Germany-Austria May 2018: Rothenburg by evening and night

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.

DSC_1468
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.

DSC_1591

DSC_1633

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.

DSC_1459

And buildings with flowering trees and gardens around them.

DSC_1404

And hotels with ivy climbing all over their walls.

DSC_1498
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.

DSC_1554

DSC_1519
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.

DSC_1518

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.

DSC_1528
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.

DSC_1545
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.

DSC_1558
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.

DSC_1517

2018-04-27 16.45.18

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”.

2018-04-28 11.16.42 1

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.

20180427_153943 1
As soon as we entered, we saw the gorgeous animated soft toy exhibit with simple old fashioned soft toys.

20180427_160126
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.

DSC_1394
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.

20180427_155347
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.

20180427_160205
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.

DSC_1574

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.

2018-04-27 19.51.34

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.

DSC_1537

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!

DSC_1570 1

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.

DSC_1505

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.

DSC_1533

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.

DSC_1513

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.

DSC_1577 1

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.

DSC_1580

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.

2018-04-27 21.03.45

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.

DSC_1618 1

The lit up new town hall

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.

DSC_1629

Note the mayor drinking from his tankard

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.

DSC_1583 1

As it grew darker, the lights over the house dimmed and the figure of the Madonna was the only bright light of the building.

DSC_1623

St Jakob’s church likewise, was well illuminated at night.

2018-04-27 22.02.29

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.

DSC_1613

DSC_1605

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.

DSC_1597 1

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.

DSC_1624 1

I walked towards one of the watch towers gleaming in the soft lights, looking at the well lit cafes and hotels.

DSC_1636 1

DSC_1640
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.

DSC_1637

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.

DSC_1607 1

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.

2018-04-27 21.50.43

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

Germany-Austria May 18; Rothenburg ob der tauber, the impossibly pretty town

DSC_1484 1

“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.

DSC_1535 1

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.

2018-04-27 10.19.41

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.

DSC_1245

Of course, one must get off the road once in a while to be part of the fields of gold.

DSC_1238

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.”

DSC_1248

 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.

 

DSC_1258

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.

DSC_1290

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.

 

DSC_1398 1

A town that oozes old world charm

 

 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. 

DSC_1313

DSC_1309

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.

 

DSC_1305

Note the date of construction: 1617

 

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.

DSC_1501

 

DSC_1448

What a gorgeous cafe!

 

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.

DSC_1302

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.

 

DSC_1329

The new town hall

 

 

DSC_1327

The newer looking old 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.

DSC_1325

 

DSC_1489

Once the house of the richest man in Rotd, it has statues representing the 7 cardinal virtues and the 7 deadly sins

 

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.

DSC_1385 1

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.

 

DSC_1476

Dolls of my childhood, they dont make them like these anymore

 

 

 

DSC_1542

Mini Rothenburg in a shop window

 

Flowers hung out of balconies and windowsills. Wrought iron signs lined by gold announced the names of the shops. It was overwhelmingly cute.

 

DSC_1486

Shops like these sloped down the slanting streets

 

 

DSC_1543

Yummy

 

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.

DSC_1366

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.

DSC_1348 1

The lush green Tauber valley stretched out beyond the walls of Rothenburg with the meadows and vineyards we’d just driven through.

DSC_1343                                                                                                                                                                     From up above, the marketplace with the brown roofed town looked like a toy town. Can you recognise the buildings?

DSC_1339

 

This rooftop restaurant would be so wonderful to eat at, especially at sunset.

DSC_1349

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.

DSC_1490

DSC_1400

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.

DSC_1441 1

2018-04-27 16.48.37 1

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.

DSC_1446 2

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?”

DSC_1418

 

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.