Rothenburg’s Roads of History

RothenburgThe town of Rothenburg is a fairytale place, packed with romance and history – especially history.

A free Imperial city, it reached a peak of prosperity under Mayor Toppler in the 14th and 15th centuries, only to be involved in wars, including the Thirty Years War. Incorporated in Bavaria since 1902 Rothenburg has managed to retain unscathed a wealth of old buildings mainly Renaissance and Gothic though its treasures are much older.

The town is considered to be the “Jewel of the Romantic Road” and it is advertised locally as the most beautiful town in Germany. Rothenburg ob der Tauber has plenty to justify the descriptions. Wander anywhere around the streets and alleys and be sure to take your camera as it is one of the most photogenic towns in the world.

One of the main sights is St Jacob’s church. It dates from the 14th century and features two of the finest shrines in Germany. The high shrine (1446) has superb wood carving, but it is more than matched by the shrine of the Holy Blood, a masterpiece of the Wurzburg sculptor Riemenschneider, and a worthy setting for the Reliquary, a rock crystal capsule venerated in the Middle Ages.

Rothenburg’s most famous festival commemorates the day during the Thirty Years War in the 17th century when General Tilly and his troops threatened to loot the town unless Mayor Georg Nusch downed nearly a gallon of wine at one go. Old Georg braced himself, realizing that the fate of his town depends on him, and drank the lot without stopping. History doesn’t record what happened to him afterwards, but the savior of Rothenburg is remembered yearly on Whit Sunday when they put on the play “Der Meistertrunk”.

The citizens dress up like soldiers of 300 years ago and have a good time. The Meistertrunk is also commemorated in the clock of the Ratstrinkstube, the councilors’ tavern, in the Market Square. The clock was installed in 1683 and the epic drinking scene added in 1910.

The Rathaus or Town Hall, which dominates the Market Square, is another focal point. It is an impressive, rather mixed-up building from 1572. Its tall tower looks down on the stalls below and, if you can face climbing 193 steps, provides fine views of the compact town and the rolling green countryside. A stroll around the walls offers a closer sight of the many quaint corners.


Do not miss going through into the castle garden, a quiet park on the site of the vanished castle, and then follow the wall promenade. Below in the valley the river Tauber curls round amid the meadows. You can descend from the wall near the Plonlein (“small place”) one of the most picturesque corners of all.

the castle garden

Here the road divides, one fork rising to the Siebers tower gateway, built in 1385, the other going down to another tower gate. All around are delightful old houses and small shops, some with wrought iron signs.

Peep down alleys and you are rewarded with more photogenic vistas of timbered houses and red mossy roofs. You’ll find it hard to leave Rothenburg, not only because of its old world charm but also because it is an ideal base for touring and visiting other picturesque places.

These are places such as Langenburg, on the Castle Road with its excellent automobile museum, Wurzburg, an old university town with a cathedral and the former palace of the Prince Bishops, and Dinkelsbuhl, another historic town with well-preserved walls and 20 towers.

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