You know when you go to Medieval Times in the States? ANYONE? Well. I’m from Dallas. And so, it’s a thing. You go and see men dressed up in their woolen garb and you eat with your hands and watch the players jousting upon horses. So, it’s awesome. And with my very brief history of the medieval period, this is what I was expecting in the lovely, preserved medieval town of Rothenburg Ob der Tauber. But I was so wrong. And it’s much better than I expected.
This tiny town is in southern Germany, on what’s called the “romantic road” and along it are beautiful castles and towns. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it many more times, Germany is the most underrated country, possibly in the world. But that’s fine. I like it that way. Rothenburg is truly a fairy-tale town that is still surrounded by its original protective wall from the 12th century. And it should be on everyone’s to visit list. Especially if you’re feeling like stepping back in time.
The name is long, but it translates to red fortress above the Tauber because of the river that flows below the town. The city is also home to many movie inspirations like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Pinocchio, and Harry Potter. When you first walk through the wall of the city you’ll see the rust colored half-timbered buildings nestled one by one. Each, with special signs that show what they sell inside.
Where to Stay
There are lots of adorable little hotels in the area. I stayed at Hotel Eisenhut,which is a converted 16th century mansion with gorgeous decor. This is a great location that feels fancy but is well priced. I also recommend dining here. It’s classic German food with an intimate and delicate flair. They serve dishes made with ingredients from local farmers and beef.
What to See
The best way to get around is on foot. It’s so small, so it’s easy to see it all in just a couple days. I always start with the Tourist Information Office for a map and a quick overview of what to do and see. There is a daily 2:00 pm guided tour of the town which starts in the square, just outside the tourist office. Here are some highlights: the Rathaus and the historical vaults below are worth a visit, as is a climb to the top of the building’s 200 foot tower for a view over the walled in city.
I also suggest checking out the German Christmas Museum, the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas decorations headquarters store, and also St. James Church. This Gothic church, constructed in 1485, has one of the best examples of the work of master woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider. You can also venture to the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum to see what life was really like back then. (You can also do the 8 pm English or 9:30 pm Germany Night Watchman’s Tour. It’s told from the perspective of one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder, it’s interesting insight into how the town’s residents lived during its heyday.)
Though it was encased in glass when I was there, George’s Spring is the largest in the city and holds 25,000 gallons of water. It’s a lovely decorated spring and still stands to this day.
Next, I suggest walking over to the old Castle Gardens. Though the castle no longer stands, it was destroyed by an earthquake, you can get a great view of the town below. The stones that were the castle, now make up the walls of the city.
From there, you can walk through the Garden and pass through the Herrngasse. Don’t forget to look up to see a mask on the wall of the Burgtor gate, which was used to pour hot tar onto attackers. Inside the gate is a small door, known as the Eye of the Needle, which was the only way people were allowed to leave at night – that is if they were granted permission to leave by the Town Council!
Along the way, you’ll see the Franciscan church, the oldest one in the city.
Next, you’ll want to head to the most iconic location, Plönlein. This yellow half-timbered building with a small fountain in front, it is framed by the Kobolzeller tower. The higher Siebers Tower is one of the most photographed places in Rothenburg.
What to Do
Now, it’s time to walk the wall of the city! This is the best way to really see it all. It’s a steep climb up (especially if the steps are icy) but it really is the best view. You can peek through the narrow holes where they used to shoot arrows. Although this town is known for its tourism, if you come during the winter, it’s much less crowded.
I suggest heading down near the Old Forge, a picturesque red half timbered house.
After all this walking, stop and get a famous Rothenburg snowball – also known as a Schneeball (it was interesting, to say the least- a little on the hard side). The Franconian wine is also raved about and I can agree with that.
I also suggest just spending time and walking around. There are so many cute shops and lots that offer Christmas year round. The alley ways are all so cool and will make you feel like you’re back in time!
The fresh snow made the city feel like a living fairy tale. I can see why it’s been the inspiration for so many stories and movies over the years. I highly recommend you add it to your list!