Rothenburg ob der Tauber
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The Rödertor, one of several gates to the old town.
My visit to Germany in 1986 was a trip of discovery. Apart from a few specific destinations, like Nürnberg, Heidelberg, and the Mosel, I had no itinerary. I just planned on seeing what I encountered on the way.
After seeing the Fränkische Schweiz, I wanted to go next to Heidelberg, but not right away. I looked at the map, and picked a town roughly halfway between Bayreuth and Heidelberg – Rothenburg – and found something that became one of the big highlights of the trip.
Rothenburg is an old walled town that seems like it hasn’t changed a bit during the past few centuries. Part of the reason is that the town just wasn’t very important for much of its history, and languished during the 17th and 18th Centuries. During the 19th Century, tourism started to become an important business, and the old character of Rothenburg meant that the town could become a tourist trap.
Unfortunately, Rothenburg sustained much damage during the second World War. For most of the war, it looked like the town might survive the war unscathed. After all, the only industry of any significance was tourism. But just two weeks before the end of the war, the town suffered a bomb attack, which destroyed about 40% of the buildings. The only reason you now don’t see any signs of damage is because a lot of money and effort has been spent in restoring the town. Rebuilding even continued well into the 1990’s.
It should be noted that Rothenburg is not a popular tourist destination for most Germans. Most visitors are foreigners. Rothenburg, and the rest of the Romantic Road, are especially popular with Japanese tourists. During one visit, the German newspapers had photos of the wedding of a Japanese prince. I watched as a group of young Japanese women swooped upon one shop and bought up all the papers on display outside!
Rothenburg may well be considered a tourist trap. But it does have its charms. I recommend visiting in June when the days are the longest. During the day, visit other nearby, less popular towns, like Dinkelsbühl, Schwäbisch Hall and Bad Mergentheim. Then wander the streets and alleys of Rothenburg after dinner, after all the tourists and tour groups have left. Relax and enjoy the view of the Tauber valley from the Burggarten. Or walk along the wall ringing the town.
My first visit was in 1986. But I’ve returned several times since. In 1991, after four weeks in Southern Germany, I had intended to spend the last few days in Frankfurt. But I needed a more relaxing end to my holidays, and so I spent the last few days in Rothenburg instead. In 1992, my itinerary took me from the Bavarian Alps in the south to Hamburg in the north. Rather than drive all the way from the Alps to the Harz in one day, I split the drive with a break half-way, in Rothenburg. I couldn’t stay away from Rothenburg during several more vacation trips, including our honeymoon in 1994. Rothenburg was at the end of the trip, but Sylvana was too exhausted from the trip to want to see much here!
Specifically, what is there to see here? First, the old city wall and the old stone towers and gates. Some of the towers, like the Weisser Turm, the Siebersturm, and the Markusturm mark the older original wall, which otherwise no longer exists. You can walk on top of the outer wall, which provides nice views of the town.
The city museum is worth a visit, as is the popular Crime Museum. One popular store on the Herrngasse is Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Weihnachtsdorf (Christmas Village). Be sure to visit both parts on either side of the street. Less well known are a couple of remaindered bookstores on the Rödergasse.