Continuing the series of free Daytrips sample chapters, here's one that no visitor to Germany should miss, taken directly from the 7th edition of my guidebook Daytrips Germany, and from the more compact Daytrips Bavaria:
*Rothenburg ob der Tauber
A Daytrip from Munich or Frankfurt
Rothenburg is almost too good to be true. This once-prosperous medieval town went to sleep after the Thirty Years War and didn't wake up until centuries later, when hordes of tourists began knocking at the gates. By that time its dreamy antiquity had become a gold mine, and its citizens happily vowed to keep the town just as it was in the Middle Ages.
There was a castle at this strategic and easily defended spot high above the Tauber valley a thousand years ago. This was extended in the 12th century and around it a town developed. As the population increased the original ramparts became too confining, so that new walls — which are still completely intact — had to be built beginning in the 13th century.
During the Reformation the town turned Protestant and as a result suffered terribly in the Thirty Years War of the 17th century. Stripped of its wealth and much too poor to afford new buildings, Rothenburg sank into obscurity. Its revival began with the late-19th-century Romantics, who had discovered in the midst of their rapidly industrializing nation a true miracle in the form of this long-forgotten and perfectly preserved medieval town.
The only problem with Rothenburg is that everyone knows about it. The mobs of tourists who come here in summer will thin out considerably once you get away from the town hall area, and you may even have some parts of town to yourself.
Rothenburg also makes an excellent daytrip from Frankfurt, or from smaller bases such as Würzburg, Nürnberg, or Heidelberg. The very best way to visit the town, however, is to make an overnight stop en route between Munich and Frankfurt, or vice versa.
One well-known way to reach Rothenburg, aside from driving, is via the Romantic Road Bus, operated by the railroad between Munich, Würzburg, and Frankfurt. Railpass holders get a large discount on the fare. To use the bus you should first check the schedule and then make reservations by contacting Deutsche Touring, Am Römerhof 17, Frankfurt, T: (069) 790-30, W: touring.de. There are drawbacks, however. Unless you are staying overnight, it will not allow enough time to see Rothenburg. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible to get there by train from either Munich or Frankfurt, or more easily from Würzburg.
Trains from Munich require a very early start and changes at both Würzburg and Steinach. Be sure to check the schedules both ways very carefully. The ride takes over three hours each way. There are other possible routes; consult information at the Munich station.
Trains from Frankfurt also call for an early start. Changes must be made at both Würzburg and Steinach. With good connections, the total trip should take about 2½ hours.
By Car from Munich, take the A-8 Autobahn to the Augsburg-West exit, then the B-2 north to Donauwörth, and finally the “Romantic Road” (Romantische Strasse) via Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl into Rothenburg, which is 208 km (130 miles) northwest of Munich. You must park outside the walls, where there are several lots.
By Car from Frankfurt, take the A-3 Autobahn to Würzburg, then head south on the A-7 to the Rothenburg exit, which is about 185 km (115 miles) southeast of Frankfurt. Again, park outside the walls.
Rothenburg can be visited at any time, and is especially lovely in winter after a fresh snowfall. For your own sanity, avoid weekends and holidays during the summer. The local Tourist Information Office (Rothenburg Tourism Service), T: (09861) 404-800, W: rothenburg.de, is on the Marktplatz. Rothenburg has a population of about 12,000.
Travel to and from the parking lots, and around town, can be done by rickshaw. T: mobile (0177) 880-7122. €€ to €€€€.
FOOD AND DRINK:
This popular tourist town abounds in quaint old restaurants. Among the best are:
Hotel Eisenhut (Herrngasse 3-5, just west of the Rathaus) Exquisite dining in a lovely hotel occupying four medieval houses, with a garden terrace overlooking the valley. T: (09861) 70-50. €€€
Romantik-Hotel Markusturm (Rödergasse 1, by the Markusturm) A romantic 13th-century inn noted for its game and fish dishes. Dinner only, reserve. T: (09861) 942-80. €€€
Ratsstube (Marktplatz 6) Regional specialties in a popular old tavern. T: (09861) 55-11. €€
Reichs-Küchenmeister (Kirchplatz 8, just east of St.-Jakobs Church) An old inn famed for its game and fish. T: (09867) 97-00. €€
Baumeisterhaus (Obere Schmiedgasse 3, just south of the Marktplatz) Local specialties in the courtyard or dining room of a 16th-century patrician house. T: (09861) 947-00. €€
Klosterstüble (Heringsbronnengasse 5, near the Franciscan Church) A good value. T: (09861) 67-74. €€
Click on map to enlarge.
Leave the train station (l) and follow the map to the Old Town, which begins at the Rödertor (2). This 17th-century bastion leads through the medieval walls and onto Rödergasse. Walk straight ahead past the Markusturm — a surviving part of the oldest ramparts — and into the very center of Rothenburg, the Marktplatz.
The imposing *Rathaus (Town Hall) (3) (photo, above) reflects the former wealth of this small town. It consists of two adjoining structures, one in the 16th-century Renaissance style facing the market place and the other a Gothic building completed in the 14th century, which opens onto Herrngasse. You may explore the interior by using the entrance on Marktplatz. The Imperial Hall is interesting, but the main attraction is to climb the 165-foot *tower for a fabulous view of medieval Rothenburg. This is reached by a difficult staircase that get progressively narrower. Be warned in advance that some minor acrobatics are required to get out on the platform. The tower is open daily from April-October, from 9:30-12:30 and 1-5; in Nov. and Jan. through March, weekends only 12-3; and in Dec. daily 12-3. €.
Beneath the Rathaus lie the Historical Vaults with their dark dungeons and an exhibition on the Thirty Years War. Open April-Oct., daily 9:30-5:50; Christmas Market daily 1-4. €.
On the north side of the Marktplatz is the 15th-century Ratstrinkstube, a former tavern for the city councilors. Above this there is a clock with mechanical figures, which act out the story of the Meistertrunk at 11 a.m., noon, and 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10 p.m. daily. The legend dates from the Thirty Years War, when Protestant Rothenburg was captured by the Catholic General Tilly, who ordered widespread destruction and executions. Pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears until Tilly was offered a cup of the local wine. Impressed, he agreed to spare the town if one of the councilors could drink the entire 3¼-liter bumper in one mighty draught. An ex-mayor named Nusch performed the feat, then slept for three days and nights and lived on for another 37 years before dying at the age of 80. It's a nice story. The tourist office, by the way, is in the same building.
Stroll over to the St.-Jakob-Kirche (St. James' Church) (4), begun in the early 14th century and consecrated in the late 15th. Its Altar of the Twelve Apostles, at the east end, is beautifully carved and merits a careful examination, as do the stained-glass windows. The main attraction, however, is in the west gallery, up a flight of stairs. This is the *Altarpiece of the Holy Blood (photo, right), a major work by the renowned sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, completed in 1504. Its depiction of the Last Supper is simply fantastic. Open April-Oct., daily 9-5:15; Nov. and Jan. through March, daily 10-noon and 2-4; and Dec. daily 10-5. €.
Now follow the map to the Klingentor (5), a 14th-century town gate attached to the very curiously fortified Church of St. Wolfgang. The latter dates from the late 15th century and has windows on the south side only. To the north it is a fortress, whose casemates and subterranean passages may be explored via an entrance near the High Altar. Open April-Sept., daily 10-1 and 2:30-5; Oct. Wed.-Mon., 2-4. €.
Continue along the walls to the Burg Tor (Castle Gate) (6), leading into a park built on the site of the original 10th-century castle. All that remains of its 12th-century successor is the Chapel of St. Blasius, now a war memorial. There is a marvelous view from the gardens, extending across the Tauber valley and encompassing the tiny and rather odd Toppler Castle, just below, and the medieval fortified Double Bridge to the left.
Leave the gardens and walk around to the Franciscan Church (7), the oldest in town, which dates from the 13th century. An unusual feature is the wooden screen separating the nave from the choir. It also contains some fine tombs. From here the elegant and wide Herrngasse, lined with stately homes of the gentry, leads back to the Town Hall.
Turn right on Obere Schmiedgasse, passing several beautiful patrician houses. The most notable of these is the Renaissance-style Baumeister House at number 3, with statues of the seven virtues and the seven deadly sins adorning its upper façade. In a few steps you will come to the:
*KRIMINALMUSEUM (Medieval Crime Museum) (8), T: (09861) 53-59, W: kriminalmuseum.rothenburg.de. Open April-Oct., daily 9:30-6; Nov. and Jan.-Feb., daily 2-4; Dec. and March daily 1-4. €.
Don’t miss seeing this large and fascinating display of medieval life and justice, featuring ingenious implements of torture, strange punishments, and horrendous executions. The collections occupy four floors of an ancient building and every item, from the gruesome to the humorous, is thoroughly explained in both German and English.
The most famous spot in Rothenburg is the *Plönlein (9) (photo, top of page), the subject of countless travel pictures. Formed by the intersection of two cobbled streets, each with a tower, and framed by half-timbered houses, this little square is almost unbearably picturesque. Continue straight ahead through Siebers Tower and turn left to the walls.
From here you can walk along the top of the Ramparts (photo, left), remarkably unchanged since the 14th century. At the Rödertor (2) it is possible to climb out into the tower for an even better view. Stay on the walls as far as the Galgentor (Gallows Gate) (10), then descend and follow the map past the 12th-century Weisser Turm (White Tower) (11), another part of the earliest town walls.
A series of narrow streets lead to the:
REICHSSTADTMUSEUM (Imperial City Museum) (12), T: (09861) 939-043, W: reichsstadtmuseum.rothenburg.de. Open April-Oct., daily 10-5; Nov.-March, daily 1-4. €.
Here, in a former Dominican convent, you’ll find the whole history of Rothenburg displayed in surviving artifacts — including the famous wine tankard used by the ex-mayor Nusch to perform his heroic feat.
Now walk over to the nearby Marktplatz, from which you can retrace your steps back to the train station.
German Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum) – Explore the history of Christmas in a town that knows how to celebrate it. Antique ornaments, historic nutcrackers, Father Christmas figures and more take visitors back to olden times. Herrngasse 1. T: (09861) 409-365. Open daily 10-5:30, shorter hours off season, closed Good Friday. €.
Dolls and Toys Museum (Puppen und Spielzeugmuseum) — Antique dolls and toys, some dating from as far back as the 18th century, enchant the child in everyone. Hofbronnengasse 13. T: (09861) 73-30, W: spielzeugmuseum.rothenburg.de. Open March-Dec., daily 9:30-6; Jan.-Feb. daily 11-5. €.
Text and map copyright 2009 by Earl Steinbicker. Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.