Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Plölein ("Little Square"), a favorite photo spot south of Market Square.
I was in Rothenburg this past May. There is apparently more than one Rothenburg in Germany so it is imperative that I say that we visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the one along the Tauber River Valley. There are no direct flights into Rothenburg, so we had to fly into Frankfurt and take a 2 hour taxi ride via the autobahn southeast to the city.

Rothenburg is one among others (Würzburg & Bamberg) strung together into the scenic Romantic Road (Romantic as in Roman, not romance), a term coined by the tourism industry some time back as a means of promoting the area. The drive was indeed beautiful in May with the raps (canola 油菜) fields at the height of bloom. The stripes of bright yellow that surrounded the highway diminished the thrill of speeding down the autobahn and passing the landscape by so quickly.

Rothenburg is known for being a well-preserved Medieval town. The town consists of the old fortified city in the middle still enclosed by the town wall on all sides with gates for entry. The rail, supermarkets, and other newer buildings are to the north and east, outside the old town. To the west and south of the town is the valley with a few random buildings and some farm lands.


The conference my dad spoke at took place all over town. Shops had special welcome signs and town bulletins posted events for the conference, which has been meeting in Rothenburg for over 10 years. My dad spoke at the largest venue, reichsstadthalle,  the town tithe barn built in 1699 and renovated in 1975. 

The Wilbad.
The accommodation for the conference is a building to the south and outside of the old town wall. It has its foundations going back to medieval times and was originally the site of a wild bath (bath outside of the main building) below a hospital. It was then transformed into a spa into the mid-1800s and now owned and run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria. The river runs along the Wilbad and wilderness surrounds it, making it great for a retreat center. I don't know whether it is usually open for booking to the public, but it is a wonderful place to stay right outside the old town.

Rothenburg is a very walkable town. There are many corners to discover and much history behind each wall, each plaque, each building. The Rothenburg tourism site provides information on most of the important buildings. Even after 5 days there, I realize there are treasures that I didn't see and discover.

RAMPARTS, or town wall
The Ramparts at dusk.
The ramparts run almost all the way around the entire circumference of the old town. It is very walkable with few steps, good flat paving, and wide. You can walk a length then come down to explore another section of the city. The entry points to the wall are usually around one of the gate towers.

View of Market Square, approaching from the South corner.
The Market Square is the main square at the center of old town. It seems to anchor the town with all gates and main roads leading to it. The Town Hall is the large building that flanks the west side of the square. The tower attached to the town hall can be climbed for a breathtaking view of the town. There is an astronomical clock on the facade of the adjacent building with a door opening on the hour. But the animatronics here is not much to look at.

Bird's-eye view of the Market Square from the Town Hall Tower.
The town hall tower, according to the Rothenburg site, has 220 steps from the main door of the Town Hall leading up to a 52 meter platform. The steps however may not be as imagined. The path spiraled up a stone staircase up the town hall, led across the top floor, then resumed into wooden steps that got narrower as we reached the top, by which it became more like ladders than steps. The platform made for a great vantage point, that is unless you are afraid of heights.

The view from the High Altar to the back of the church.
St. Jakob's is a Lutheran church. It is the most prominent church in Rothenburg. It houses some town treasures in the form of altarpieces and statues. Its beautifully carved wooden pews date back to 1514!

View of the front of the church.
This is a smaller church with lots of interesting reliefs in the back and rows of coat-of-arms on its walls. This church is easy to overlook from the outside but holds its own once you walk in.

This looks like a building out of Wes Anderson's movie.
This building is now a youth hostel, but apparently it used to be a horse-drawn mill. The windows look like rows of eyes!

View of the Tauber Valley and the southern part of Old Town..
The Castle Garden is a little strip of land that extends west out of the fortified town. From the garden, you can see below to the Tauber Valley and see the town walls to the North and South. The garden is basically a little park with a chapel here and a memorial there.

The Tauber Valley and view of the fortified town on the higher plain.
The valley to the West of the old town is occupied by farm lands and some B&Bs. There is a road that takes you into town near the castle garden but it is difficult to walk. There is also the Tauber Bridge in this area, as well as some other farm buildings to explore.

Men in costume waiting for rehearsals to begin.
Children in costume playing before the rehearsals.
The few evenings spent in Rothenburg, my mom and I sat on the steps of the Town Hall waiting for my dad and his assistant/disciple (Michael) to join us for dinner. As we sat there, townsperson after townsperson, young and old, appeared in the Market Square in full Medieval costume. They gathered at the square to the point where, if not for the tourists and occasional vehicle in the background, I would have thought I was taken back in time. It was very fun! They were rehearsing for an event or reenactment later in the year. I'm not sure when the event is, but it seems a common occurrence here and every townsperson has a costume on the ready!

The "Christmas Express" parked in front of the shop to attract customers.
Germany is known for its Christmas markets and this shop made up for my not being there in December. When I entered, it became Christmas in May. No photos allowed inside but believe me--it was A LOT of Christmas.

There is plenty of German food in town and I love no nonsense German food; none of that fancy dainty stuff.  But there are also some interesting selections in town, including a popular Japanese restaurant and more than one Chinese restaurant. Just remember to make a reservation if the restaurant is small. Reservations only require you to tell them its for lunch or dinner, and they will hold your space indefinitely regardless of whether there are customers waiting out their door.

Meat Shop window.
There are a few meat shops in town and there's no missing them from their window displays. Most of them sell sausages anytime of the day. Just go in, look around, and point. The sausages usually come with bread and mustard.

A schneeballen display.
Schneeballen, or snowball, is a pastry Rothenburg is known for. We did buy and try a classic one, dusted in powder sugar. It is made of strips of airy dough mushed into a ball, 3 inches in diameter, and deep fried. It tastes crunchy and sweet while fresh, but after awhile the oily taste soaks through.


A stork making its nest atop a tower in town.
Rothenburg is really a lovely town. The people there have done a great job preserving their history and developing their town for tourism and for hosting events; I got no sense of the town catering only to tourists or waning from its age. It is filled with life all day, peaceful in the evening, and people there are thriving. The community works together and knows each other well. In this sense, it didn't just look Medieval, it felt Medieval (and I mean this in the best way). This is a town that is worth any day-tripper's time, but a longer stay will reward you with treasures.

1 comment:

Aww! You're leaving me a message!