The Golem

When we were in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, we saw the Old-New Synagogue.  I got very excited and started yammering on about the Golem of Prague. Someone asked, “wasn’t he in Lord of the Rings?”
Nope, that’s Gollum, although Tolkien may have been making an allusion to the Golem (which becomes dangerous and makes bad decisions when it gets a soul). I realized not everyone knows about the Golem, so here it goes.
The Golem is a character in Jewish folklore that is artificially created and endowed with life.  Huh?  In other words, it is an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter.  Say what?
You know how Frosty the Snowman came to life one day.  It’s like that.
In the late 16th century, to protect Prague’s Jews from anti-semitic attacks, Rabbi Loew of Prague created The Golem.  He took clay from the banks of the Valta River, fashioned a man from it and said incantations to bring it to life.  Initially, the Golem was a big help, kind of like your own personal robot.
Unfortunately, the Golem could only follow orders.  This led to some strange outcomes as he would continue doing what he’d been asked to do until he was told to stop.  You can see how this could become problematic.  Eventually, the Golem ran amok and had to be deactivated.
The Golem has appeared in a vast array of works including: the Simpsons (Bart finds the Golem), Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavailer and Clay (a great read) and in various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  It even served as inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which she started writing in Switzerland, not far from where we live).   The above statue of the Golem, looking astonishingly like Darth Vader.
 
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Lauterbraunnen Valley

 
Switzerland is filled with wonderful, amazing, unique diverse places.   The Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps is one of these places.  It is one of the deepest trough valleys in the alps.  The mountains, with their visible limestone, rise directly up on either side of the valley.  They are perpendicular to the valley floor.  Since the valley is only about a kilometer wide, the dramatic cliffs are everywhere you look.
Snowmelt + cliffs = waterfalls.  The Lauterbrunnen Valley is filled with them; there are 72.  The largest and most well known is Staubach Falls.  Others include: Trümmelbach and Schmadrifällen. We drove into the valley at night and could hear the falls.  The next morning we woke up to this view!
The cliffs on either side make it a paradise for base jumpers (just take a look at the second photo to see where the spot where they jump).  While the vertical valley walls may be great for base jumpers, you can imagine what happens when it snows.  Avalanches are a huge danger.  This is Switzerland, they’re prepared.  Avalanche shelters dot the valley floor.
They also attack the problem from up above.  These snow fences were at high altitudes to protect towns.  This one is protecting Wengen (a town just above the valley).
We aren’t the only ones who like this area.  In 1911, J. R. R. Tolkien hiked from nearby Interlaken to the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  The valley’s landscape made a powerful impression and was a model for his sketches and watercolours of the fictitious valley of  Middle-earth‘s Rivendell valley, in his The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. It was a setting for the car chase in the 1969 James Bond (George Lazenby) film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  It’s the one where Bond escapes from Schilthorn by skiing down the mountain to reach the nearby village of Mürren at its base.