It’s not every day that we get to spend securely tucked away within the impenetrable ramparts of a fortified enclave, but Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany was just such a place.
The name means Red Fortress above the Tauber, most likely for the red rooftops on many of the buildings, but this is no Red Roof Inn.
The town truly is one big fortress, protected by a city wall all the way around it that has remained intact for centuries.
Inside the bastion we were treated to Germany’s best preserved medieval town.
For a quick and amusing lesson on the legend that dominates the town’s history, we made the main square our first stop.
The plaza is dominated by the Rathaus, or town hall, and the tavern where the council did their drinking that stands next door, the Ratstrinkstube.
The facade on the tavern has become semi-famous for its Meistertrunk animated clock that, every hour on the hour, depicts the popular legend of how the town was saved.
These classic story-telling timepieces are particularly prevalent in this part of the world, and we try to catch their presentations whenever we can.
Arriving a few minutes early, we staked out a sidewalk table with a view of the Glockenspiel, ordered a cup of Glühwein, and waited for the show.
It helped that we knew the story beforehand, as the timepiece’s demonstration is somewhat less than in depth.
The tale is told that back in 1631, during the Thirty Years’ War, Count Tilly and his Catholic troops were laying siege to the predominantly Protestant town.
Perhaps as a joke, but certainly thinking no one could pull it off, the count promised to spare the town if one of its councilors could quaff a full three and a quarter liter tankard of wine in one gulp.
Mayor Nusch took the challenge, downing the entire tankard nonstop, and became an instant hero and symbolic champion of the village from that day forward.
However, in the humble opinion of these GypsyNesters, the clock’s show doesn’t quite live up to the legend. Two windows open, one with the count, the other with the mayor, and while the mayor drinks – in painfully slow motion — the count turns to look out over the square.
That’s it, show’s over.
After that anticlimactic introduction to the saving of Rothenburg, we were determined to find a better observation by getting up on top of the medieval city wall.
A little wandering along the base of the bulwarks brought us to a vertigo inducing steep stairway that led to a tiny doorway.
We carefully climbed to the top with walking the perimeter of the town as our prime objective.
From high on the fortifications we had an excellent, and ever-changing, view of the entire city while we walked.
As we circled, we checked out every angle of the rooftops, church spires, and defensive towers along the way.
We also captured miniature views of the valley extending outside of the walls through the tiny window slits made for firing down on any advancing enemies.
These are known as arrow loops, or loopholes, and yes, they are where the term for usurping a rule or law originated – as in a way though the wall without actually breaking it.
Our vantage point gave us great angles for checking out the half-timbered houses that dominate the architecture of the city, and interesting peeks from above into the day to day lives of the residents.
It always strikes our New World senses as strange how folks live in these domiciles that are older than any structures still standing in the Americas.
The skyline is dominated by several towers, the most prominent being the twin belfries of St. Jakob’s Church.
This has served as the main church of the city since it was built over the course of one hundred and seventy years between 1311-1484.
Many of the more impressive towers are part of the ancient city walls, but we found that they were better viewed from the ground.
So we returned to the surface streets and passed through the
Markusturm, which dates back to the 12th century as a part of the town’s first fortifications, on our way to the main entrance to the old town.
The Burgtor, or Castle Gate, served as a kind of front door for Rothenberg. This is where Count Tilly breached the town’s defenses during the Thirty Years’ War before being held off by one very thirsty mayor.
We also did a little window shopping as we walked along.
One of the town sweet specialties, Schneeballen, seemed to be in every other shop.
The name means snowball in English, and they looked to be very similar to Dutch olliebollen, although these are made by wrapping strips of dough into a ball, instead of one solid glob, so they very well could be lighter.
Still, two things kept us from trying them. First, every place that sold them proudly bragged that they were a great souvenir because they would last for eight weeks without refrigeration; second, our prior experience with fat balls made us even more wary.
With that in mind we decided that there wasn’t a Schneeballen’s chance in, well, let’s say Hell Bar of us eating one.
Perhaps we should explain, the medieval drinking room Mittelalterliche Trinkstube Zur Höll, or Hell Bar, has been Rothenberg’s watering hole of choice for over a thousand years.
It is possibly the oldest building in town.
Unfortunately it wasn’t open for business on the Sunday morning that we were wandering the streets, but from the stories we heard of its reputation that may have been a good thing.
It’s not every day we get to live secure in the notion that hell is closed for the day.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! See our full Cities of Light Voyage from Paris to Prague with stops in, Luxembourg, Trier, Cochem, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, and Nuremberg. As always, all opinions are our own.