Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Tracing German Medieval, Reformation Restraint and Northern Renaissance

We’re not purists when we travel overseas to see “perfectly”, preserved towns. Others may scoff  for being too touristy.  To me, it’s all part of the same culture –the well-kept heritage, the tourist-kitschy and ordinary messiness.  Rothenburg ob der Tauber was a charming, historic town of 11,000 that

Surrounded by architectural history. Rothenburg ob Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Surrounded by architectural history. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong

ostensibly relied on its tourist economy.  No problem.  It didn’t dilute our enjoyment as our final stop in our European trip.

Peering into a hunting shop, on our way to a spaetzel restaurant. Rothenburg ob Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Peering into a hunting shop, on our way to a spaetzel restaurant. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Since we chose to cycle into Rothenburg in October, we knew we would miss its world-famous Christmas market since the medieval times.  We couldn’t justify an expensive overseas trip to enjoy possibly slushy snow and winter cold in Germany for a short visit.  Instead, we were there in shoulder, fall season which was the best decision we made –less tourist hordes.

stjacobschurch
Wood and gold gilded carved altar with original painted panels. St. Jacob’s Church. Next door to our inn. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
On building façade. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
On building façade. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Unfortunately we unknowingly missed the town’s annual medieval festival, Imperial City days, just a month before.

Rothenburg  ob der Tauber was spared from some bombing during World War II.  Its name means “Red Fortress above the Tauber” river. Indeed, while strolling along its cobblestone streets, you will see restored stone fort walls and watchtowers.

Sculpture atop a former fountain-well in a square. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sculpture atop a former fountain-well in a square. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Beside St. Jacob's Church. Rothenberg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Beside St. Jacob’s Church. Rothenberg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong

We stayed in a large inn run since the medieval times, right in the heart of the town.  It never felt noisy nor overly crowded during our stay.   Just by simply looking out our hotel windows, we were surrounded by many buildings of medieval, Reformation and Renaissance heritage.

It always amazes me how some little European towns built and sustained their  local, elaborate cathedrals and churches over the centuries. Next door to our inn, was the soaring St. Jacob’s Church which housed an intricate beautiful wood carved altar of the 12 Apostles.  This town has over 6 churches, of which several like St. Jacob’s, date back to 1200 – 1300’s.

Beautiful carved altar --1400-1500's. St. Jacob's Church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Beautiful carved altar –1400-1500’s. St. Jacob’s Church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
One of several wood carvings on altarpiece. St. Jacob's Church. Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
One of several wood carvings on altarpiece. St. Jacob’s Church. Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
gunshop-sign
Gun shop sign. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong

A five-minute stroll past this church, we were then in the main town square of market history, decorative fountain-well, restaurants and small businesses with gold metal artsy signs hung above pedestrians.  Even the local Chinese restaurant had their own metal sign fashioned with the requisite dragon.

We dropped by a restaurant with  different spaetzel specialities–a type of German light pasta on the side, with meat dishes.  It was just a block away from a gun and hunting shop with its own metal gun shop sign and dummy dressed in German traditional hunting gear with its mock gun.

We managed to see 80% of the local history museum which houses medieval to mid-1800’s art, artifacts and information exhibits that included highlights of Martin Luther’s local influence on pulling locals  away from excesses of Catholicism.

Heading towards Marketplatz. Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Heading towards Marketplatz. Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Town fort walls and towers. Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Town fort walls and towers. Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Later, on bikes we shalomed down  an old steep road into an even smaller, old village for a short valley ride in the countryside.  Peaceful and  sleepy.  Almost too quiet.  How protected life must be in these villages. We saw no open shops nor cafes – same as the village we cycled  along the canal outside of Dijon, France.

Cycling on bike paths in valley below town. Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Cycling on bike paths in valley below town. Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Turret-tower with spiralling windows and astronomical markings on fascia --a type of clock. Rothenbug ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Turret-tower with spiralling windows and astronomical markings on fascia –a type of clock. Rothenbug ob der Tauber 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Even back in Rothenburg, I noticed down  residential cobblestone laneways, rowhouses that were carefully shuttered for privacy from wandering tourists.  It’s all picturesque in this little preserved kingdom just for visitors.   Nevertheless, the town  welcomes the world  in good spirits and curt grace to showcase a microcosm of German architectural history and life through the centuries.

Statuary atop former fountain-well at Marketplatz. Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Statuary atop former fountain-well at Marketplatz. Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Marketplatz night time. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Marketplatz night time. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany 2016. Photo by J.Chong
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15 Comments Add yours

  1. Mabel Kwong says:

    I too wonder about the amazement of the elaborate cathedrals in churches from so many centuries ago. They were built for a reason, and hold the same significance to many locals today as well. It is nice to read that it is quiet in a good part of the country, and to have a nice time for a leisurely cycle too. It is interesting to note there are many cobblestones over there in the towns, and I’ve also heard of that from other blogs as well. Not too cycling friendly there I’m guessing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      True, cobblestones aren’t cycling friendly. Imagine, though some international professional cycling races have some sections over cobblestone roads. Would cobblestone streets still exist anywhere in an Aussie city? If they were even built at all long ago…

      Like

      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        I haven’t come across cobblestone streets in Australia. That would be challenging indeed for cycling races over this kind of path. As a cyclist, you’d have to make sure you get your balance right – every small hump might make it all the more difficult to pedal and balance…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    Thank you very much for your post on Rothenburg ob der Tauber! It brought back precious memories of more than 50 years ago, when I traveled by bike with a friend from Wesel all the way down to Lake Constance (Bodensee). Great photography, Jean!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’m certain by now the town looks more “touristy” to you. It does take strong local municipal bylaws to preserve heritage architecture, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful pictures. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is on my list and we nearly managed to go there this year, but only nearly. Now we have only a few Chinese friends who will go there before visiting us

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hope you get there CCF. Children will love it as they become older.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, that altarpiece! And is that a fold-up bike?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, he had his folding bike and I had mine. We also took trains. Our bike trips during this European trip, weren’t as long compared to other trips.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. TinLizzie72 says:

    I’ve been there several times, although never biking, and love the town despite it’s touristy vibe. People want to see it for a reason! It’s a stunning town and because it escaped destruction during the war, there are few others like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, part of it did get bombed. But I agree, that it’s great the town has managed preserve the best parts. You were passing through those times..so clearly Germany has personal connection for someone in your family? Or someone just wants to speak German? 😉

      Like

  6. Hubs and I went on a European road trip back in 1981. We decided to drive down the Romantic Road and wanted to stop in Rothenburg for a few hours. We couldn’t figure out why there were so many cars parked in the fields surrounding the city until we got inside. We unknowingly stumbled in on the annual medieval festival!! I was such a clueless traveler back then… It was totally amazing and something I’ll never forget!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I envy you for that medieval festival experience. Like you, I was also clueless when we went to Hampton Court, King Henry VIII’s castle, outside of London. They had some sort of medieval festival which we didn’t have time to explore..

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean what a wonderful town. I had not heard of it before. I very much enjoyed exploring through your narrative and gorgeous photos. The night scene is beautiful.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      This was our only stop in Germany (besides the Frankfurt airport) and worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

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