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