I was distracted for a while when I heard ‘Romantic Road’. Doesn’t it make you wonder if it’s like some of the cities that we associate romance…love with! This one I took was beautiful and stretched almost 400-km to surprise you with mountains, waves of green and was dotted with medieval towns and villages. As for the name, well it’s created around the old Roman trade route and you discover the Bavarian countryside as you drive South towards the Alps. You can pause any time to clear your lungs, glug your favorite beer or then start the medieval trail at one of the villages. For me though, this holiday that I stole from a packed schedule at work was short, so I made the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber my memory of Germany.
ROMANTIC ROAD TO ROTHENBURG
I’d totally say, spend a couple of nights in Rothenburg. I have to admit I missed out on a few experiences because I timed my visit as winter closed & had just three days in Frankfurt. But I pretty much had the town to myself, so chatting up came with an extra 15 minutes of precious discoveries. Stories plucked from time seemed to say, that it was tons of luck and a quick thinking mayor who gave this pretty town a new lease of life.
One can’t help but miss such a vibrant town. With splashes of color when you turn into an alley…. in courtyards, houses, even wall art, the palette makes you rewind. Streets have surprises right in the middle, with fountains and even the Greek God Triton-like statue. Or so it seemed. I heard that a magical Harry Potter journey & the film version of Pinocchio by Disney, had found their inspiration here.
But I was truly captivated much earlier; in fact from the moment I entered the gates.
I didn’t quite understand the symbolism, but I bought into the ‘protector of the land’ bit
‘DON’T MISS EXPERIENCES’ IN ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER
Let me start with the name. If it intrigued you, here’s what it means. Rot (Red) Burg (Castle) ob der (on the) Tauber (Tauber River), translates as Red Castle/Fortress over the River Tauber. The red refers to much of the color you see on the rooftops, across a city that once had a castle. The medieval part is in the town centre (Altstadt) and in the partly damaged/reconstructed walls that circle the town. And that’s where I begin the tale of this town.
RATHAUS (Town Hall) & RATSHERRNTRINKSTUBE (City Councillors’ Tavern)
What faces you in the Altstadt is the Renaissance style façade of the new town hall built in the latter part of the 16th century. Just behind it is the earlier Gothic building, part of which was destroyed in a fire leaving just the slender bell tower. I sulked much as I didn’t have access to the interiors (wrong day of the week), so didn’t get my favorite tower view (aerial shows are always so stunning). But would recommend it highly if I go by some of the pictures I’ve seen of the town from that height.
3 styles…Gothic in the Bell Tower, the Baroque arcade & Renaissance in the facade can be seen here
The tavern (with a tongue twisting name) though carries a story from 400 years ago. One involving the Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Rothenburg during the Thirty Years war . Legend says that the invading Emperors’ General Tilly, made a deal with Mayor Nusch that he’d spare the town if someone would down 3 litres or more of Franconian wine in a gulp. Gosh! The fable ends well as the Mayor did miraculously save the land and its people. In celebration of that, the windows on both sides of the tavern’s wall clock open once every hour during the day. Just pause for a minute and you can see the scene from the ‘Meistertrunk’ (Master Draught) with Tilly & Nusch.
City Councillors’ Tavern once upon a time
When deals saved lives and getting drunk was a good thing!
FRANCONIAN WINE & SCHNEEBALLEN (Snowballs)
I’ve realized in my last 2 holidays to Colmar (France) & Rothenburg the foolishness of going off wine, albeit for a short while. When you are here do sample the local wines at the many cellars or take a tour to the vineyards. The wine festival held in mid August apparently serves up several Franconian grape varieties. Take your pick from the fruity aroma of Silvaner, the delicate aroma of Riesling, the summer wine Müller-Thurgau and the mild cherry flavored Domina. Of course a passerby drew my special attention when I was looking at a shop window, to the flattened out shape of the wine bottles from this region called Bocksbeutal. The story here was that the shape was akin to the outline of Rothenburg town. Talk about ownership!!!
If you want to taste the local dessert there is the Snowball to whet your appetite. It’s really pastry rolled into a ball with lavish helping of icing sugar on top giving you a mixed feeling on first bite. I was curious so I walked into the first display that offered a taste of this sugar bomb. With flavors like chocolate, some coated with nuts, a marzipan filled snowball and tons more, it is hard to miss. Actually it’s the first thing you see when you pass by any sweet corner or display in a bakery.
Walk in here to have a Schneeball dessert
BURGGARTEN (Castle Gardens)
Well they aren’t really castle gardens as the castle was destroyed in an earthquake in the 14th Century and the gardens were pretty much built right there. I also missed the summer flowers so the view was really of the garden gates and some old stories woven around it. Of course once you get past them, you can see the Tauber valley and the expanse.
I came to realize that the round structures on either side of the entry arch was at one point the old guard house and customs house, for all who came into the city from this gate. So once you exit the gardens and cross the arch don’t forget to look up at the wall of the Burgator. You will see a face with an open mouth carved into the stone, that was used to pour hot oil/tar on invaders. Phew! Glad I came as a friend of the land. The massive doorway inside had just one small door, which was the only way for any one person to enter during a face-off, giving protectors of the land enough time to attack a potential enemy.
WALKING THE CITY WALLS
Protective walls that fortified the town cocooned the Free Imperial city named as such in the 13th Century. Just a 2 ½ mile walk along the walls gives a glimpse of pretty roof tops, houses with multi layered lofts, the cobblestone roads and the town’s many towers. While much of wall is from times of yore, restoration was needed post the World War II bombings and citizens and kind souls from near and far contributed to rebuilding it. I must admit it was my refuge during the occasional drizzle.
It’s a 1½-hour walk all through, but you can alight and get right back up when you please
The corn mill, Rossmühle that was powered by horses and not water power, is now a Youth Hostel.
View from the walk along the city walls
PLÖNLEIN (Little Square)
If you chat up with a lover of Rothenburg, you will without doubt hear that its pop-out oriel windows, half timbered houses and even St. Jacob’s church are the town standouts. But for many of us who live online, the imprinted photo moment is the pretty corner that has become the landmark of this town. ‘Little Square’, is really a yellow half timbered house flanked on two sides by towers built as early as the 13th Century.
On the left is the Siebers Tower that protected the Southern gate & to the right is the Kobolzeller Tower protecting all entry from the Tauber Valley. Damn the drizzle again…the skies lost their famed blue and I also missed much of the flora that makes this picturesque frame unforgettable and almost fairytale-like. I have to admit I had actually succumbed a while ago to the Plönlein’s rich colors and absolute prettiness, making me scribble Rothenburg for my 1st visit into Germany.
15th CENTURY ST.JACOBS CHURCH
You must step into the Gothic church that took almost a century to make, knowing it was the main place of worship in the Middle Ages for people in this town. I for one have always been fascinated by all places that revere the divine, whether it is invoked with form or formless.
I have often noticed in the celebration of the divine power, both the façade and interiors are created with a devotion and beauty that is replicated on no other structure. Any where in the world. As a Lutheran church the most decorative elements here were the altarpiece & sculptures around it, telling the story of Christ and the apostle St. James (St. Jacob in German) . In medieval times it had pilgrims who thronged it to experience another relic called the Holy Blood Altar said to carry a drop of Christ’s blood in a rock crystal cross.
This trip that took me to Colmar and Rothenburg gave me a glimpse of altarpieces with wings. Perhaps I have missed this style before, but I was glad I discovered it on this journey
Here is the wooden Altar of the Holy Blood on the floor above
Statue of St. James symbolically holding the scallop shell just outside the church, as a guide to pilgrims
KÄTHE WOHLFAHRT’S CHRISTMAS VILLAGE
Walking into this store in the end of Feb made it seem like I was still in December. It visually brought alive the history of Christmas traditions in Germany. Go straight up to the Museum which is done up in blues with a mock sky, gateway curtains and beautiful ornamentation to immerse in the rituals/symbols around this fest. Here you can trace the story of how the Christmas tree, Santa Claus and each decoration that formed the winter tale for generations, came alive
I wish I could’ve taken pictures, but there were signs everywhere banning photography. The shop below is beautifully done up and full of trinkets & decorations that you can take back with you.
Here’s a glimpse of the floor as you enter the store.
How delightful to get the Christmas feel even as winter ends
STREETS OF ROTHENBURG
Before you start walking around the town, head first to the tourism office and get yourself a map. Get lost. Find yourself once again with the map. This is a small town and once you know some of the must experience places and sights, finding yourself back at the Marktplatz (Market Square) or even in the parking lot is mighty easy. Here are some street stories of the medieval, well-preserved and surprising town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Don’t miss the bicycle. Not so medieval but well…
Private homes like this are elaborate and have many ‘eye windows’ in the roof area giving it an almost Darth Vader look
An Oriel style window, called the same because of the protrusion that looks like a balcony without any support from below. It’s from the 17th century
This was the house of the city’s Master Builder. The statues on the two floors reflect the seven virtues and vices
Altfraenkische Weinstube, a B&B and a popular place to munch away if you have the patience to wait till atleast 6.00 PM when the day tourists have left the town. That’s when they open apparently.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Frankfurt: If you wish to travel by rail, you will have to change two trains to reach this town. Total time I was told is 3 hours.
I recommend a car (self driven or a private drop) with Romantische Straße (Romantic Road) as your route to get in or out, if you have the time. Of course for all of us in a hurry, there is the Autobahn. Time taken is 2 hours.
I had spent much of the opening months of 2017 reading up about magical moments in travel. Collecting stories by jumping from a read on an architectural marvel to unbelievable landscapes to villages that delight with designer balconies & rooftops…even feasts by Michelin star chefs that complete journeys. A time traveled Rothenburg as my earliest or rather first tale from Germany will be always remembered as a quaint, lovely town from the Middle Ages. I still have the famed Night Watchman’s tour and the Christmas Market to come back to this December, for an encore. Am already starry eyed.
What is your favorite medieval travel story? Would love to hear.