Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

11 10 2008

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a perfectly preserved medieval walled town in Bavaria, was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Germany. If you have ever had any interest in the middle ages, you will LOVE this city. This town is a storybook come alive!

During the middle ages, Rothenburg was a large and booming free imperial city that was located on an important trade route between northern and southern Europe. During the Thirty Years War, however, the town was lost to a siege instigated by a Catholic Count who wanted to quarter his troops in the Protestant city. After this devastating siege and the ensuing Plague, the city became empty and poor until the end of the 19th century. In the 1880s, when Romanticism was running rampant throughout Europe, the town was “rediscovered” and since then the town has been carefully preserved while tourism has repopulated the city’s coffers.


Rothenburg is still surrounded by medieval walls.


This is Rothenburg’s Coat of Arms, which is a literal translation of the city’s name (red castle).

During WWII, Nazi soldiers defended Rothenburg. Parts of the city were bombed, including several houses and part of the wall. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew of the historic significance and beauty of Rothenburg so he ordered his generals not to use heavy artillery on the city. According to the the tour we took, McCloy grew up with a painting of Rothenburg on the wall of his home that his mother bought after visiting Rothenburg. Her love of Rothenburg was essentially what saved the city on the American side. The local military commander, Major Thommes, also contributed to the city’s preservation by ignoring Hitler’s directive for all towns to fight to the end and surrendering the town before it was destroyed, thus saving the city. American soldiers occupied the town until the end of the war. A few years later, the town named McCloy an Honorary Protectorate of Rothenburg.


This fountain featuring St. George off the Market Square was also a source of water to townspeople.

The original trade route that Rothenburg served is now called Germany’s “Romantic Road” and has become a popular tourist route. The “Romantic Road” begins in Wurzburg and ends in Fussen and features charming villages, beautiful churches, scenic countryside, and other walled medieval cities.


Just like everywhere else in Germany, the cobblestone streets are neat, tidy, and filled with flower pots and ivy.

Most of the town is pedestrian only, but guests who have a hotel reservation inside the walls of the town may drive into the town in order to park their cars.  Once you get your bearings, the town is easy to navigate on foot.  You can get free maps at the Tourist Information office that is next to the Market Square.  The best map we found of Rothenburg was from the Friese shop located on the smaller square just off Market Square.  You get a free map made by Anneliese Friese if you show them your Rick Steves guidebook.


Market Square

This is Rothenburg’s Market Square (above).  The TI office is in the orange clock tower building and you enter from the right side (street side).  The Friese shop is to the left of the yellow building in this photo.

It seemed everywhere we looked there was a picturesque half timbered house, quaint clock tower, shining cobblestone street, or pretty sidewalk.  My German brother-in-law will cringe when I say this, but it was as if Disney World had come alive.  Of course, this is because Rothenburg and other German towns and castles were the inspirations for Disney.  In fact, it is said that Rothenburg inspired the town in Disney’s Pinnochio.  But of course Rothenburg is 1000 times better than any fake Disney backdrop because it is the real thing!

We thought this might be the cutest intersection in Rothenburg, on Spittalgasse (below).

This is where the town gets so Disney!  Did I mention that the town is packed with tourists?



Statue above a real life butcher shop.

But then we saw this street, and changed our minds.  This MUST be the cutest street in Rothenburg.

We were able to enjoy some cake and coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a view of this arch.


The town is full of things like hidden alleys and gardens behind walls. Through our self guided walk (from our Rick Steves guide book), we found this gem (below). It was the garden to the convent attached to a now gone Dominican church. What was interesting about this garden was that the herb garden included not only edible herbs and medicinals, but also POISON! The potency of the poison herbs was indicated by the number of crosses on the labels. Don’t inhale too much here!


Entrance to the Convent Garden, near the Museum of the Imperial City (Reichsstadt Museum).


The Convent Garden


Some poisonous herbs, which smelled bad!

We loved all the medieval touches we found just by walking around.  Here is one of the town’s entrance gates on the stone wall.

The huge wooden door had a small tiny door within it.  In the middle ages, most towns had a curfew for safety reasons.  The town would close their huge gates when it got dark and any townspeople who were left outside the wall had to apply to enter via the night watchman.  The townsperson who missed curfew would first have to identify himself.  Then, he had to bribe the night watchman.  If and only when these two criteria were considered would the night watchman let in the person.  However, the door was built so that only an unarmored person could get through, in case the person attempting entry was an enemy or traitor.

Another form of defense for the town were these stone masks over the gates.  When an offending army tried to break the gates, the town would defend itself by pouring hot oil onto the attackers.

One of the must-dos for any visitor to Rothenburg is to walk the city walls.  From there you can get magnificent views of the city and get a feel of the medieval defenses.  At times, we felt like we were in the game of Carcasonne.


View from the Rodertor Tower, after climbing up some very rickety stairs.


We even saw some people from the middle ages from the wall!


Ok, can this town GET any cuter??

Donations from all over the world helped rebuild the town walls that were destroyed in WWII.  You can see the stone plaques representing the donors when you walk the walls. Many of them were from just after WWII, but several were more recent. Nowadays, it takes 1000 Euros to buy a plaque on the wall.

I found these plaques particularly interesting:

Apparently Rothenburg is VERY VERY popular with the Japanese. Maybe one third of the modern plaques were from the Japanese!

Surprisingly, there were even plaques from the tiny nation of Taiwan!

If you are thinking of visiting Rothenburg, I would recommend that you stay at least one night.  During the day, Rothenburg is packed with tourists but the city empties out at 5 PM.  After that time, you basically have the beautiful city to yourself.  Also if you stay the night, you can go on the wonderful Night Watchman’s Tour.  In my opinion, this is one of Europe’s best tours hands down.  The Night Watchman (there is only one) takes you on an enthusiastic one-hour walking tour in period costume with a lit lamp and tells you all these great stories about medieval Rothenburg.  Plus, it’s only 6 Euros.  He is also a barrel of laughs (in my opinion).

We stayed at the outstanding Gotisches Haus right in the middle of Rothenburg, which I highly recommend! I will be writing a review of this soon to post on the blog.

All in all, the four of us really enjoyed Rothenburg.  We cannot even think of anything that we did not like about Rothenburg.  Even though it is on every tourist itinerary for Germany, this is one of those places that is really as good as it sounds.  I hope I will be heading back to Rothenburg one day, but for now I will have fond memories of this beautiful medieval town.

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6 responses

13 10 2008
aglassofwine

man, i really want to go to visit germany now!!!!!

15 10 2008
Carrie

Sandy,
Your photos are gorgeous and made me fall in love with this town. What an experience it must have been! I’ve always wanted to visit Germany, but after reading your post, the travel bug has taken a firm hold on me again. Thanks for sharing!

10 11 2008
Kathie

You didn’t mention the Schneeballen. Did you try one?

I also loved Rothenburg. I want to go back and will take your advice and do the nightwatchman’s tour.

11 11 2008
travelswithsandy

Thanks for your comment Kathie! We did have some schneeballen – they were very good.

For those who are unfamiliar with this treat, they are fried strips of dough in a ball shape that are then dusted with powdered sugar. They sell them everywhere in Rothenburg so I recommend that anyone visiting to try it!

4 01 2009
Doug

Sandy,
We have been twice to this wonderful city (once at Christmas during Market and another in the Fall) and will go again some day. It was one of our favorite places in all of Germany. We can’t get enough. The Night Watchman tour (Hans-Georg Baumgartner) was one of the best things about the stay. We took the tour during both visits! We also took a horse-drawn carraige ride which was a good way to see the sites, although just taking your time and strolling is by far the best.
Thanks for your review. It was awesome!

28 10 2010
Microcontroller Programming :

i always get my hotel reservations in advance specially during peak seasons~*”

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