Germany’s Romantic Road goes from Wurzburg in the north to Fussen in the south. One of the most picturesque towns on the route has to be Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is a well preserved medieval town that time forgot, and now has become a destination for tourists from all over the world.
The town of Rothenburg was established in 950 AD and by the 1200’s was one of the largest towns in the Holy Roman Empire with a population of 5500. But the 30 years war and the bubonic plague in the 1600’s took its toll, and left the town sparsely populated and too poor and powerless to keep up. So the town maintained it’s medieval state until it was discovered by the romantic painters of the 19th century, and then by the tourists that followed. World War II damaged part of the town but the US forces were aware of its historic significance and succeeded in protecting it from extensive damage.
Today, Rothenburg is a joy to visit. While the main sights could be seen in part of a day, take the time to linger, to explore the quaint out of the way streets, to walk the siege wall that still completely encircles the town, to explore the various towers, and to sit at an outdoor cafe with a coffee and strudel. Stay at least one night, or better yet, two, and enjoy the ambiance of the town once all the day trippers have gone and the evening light gives it a magical glow.
In the center of town is the Market Square, home to the town hall, the Town Council Drinking Hall, and to some of the town’s most colorful and impressive half timbered buildings. In the town hall, you can clearly see the building’s two architectural styles. The rear white part of the building was built in 1250, but when a fire destroyed part of it in 1501, the new construction was done in the more elaborate renaissance style. Next door is the Council Drinking House (now the tourist information office) that draws a crowd every hour to watch the clock’s mechanical figures put on a show.
Bordering the square are very picturesque and colorful half timbered buildings. The red timbered Meat and Dance Hall (now a gallery), the beautiful blue timbered Mayor Jagstheimer’s House (now a pharmacy) and St. George’s fountain occupy a prominent corner of the square. The statue of St. George vanquishing evil in the form of a dragon is a common theme in medieval art.
The other side of the Market Square is bordered by more colorful houses, some now serving as restaurants and cafes. Grab an outside table, order that coffee and strudel or a glass of the local Frankonian wine and enjoy.
Here it is Christmas 365 days a year. Just off the Market Square is the large Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store and Museum. This is one of 5 Kathe Wohlfahrt stores in this small town and this is their flagship store, claiming to carry the largest selection of Christmas ornaments in Germany. I dare you to go in their store and walk out without buying an ornament (or two or three or four………..).
Uphill from the Market Square, situated at the highest point is St. Jacob’s church. This light and airy church is known for it’s two altar pieces. The High Altar on the ground level of the church was carved in 1446 and is set off beautifully by the high stained glass windows, the oldest of which is from 1350.
The church’s centerpiece is the intricately carved altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider in 1499 which holds the Relic of the Holy Blood, a crystal that supposedly contains a drop of Jesus’ blood. Riemenschneider was to woodcarving what Michelangelo was to stone carving-indeed, they both practiced their art at about the same time. The centerpiece of the large altarpiece is an extremely detailed carving of the last supper. The details in the apostles robes, hair and expressions is simply amazing.
One of the things that makes Rothenburg unique are the original medieval ramparts and it’s many towers and gates- 2.5 miles of ramparts and 70 towers to be exact. Make sure to walk a portion of the wall to get a bird’s eye view of the town and an archer’s view overlooking the valley and the Tauber River. Start at Rodertor (Roder gate) and continue until either your time or interest level runs out (or space on your camera’s memory card).
Views of the various portions of the town wall surrounding Rothenburg.
The many gates are all unique and photogenic.
Once you’ve seen all the major sights, take time and get off the beaten path and wander the out of the way cobbled streets. Take in the variety of houses and rooflines and marvel at this town where time has stood still.
To me, what particularly makes this town such a pleasure are all the colorful details: brightly colored shutters with overflowing window baskets; the wrought iron signs identifying the different businesses; the whimsical fountains, the empty square Franconian wine bottles decorating a doorway-the list goes on.
If some of these images of Rothenburg appear familiar it’s because the town has been the backdrop for a number of famous movies. It inspired Disney’s Pinochio and was featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Part I and II of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
I absolutely loved the two days I spent in Rothenburg. Once I passed through the gate into town, it felt like I left the 21st century behind and was in my own fairy tale story with a photogenic and picturesque view around every bend.
Thanks for visiting.