“Rothenburg ob der tauber,” repeated the kid, rolling her r’s and her eyes, “Why do you like going to places with weird names, mum?” She had a point. I have a penchant for places with unpronounceable names. But then, they are all also outstanding places to visit. And Rothenburg ob der tauber (from henceforth to spare my fingers, Rothenburg will be mentioned as Rodt) is an impossibly outstandingly pretty town. A tourist haven, a photographer’s mecca, a toy town, this town deserves time and lots of it. One day is not enough for sure.
The name Rothenburg ob der Tauber means red fortress on the Tauber river. It was the first stop on our drive along the romantic road of Germany, a 350 km long road connecting Würzburg to Füssen, a drive I’d been dreaming about for months. This was the day to pick up the car and drive to Rodt, which meant double the excitement. We ate a hearty breakfast at our Würzburg hotel where, true to character, I spilt all the coffee over the table, and then cabbed it to the Sixt rental. We’d chosen a downtown pickup to save money on the pricier airport/train rentals, and were off to an early start, with me desperately praying for an upgrade from the chosen Volkswagen Golf. Apparently if they don’t have a car of your requested category, they provide a free upgrade. Fingers crossed.
We had a small panic situation when the hubby’s credit card couldn’t be swiped and they refused to accept any other card or cash as the security. A call from the hubby to the Indian bank sorted it out and we followed the Sixt guy out to the car pickup area, with me holding my breath. I saw a gorgeous yellow low-slung car and grabbed the hubby’s arm. “It’s a 2 door, silly, ” he said. “It’s fine,” I said, “The kid will jump over into her seat. And if she won’t, we’ll dump the kid here. Anything is ok for this car.” While this intense discussion was on, the Sixt guy crossed the car. “No problems, ” I said, looking lustily at a bright red BMW. “Keep dreaming,” said hubby. The sixt guy still walked. He walked past a cheery red Volkswagen, a jet black Volkswagen, an unaffordable convertible (sigh!), and then he stopped. Right beside an ugly dull grey Volkswagen Golf. I hate grey cars, simply hate them. “It’s ok,” I told myself, “Get in with your eyes closed, the interiors are good.” “Take pics of the exterior,” ordered the hubby. Ugggghhhhh. Anyways, the car was a sweet ride, sturdy and stable, and took us through the next 9 days safely, so I shouldn’t complain. Keep still my beating heart.
Excited as hell, we got out of Würzburg city pretty quickly, said goodbye to the lovely river and the empty vineyards and hello to the romantic strasse. Miles and miles of narrow tarmac surrounded by green meadows, rows of yellow wildflowers and topped by blue skies, this is the stuff road trips are made of. Add the two most important people of your life, and you know why its called the romantic road.
Of course, one must get off the road once in a while to be part of the fields of gold.
An enjoyable 2 hours drive through the pretty countryside of Bavaria and we were just short of our destination. I was looking about for the river Tauber, on which the town of Rothenburg is perched. While I was hunting in the valley, the hubby pointed out a tall hill with scores of brown roofs and said, “That’s your town.”
Rodt sits high on the hill and a lot of gentle upward curves took us to the town itself. Like all walled towns, it has expanded beyond the walls and we drove through a small part of the unwalled bit before entering the main walled town to get to our hotel Garni Kreuzerhof.
This small family-run bed and breakfast was the best hotel of the trip for me. Though they were cleaning when we arrived, they made our room ready in 10 minutes. The huge home-like room had a piano just outside it and the kid enjoyed playing while we settled in. The icing on the cake for her was a cute dog that she petted for ages.
Camera and Rick Steve’s (RS) guide book in hand, we set off to explore each little street of this fabulous historic town (my plan at least). Rothenburg is a medieval walled town with a plethora of half timbered houses and pretty flower sills, that seems frozen in time. It was a rich independent town for many years in the 11th and 12th centuries, one of the 20 largest citoes of the Roman empire back then. In the 17th century, it was invaded by Catholic troops of General Tilly, who plundered it as they left. Further afflicted by the plague, it became a quiet village for almost 400 years. So its medieval look couldn’t be revised as they didn’t have money. Then tourism slowly picked up in the late 1800s and the town became famous. In short, Rodt has stayed a beautiful medieval town because it’s gone through a terrible history, like most beautiful places.
I’d forgotten to carry the town map but it didn’t matter, because I had the Rick Steves walk to follow. I like his walks because he gives just about the right amount of history and architectural details without making it boring, and he covers all the main must-see sights and tells you about the lesser known ones (which don’t stay lesser known as they are in a guide book). We walked straight to the town centre, stopping far too often to take pictures because everything here is photogenic. It’s like Disney world without the rides. You don’t know where to look.
You know you are in a really special place when the hubby’s memory card starts getting filled up. Every street, building, shop had a character of its own. Of course it was touristy, but how could it not be? Everyone would be drawn to a town with buildings like this.
Rotd is best known for its half-timbered houses that fill most of the streets and are a visual feast for the eyes. A style that became popular in the middle ages, they were actually cheap housing, because they weren’t all wood. The wood frame was exposed and filled in with plaster, brick or stone. These were very typical of Southern Germany and I just loved them.
Do I need to say that I went into a photo frenzy? Even the kid was thrilled, running about, looking into stores, staring at shop displays and basically impeding our progress to reach the town square.
Finally, we reached the large open space of the market square and grinned happily. This huge area was surrounded by some of the most picturesque buildings ever. Even though it was crowded, the people just seemed to fade into the corners. Like all central market squares, it had a town hall. Two of them actually, an old town hall and an older appearing new town hall. When the old one burned down and got reconstructed, it actually looked newer than the new town hall.
The buildings lining the square and the entire atmosphere were outstanding. I could close my eyes and picture myself in the middle ages, hear the clippety-clop of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestoned streets and the rustle of feathered hats and flowing dresses.
At one corner were the finest half-timbered houses in all of Rothenberg. One was a meat and dance house, and the other, surprise, was a pharmacy. Just nearby was an ancient water fountain, that was said to be the largest fountain of the Rotd of the middle ages. Slanted metal bars extended outwards from where people could fill their buckets.
Lanes sloped away from all corners and edges of the square. Small shops with curios, wooden toys, dolls, beer steins, soft toys, cuckoo clocks and all sorts of alluring souvenirs were interspersed with restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops.
Flowers hung out of balconies and windowsills. Wrought iron signs lined by gold announced the names of the shops. It was overwhelmingly cute.
I was keen on climbing the bell tower to see the views of Rodt from the top, so we headed back to the main square to the new town hall. The kid was thrilled; she had vivid memories of my panic attack 2 years ago at the bell tower in Split, Croatia; the hubby was scared that I would refuse to go up or down, halfway through again. Of course, neither happened as smart moi had researched well and knew that these stairs were easy and safe. What I didn’t know was that there were so many steps and they got narrower and narrower and steeper as we climbed up.
Right at the very top was a very narrow iron ladder that was meant for skinny midget boys to climb up and ring the bell. Since I didn’t fit into that category, it was quite a struggle to hoist myself up and back down. But the views were certainly worth it.
The lush green Tauber valley stretched out beyond the walls of Rothenburg with the meadows and vineyards we’d just driven through.
From up above, the marketplace with the brown roofed town looked like a toy town. Can you recognise the buildings?
This rooftop restaurant would be so wonderful to eat at, especially at sunset.
The largest and most famous church of Rothenburg, St Jakob’s church, famous for having a cordial with a few drops of Christ’s blood, stood out in all its glory. I could have stood there for ages (mainly to postpone going back down), but space was limited and so we climbed down gingerly. Never before has the slr bag seemed so heavy! Thrilled to be down on level ground, we were eyeing the icecream stores, when I suddenly realised that my Rick Steves guidebook was missing. Oh no! Had I dropped it in the square, or worse, at the top of the tower? I retraced my steps all over the town square, went up the tower and even up the narrow ladder, accompanied by the kind kid, but we never found it. If this wasn’t bad enough, my camera fell down 4 steps. Fortunately, it worked, but without my guide, I felt a little disoriented, and a little incomplete. That “no small loss” fortunately didn’t reduce our enjoyment of Rodt and we plodded on. By now, it was hot and sunny, and the kid was tired. So we sat and rested in the shade of the grand St Jakob church.
Batteries recharged, we set off to walk the walls of Rotd. Way back in the middle ages, as the town had expanded, the inhabitants had built a huge stone wall around it for protection. Tall, strong and 3.5km long, the walls now provide a bird’s-eye view over the town and into the backyards, balconies and windows of the houses. Little wonder that they keep their windows and curtains closed all the time.
Less dramatic than the Dubrovnik walls, this narrow covered track is almost complete around the whole town, except for a portion at one end. There are many towers on the wall and steps down into the town. Small crooks and crannies along the path and the many small openings looking out towards the newer parts of Rotd had the kid and me jumping about excitedly, pretending to be soldiers defending their town and reading (and mispronouncing) the names of the donors who helped re build the destroyed wall and buildings after WW II.
It didn’t take very long however for both of them to get bored and tired and want to get down from the wall. So we climbed down and made our way back to the hotel, helped only by Google Maps. They rested in the room, while I set off alone to see the town at my own pace, in my own way, and stumbled onto an amazing garden while I was at it. That however, needs another post, so I leave this afternoon in the magical town of Rotd with this stunning picture from atop the walls, that made me wonder, “Am I really in 2018?”
PS: A very very important addition: A huge thank you to Yogesh Shenoy for telling me about this town, and for editing my pictures so that Rothenburg’s incredible beauty could be expressed on the screen.