Deutschland – Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Waking up late on Sunday after a night out with friends, I decided to make the most of my weekend and tack on a short day trip to Rothenburg. Rothenburg is the quintessential old-style German town, with half-timbered houses, a city wall, and some old-looking Gothic stonework.

The new City Hall, with the tower of the old City Hall building peeking out from behind

We opted to give a self-guided audio tour a try, per Chelsea’s recommendation. “Rick Steve’s Audio Europe” talked us through some of the history, lores and legends, and small details of objects and sites through the small city. In the main square where we started, we learned of a legend – the town of Protestants was surrounded by an imposing Catholic army. Trying to appease the foreign commander, the citizens offered him a 3.25L tankard of wine. Amused by this gesture, he offered that if anyone in the town could finish the tankard in a single drink that he would spare the town. According to legend, the mayor accepted this challenge, drank for 10 minutes straight, and was inebriated for 3 days before he was coherent enough to celebrate his success in saving the city.

Colorful half-timbered houses line the streets

Unfortunately, while the town did actually survive the siege of the legend (though not via alcohol consumption), it was devastated by the war and ransacked several times. This, coupled with the fact that the plague hit the town shortly afterwards, devastated the population to a point past hope of recovery. Fortunately for us, the hardship that Rothenburg faced left it preserved as a time capsule.

Walking through the streets, our “guide” told us about the politics and history of the town. Rothenburg was distinguished as an independent city, beholden only to the emperor (during the Holy Roman Empire) and not to any of the local lords or princes. Rothenburg sat at a crossroads of two significant trade routes, distinguishing it as a rich trading post.

Saint James guides pilgrims with his scallop shell in hand

The town features a prominent Lutheran cathedral, St. Jakob’s. Sadly, it was closed by the time we arrived, so we were unable to go inside. The church has a relic which allegedly contains a drop of Jesus’ blood, making this a popular destination for pilgrims for hundreds of years.

St. Jakob’s cathedral in the late afternoon light

After circling the cathedral we stopped inside for an early dinner to warm up. I tried pork shoulder as I had read it was a good dish to try. I enjoyed the meal although because we were right near the cathedral it felt a little touristy.

At the oldest entryway into the city, right by the castle the town formed around

After dinner, our tour continued past a few museums and an old convent. We had planned on going to the Medieval crime museum which features an abundance of torture implements, but it was closed by the time we arrived. Eventually we found the red-topped castle from which Rothenburg gets its name. Overlooking the valley below, we strolled through the gardens in twilight while learning about the early history and formation of the town.

Ploenelein, a charming collection of buildings said to have inspired the scenery for Pinocchio

We finished up the guided tour, passing by two stores which are famous for being Christmas-themed year-round. These too, were closed, but we enjoyed the window views, even if it was not clear to me who would be shopping for Christmas decorations in late January.

A view of some guard towers, peeking out from the city wall battlements

Before heading home, we decided to take a peek around the city via the city wall. Open to pedestrians, you can walk along the wall and feel like a soldier on guard duty, peering out through narrow arrow-slits to enjoy brief views of the valley below while seeing more charming buildings below. After we had our fill we stepped down from the wall and found our car, then made our way back home.

Rothenburg was a charming little day trip. While I enjoyed seeing the old narrow streets and history of a past well preserved, I am glad we went at this time of year as opposed to the summer when I imagine it would get very busy. It was nice that the streets felt empty, rather than bustling with tourists. In a way, the silence let the town speak a little louder to us.

I have a lot more exploring to do in Germany. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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