There is great enjoyment in walking about a gorgeous town alone, where one can stop and see what one wants to and take as many pictures as one desires, or simply sit alone and feel the breeze ruffling one’s hair. That’s how I felt roaming about the streets of the quaint picture-perfect medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Rodt for short) by myself. I’d already seen most of it with the hubby and the kid (previous post), but this was my “me” time. Coffee and cookies flooding my system, I walked out of our homely and wonderful hotel Garni Kreuzerhof, with no particular route in mind, and stumbled unexpectedly onto the most photographed building of Rodt, the Plonlein.
This cute yellow half timbered house sits at the junction of two roads, sloping upwards and downwards towards two towers. It is actually the face of Rothenburg, the stock photograph, the one that comes up the minute one googles Rodt. It was being restored, so the lower part was cordoned off and actually didn’t look too appealing, but that aside, I just couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. The whole of Rodt had houses like this, and this street was as pretty as any other street. More charming that the Plonlein itself were the houses and shops leading to it, with quaint signs, old-fashioned lamps and eye-grabbing shop windows.
Yeah, I know I’m too old to like teddy bears but I can’t help it. I spent a good 15 minutes in Teddy’s Rothenburg, allegedly to look for toys for my year-old niece, but actually just to have a good look around for myself. And I actually dragged my daughter here just so that we could leave with one teddy (allegedly for the kid, but again, really for me). Oops, I better make sure that she doesn’t read this post!
Walking away from the toy store took a bit of discipline but more sights awaited me. Since I had more time to stop and stare, I could notice more details than before, like windowsills that captivated me.
And buildings with flowering trees and gardens around them.
And hotels with ivy climbing all over their walls.
As I happily wandered along, I suddenly stumbled into my much desired burggarten or castle garden, a huge green space with flowers and trees, and a terrace looking onto the old Rothenberg town and the Tauber valley.
There were very few people here. It was very quiet and pleasant. Benches were scattered about and flower beds dotted the entire garden. Small statues were lined up in one corner. I knew instantly that the kid would love it.
Unable to keep this beautiful discovery to myself, I rushed out of the castle gate, where once upon a time, the castle that protected Rodt was located. It had long since burned down and the stones used for constructing the walls, but the name castle garden has stayed till today.
I quickly called the hubby to come to the garden with the kid and walked down to the Plonlein square to meet them, which was down the lane from my hotel. It looked very different now with the lights coming on in the lamps along the street.
I dragged them to a different route than the one I’d taken, through the valley. There were multiple parallel paths cut into the hillside with amazing views of the whole valley. We soon ascended straight into the garden and the hubby was thrilled with the view of the old town of Rodt that lay in front of us.
The kid, on the other hand, found the flora far more exciting and jumped about like a rabbit amidst the flowers. I don’t blame her, they were so stunning and unique.
It was tough to tear ourselves away from this haven of peace, far from the madding crowd. But it was soon to be time for the night watchman tour, that we couldn’t afford to miss. We also had to buy the teddy bear (for the kid) and rushed to Teddy’s Rothenburg to pick up the imaginatively named “Teddy”.
Just across was the Kathe Wohlfahrt store, the grand daddy of all Christmas stores. I’d read that the store was crazy but I hadn’t bargained for this. Predictably (and luckily for me) the hubby stayed outside, so the kid and I had a great girly time together.
As soon as we entered, we saw the gorgeous animated soft toy exhibit with simple old fashioned soft toys.
But the real magic unfolded as we went in deeper. Racks of teddies, soft toys and dolls lined the walls. Small trinkets hung from the sides. Holly sprinkled with lights decorated the ceiling. A huge glittering Christmas tree stood in the centre. The ceiling and walls were slung with sparking lights. All around were decorations and Christmas colours. It felt like a Christmas market. And I felt like a little girl meeting Santa.
Wooden toys, soft toys, Christmas tree decorations, nativity scenes, mangers, lace table clothes and runners, and the most stunning range of Christmas tree balls I’ve ever seen were stacked in the store.
Crystals, angels, Santa’s, stockings, doll houses, cutlery, paper napkins, cuckoo clocks, I have lost count of the wonders. It was insane. I don’t know how we managed to drag ourselves out.
Naturally we got fired, but we didn’t care. We were still on the Christmas high. However, we were running late for the night watchman tour, so we sped up to join the group of people hanging about the steps of the new town hall with Hans Georg Baumgartner, the night watchman.
Clad in a long black cape, well-worn boots, a rakishly angled cap and carrying a bugle, a lantern and a terrifying medieval weapon of murder, the night watchman held us spellbound for the better part of an hour. We followed him like children behind the Pied Piper, hanging on to every word, learning about the growth, fall and regrowth of Rothenburg through the ages. His style was simple and witty, and he held our attention (and our kid’s especially) very closely throughout his tour. Most of all, the love he had for his town shone through, and that’s probably why the history lesson didn’t seem like a school lesson, but an engaging, gripping story.
He highlighted how the town was on a trading route and so became a very prosperous town circa 1200 AD with a population over 6000. While that doesn’t seem like the population of even a block of Mumbai, it must have been a big deal in the days of yore in Rothenburg.
The night watchman’s job was a lowly job, preferred only over that of the executioner, because he had to tour the town by night and watch out for fires. There were 6 of them, on duty each night, and they were meant to be seen and not heard. A cry from the watchman indicated a much dreaded fire, which were devastating in the town filled with so many half timbered houses.
I was surprised to learn that these decorative houses that had captured my heart and lens were actually used in the middle ages to store grain and other food stuffs. “What a waste,” I thought, but he gave a perfectly sound explanation for it. The many sieges, famines and diseases of those troubled times that made it essential for the town to stock up.
We turned into this beautiful street, admiring the stunning architecture and the gentle slope when the night watchman told us how there were no drainage systems in the middle ages. Every morning, you could be hit by a sprinkle (or worse) from the windows. There were gutters on each side of the street. All the garbage and sewage material from each home was dumped into the gutters and washed away by the rain down the sloping streets. “Can you imagine what happened when it didn’t rain?” he said in a deadpan fashion that convinced us that he wasn’t joking!
I suddenly viewed the gorgeous street in a new light, especially when I saw this pretty young bride at her photo shoot and could only think of what she would be standing over during the middle ages!
Eeks! Luckily for us (and her), we were in 2018 with decent sanitation. The night watchman chuckled at our expressions and walked cheerfully down the same path as the gutter contents and we turned a corner to see a lovely hotel with this interesting name.
Hotel Meistertrunk is named after the story of the Meistertrunk or Master Draught. Legend (or at least the night watchman) has it that in the year 1631, the protestant town of Rothenburg was invaded by a large Catholic army during the Thirty Year’s war. Rodt lost despite a good fight, and let the troops in. As per custom, they served the winning army wine and the general, impressed by the quality, agreed to spare the town if anyone could drink a tankard-full of the very excellent wine in one gulp. The commendable ex-mayor downed it at one go, sparing the plunder that a losing town generally undergoes. He supposedly slept for 3 days after the incident, but lived to be acclaimed the hero of the town. Hmmmm. Should we credit his survival to an exceptional liver or really impotent wine?
We turned into the burggarten through the tall tower gate. The night watchman pointed out a face on the tower that I hadn’t noticed earlier, through which hot oil was poured onto the unsuspecting enemy.
However, the heyday of Rothenburg, already on a decline when the trade routes changed, fell rapidly after the conquest by the Catholic General, whose troops despite the promise left the town bereft of any fortune. The plague soon hit Rodt and a large chunk of the population was wiped out. With no money to rebuild the town, it turned into a sleepy town, preserved in its yesteryear state. The misery endured by the inhabitants turned out to be good fortune for it in the 1800’s. Poets and authors flocked to the town to discover this remnant of the past in the increasingly industrialised Europe, and the fortunes of Rodt soared again.
However, good times were short-lived as Rodt became an important town of the Nazi era. Naturally, at the end of World War II, it was heavily bombed. However, only part of the town was destroyed. The American artillery was to march into the town after the aerial bombing to complete its annihilation. The General had heard a lot about Rodt from his mother, who had visited Rodt when she was younger and was smitten by the town. He offered one last chance at peace in return for unconditional surrender. The German General defied Hitler’s orders of fight until death, surrendered and spared the town. The rest is history, for us to walk through and enjoy.
The sun was setting now and glowed gently over the stunning town seen afar and the castle gates here. I whispered a big thank you to the wisdom of the American General who’d spared this town and we followed the night watchman out of the garden.
As darkness fell and we came to the end of the tour, Georg had one last recommendation for enjoying the town. He suggested dinner and drinks at the traditional pub Zur Höll (German for Hell) quipping, “If a citizen in Rothenburg admonishes you to ‘Go to Hell,’ it is a good recommendation.”
The night watchman tour was just about THE most entertaining tour we could take. The kid who had stayed in the back, shy initially, stepped up right to the front and listened carefully to every word. Thank God she liked it because she was very hungry. So, we skipped Hell and went to a fabulous pizzeria instead, and then I roamed the streets of Rodt alone.
Some towns are just meant for roaming about at night and Rothenburg is surely one of these. The main market square and most of the town itself was all lit by soft golden lights. The afternoon heat was replaced by a cool breeze, the crowds had dissipated and a magical feel had descended over the town.
The legend of the Meistertrunk was highlighted in the windows of the old town hall, with the figures of General Tilly and the saviour mighty-liver mayor drinking his tankard of wine. In this magical setting, it was a story that could be believed.
The most beautiful half-timbered houses of the market square were even more stunningly lit. Just like in the daytime, I found these the best houses by night.
As it grew darker, the lights over the house dimmed and the figure of the Madonna was the only bright light of the building.
St Jakob’s church likewise, was well illuminated at night.
There were many moments on this walk when I didn’t take pictures. I just walked aimlessly along, happier than I was throughout the day. Rothenburg had more than lived up to the huge expectations I’d set for it. And Rodt by night was far more magical than by day. Even the shop windows seemed more alluring at night.
I could have stood with my nose glued to the glass and stared for ages, but more of the town beckoned. I walked down to the Plonlein cross-roads, admiring it far more than by daylight.
The lantern like lamps lit up the signs of the stores and hotels so beautifully. It seemed like nothing could bother me when a BMW came tearing down the now empty streets. This town sure had its share of car daredevils, which made me rue the fact that it wasn’t a pedestrian only town.
I walked towards one of the watch towers gleaming in the soft lights, looking at the well lit cafes and hotels.
Beyond this point, there was no one on the streets. The silence was eerie and the golden lights threw scary shadows on the floor. My hotel was on a parallel, quieter road and I had to take the narrow perpendicular streets that were totally desolate.
I stepped up my pace and breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the hotel, and promptly slept off, contented as could be, with sweet dreams of the streets, houses and flowers of Rothenburg.
And so ended my one day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a town that took me back in time. A place that no photographs or blogs could capture the essence of. A place I shall surely visit again.
P.S. I must once again thank Yogesh Shenoy for editing my dull night pictures and bringing out the gleam in them and insisting that I spend at least one night in Rodt. You were right Yogesh, I should have spent 2 nights here instead.
Disclaimer: This post is unfortunately not sponsored by Kathe Wohlfahrt stores