagan not attend. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, however, because the German people overwhelmingly supported the idea of him visiting the cemetery with Chancellor Kohl. They saw it as a profound symbol of reconciliation. He and Chancellor Kohl talked about it as both men were aware of the controversy, and it did cause some tension there as well as each government blamed the other one. The mayor of Bitburg even stated that you would be hard pressed to find a German military cemetery that didn’t have SS soldiers in it.
In the end, President Reagan decided that it was important to the German people, Chancellor Kohl, and the reconciliation of the two countries that he attend and lay a wreath. He defended his decision by pointing out the fact that out of the nearly 2,000 graves, less than 50 of them were SS soldiers. And even then, the SS soldiers were all around 18 years old when they died. The President argued that many young men were forced to serve in the SS toward the end of the war, and these young men could very well have been victims themselves.
He only stayed at the cemetery for about ten minutes, standing alongside Chancellor Kohl, US General Matthew Ridgeway (who served in WWII), and German General Johannes Steinhoff (who also served in WWII). President Reagan had a lot of people back home who were very angry about his visit (including many politicians, Holocaust survivors, and celebrities), and he tried very hard to show them that this visit was monumental to the reconciliation of the two countries.
Whether you think it was right or not is up to you. If you’re interested in learning more about it, though, this video does a pretty good job of showing you both sides.
Do you know any other interesting claims to fame the Eifel holds? Share them below!