The next leg of our trip took Husband and I to Rothenburg ob Der Tauber, a well known stop on Bavaria’s “Romantic Road”. We booked a one night stay, as a stopover on the roughly 6 hour drive between the Rhine Gorge and Munich.
I had read that “RODT”, as it’s often referred to, has become overrun with tourists since being heavily featured by European travel guru Rick Steves, along with other travel sites. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/germanys-fairytale-dream-town-rothenburg. I mean, “FAIRY TALE DREAM TOWN” is quite a superlative, isn’t it? No wonder everyone wants to visit. Our late September visit may not have been during peak summer season, but the city was certainly full of tourists; my guess is that many, like us, were on their way to or from Oktoberfest in Munich, which is a little over 2 hours away by car.
RODT lives up to its billing, largely because of a very well preserved medieval center, complete with intact walls that surround the inner city. We entered by driving through one of these walls onto charming cobblestone streets:
Our hotel, the Burghotel Rothenburg, is built into one of these town walls, making for interesting architecture. https://burghotel.eu/index.php?id=8&L=1 This hotel is a great example of the small, independent European inn I prefer when traveling.
Our suite, room 2, was conveniently located on the ground floor, and included an external door onto a patio / town wall. The only negative about this large, comfortable room was that it was right below the breakfast serving area, resulting in a lot of sliding chair noise around 7 am.
Here I must highlight one of the precious experiences that define why I love travel. As usual, it involved a person rather than a tourist attraction.
Checking us into the Burghotel was an older gentleman, by my guess at least 75 years old. I later learned that he is Otto, patriarch of this independent, family-owned hotel. Tripadvisor reviews are full of mentions of Herr Otto, who clearly takes great personal pride in providing a good experience for the hotel’s guests. He was well-dressed in a proper suit and tie. We were the only guests checking in, and the process took at least 15 minutes – which was, in this case, NOT a bad thing. Slow Travel, indeed! I cannot recall the last time such attention was paid in a customer-service situation. He wasn’t staring at a screen, and he took the time to s-l-o-w-l-y handwrite a card with breakfast and checkout times. He s-l-o-w-l-y walked outside to check our car’s parking spot – the hotel offers free parking, which is key within the walls of Rothenburg. Then, even though our room was on the ground floor and only about 50 feet from the check-in desk, he offered to carry our bags. Needless to say Husband wasn’t going to let this gentleman carry them, but Otto was very insistent so I let him roll my bag down the hall. Thank you, Otto!
After settling in to the room, we set off to explore Rothenburg. It’s not a large city, but we managed to stay busy for several hours walking along the top of the medieval walls, enjoying cappuccino and a pretzel at a bustling cafe, and shopping, particularly in the rambling Kathe Wolfhart Christmas store. Here are a few photos of our afternoon expedition:
Christmas store = thousands of ornaments. I’m amazed we spent less than $100 here…. A few photos below:
After our walk, we grabbed a light dinner at the hotel’s restaurant across the street. After the rich food at the Castle in Oberwesel, I was ready for some schnitzel:
At 8:00pm, we walked to the main town square, and joined about 1000 other tourists for Rothenburg’s Night’s Watchman tour.
The tour is presented in English, and I thought I had read that it was free. However, the guide did request an 8€ pp payment at the end of the tour. It may have been free if you wandered away before the end, as I believe more than a few patrons did … The “Watchman” who gave the tour carried a lantern, was dressed in classic medieval garb, and spoke with what I thought of as a Monty Python-esque lisp. I didn’t get great photos in the dark, but here’s one:
As you can see, we were joined by many other visitors (although I was exaggerating about 1000), which made it a little hard to hear at times. I guess “free” has a way of attracting the masses!
Nonetheless, the guide was entertaining we learned some very interesting details about Rothenburg and medieval life in general:
- The role of the night watchman during medieval times was not for security, but to shout “fire!” if necessary, since fire was the most destructive and dangerous threat to community life.
- We knew that the plague that reduced Europe’s population by 60% in the 1500’s came from rats … but I didn’t realize that the rats didn’t arrive in Europe until ships carried them from China. Globalization certainly comes with its pros and cons…
- We learned that as a merchant center, Rothenburg was one of the world’s top 20 cities during medieval times, and boasted a population of over 6000.
- In 1640, the city was sacked by Catholic forces and never really recovered. The people of the city couldn’t afford to modernize or update their homes in the succeeding 3 centuries. This led to an unusual number of original buildings still standing in the 1890s…
- … when, due to industrialization and improved passenger ship travel, tourists discovered Rothenburg. The advent of tourism brought enough money to enable the town to preserve the buildings and town wall against their advancing age and weather.
- In 1945, as Allied forces marched across Germany at the end of WWII, the town was again saved from destruction due to tourism: the American general who led the charge had memories of a painting of Rothenburg in his home – because his own mother had travelled there during the early 1900s and had fond memories of the city. So, he convinced the forces not to destroy Rothenburg.
All in all, one night in Rothenburg was sufficient for us, but the town could also be used as a base to discover other nearby towns on Bavaria’s Romantic Road. FAIRY TALE DREAMS may lead to lots of tourists, but that’s not all bad.