All the guidebooks compare Rothenburg ob der Tauber to a Disneyesque village, a Medieval themepark, and they are right. It is the village that Neuschwanstein should have at its base instead of the odd luxury goods Asian shopping emporium. It is perfect, a tiny, perfectly-preserved Medieval village, a German Carcassonne.
After visiting Bamberg, we got back on the road and headed further into Franconia, to Rothenburg. It was the day of cute Germany villages. Sadly, the Christmas market in the village seemed to operate during daylight hours only as did Käthe Wohlfahrt, the largest Christmas store in the world, so like any sensible travelers in the 5 p.m. darkness and cold, we headed in search of some beer and warmth. In a Medieval village, of course, the most interesting option is the tavern located in the village’s oldest building, circa 900 A.D., Zur Höll (to hell.)
I waver back and forth from guided tours to DIY, sometimes hating mass tourism while other times loving its ease. Our bellies full we decided to give the cheesy Nightwatchman Tour a try, promising each other that we would drift away after a few minutes to do our own thing if it was unbearably touristic. You know where this is going: We were quickly drawn into imagining ourselves as nobles of the ancient village, led on the fantastic make believe adventure by the entertaining Hans-Georg Baumgartner, a man whose talents are fit for the stage and whose performance Rick Steves called the “most entertaining hour of medieval wonder anywhere in Germany.”
Despite its charm, Rothenburg should not be categorized on the travel map as merely a pretty village: It remained an unconquered free imperial city from its founding in the 900s until 1803, a truly marvelous feat when the unrest of those years are considered. After one thousand years of history, it appeared that Rothenburg was set for total destruction during WWII due to its prominence as a Nazi stronghold only to be saved by an American, U.S Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who had seen a photograph of the city and heard stories of it from his mother who described its beauty to him. Instead of dropping bombs, he ordered his soldiers to enter the village and spend three hours negotiating with the Nazi commander over the town, who, quickly and in the face of Hitler’s orders to the contrary, immediately gave up the city to the Allied forces to protect its beauty and walked away from it with his troops. Half a year later, the War ended.
Though we were only able to spend a few nighttime hours in Rothenburg ob der Tauber on this roadtrip, it is one of the highlights of one of Germany’s most famous roadtrip routes, and perhaps the most touristic route in the country, the Romantic Road, which connects Würzburg with Füssen, where the castle of Neuschwanstein is located.
Read Part 1 of our five-day Bavarian roadtrip here.