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View of Herrngasse and Church of Franciscans into Tauber Valley
©RTS, Andrea Carl/Rotabene

Rothenburg’s Nightwatchman makes his rounds each day, except Jan. 7th -end of March. Meeting Point for English tour is the Market Place, 8 pm
©RTS, Nightwatchman

Rothenburg invites you to stroll around - in famous Ploenlein and other places
©RTS / Respondek

One of the most cozy and traditional Christmas markets in the world: Rothenburg’s “Reiterles Markt”
©RTS / Pfitzinger

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Magic of the Middle Ages - Romantic but Real!

Rothenburg is in the south-central heart of the former West Germany. It is barely in Bavaria’s Franconia province and almost in Wuerttemberg. It is about two hours from Frankfurt am Main and ninety minutes from Stuttgart and Heidelberg; two and a half hours from Munich and about an hour from Nurernberg and Würzburg.

Its massive doors and fortified gates, its impenetrable stone walls, impressive parapets, deep moats and proud towers, cobblestone streets and antique, gilded signage welcome countless strangers from afar. All are eager and excited and ready to experience the fabled, glorious Germany of yesteryear - Rothenburg.

Rothenburg, whose half-timbered houses, protected by sheltering city walls replete with catwalks and crenellations, and steep abutments, whose proud public buildings recall a somewhat younger Germany emerging from feudal times into a Renaissance-Reformation-Baroque epoch closer to our own times, yet still four- and five hundred years distant. Immerse yourself in the spirit of those bygone times taking a nocturnal tour with the costumed, armed Night Watchman as he makes his rounds and calls out the hours assuring that fire and lights are extinguished, all is safe and sound, and all are admonished to praise the Lord, who watches over all, exactly as before more than half-millennium ago.

One of Germany’s few remaining walled cities, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is more a state of mind than reality in spite of its encompassing modern-day, contemporary city. Inside the ancient, fortified town, despite running water, indoor sanitation, electricity and the internet, a prevailing mystique of long ago persists. This is no ghost town or Disney world - some 11,000 real, live human beings dwell therein. Families live their lives and some even have normal everyday jobs, other than catering to the tourist trade.

Rothenburg straddles similar and opposing tastes and traditions. It’s Bavaria without the Alps or Lederhosen; a place for savoring great local beers and undiscovered, excellent local wines. One is torn between Swabian spaetzle (noodles) and large dumplings, tempted by trout and other freshwater fish or swayed by venison and other local game. Then there’s Grandmother’s cooking replete with thick gravies and formidable soups, robust sausages and roasts of pork, veal and beef. And also upscale Bavarian, and a slew of European and Asian anomalies from Italian and Greek to Chinese and Sushi. For the incorrigible there is even a Burger King close to the A 7 Autobahn.

Rothenburg is home to the most famous Christmas store in the world, Kaethe Wohlfahrt’s. It is the “mother of all Christmas stores,” as it were. It has helped spread Rothenburg’s fame far and wide, contributing greatly to the city’s restoration and promotion. It is an iconic, “must see” venue - an attraction impossible to overlook.

To learn more about the Kathe Wohlfhart Christmas Museum, click here.

Rothenburg offers a vast number of additional attractions worthy of repeated visitation or a stay of several days. First and foremost there are unique, modern or antique accommodations within the Old Town or adjacent the city at affordable, modest pricing.

Rothenburg is full of art, especially masterpieces of Riemenschneider, a late medieval woodcarver at the dawn of times of Reformation. It is a point of departure to visit masterworks of Reformation art and sublime churches in nearby Detwang, Creglingen, and along the length of the Tauber all the way to the Odenwald Forest. Holbeins, Duerers and countless other masters works abound in the neighborhood, as well as some 50 other sites along the Romantic Road Touristic Route.

This most popular of Germany’s “tourist routes” extends north to Würzburg, south all the way to King Ludwig’s fabled Neuschwanstein near Fuessen. It is a path crammed with castles, abbeys, churches, monasteries, made up of small towns, charming hamlets and rural countryside, complete with gardens and orchards. Rothenburg is naturally one of the Romantische Strasse’s most popular stops.

Franconia is one of Germany’s emerging major wine districts, now finally arriving on the international wine scene. Most of the vineyards along the sun-lit shores and slopes of the Main River Valley are within minutes of the meandering Main River. Even the most distant Wertheim or Schweinfurt vineyards are less than an hour away.

For aficionados of fine wine, the Tauber Valley’s Wuerttemberg area wines in the standard Bordeaux-style bottles vie in competition with the unique Franconian Bocksbeutel or flask. There is even a tourist route dedicated to Frankenwein, the “Bocksbeutel Strasse.” It leads the wine lover to the Riesling, Sylvaner, Bacchus, Mueller-Thurgau, and Pinot Blanc vineyards providing the Franken’ whites and the Pinot Noir/Spaetburgunder, Domina and Dornfelder grapes for most of the regions’ reds. Both combine for refreshing Rosé cuvées, or single varietals providing lovely Pinks; these 100% varietals are called “Weissherbst”. Make your stay an outstanding gourmand experience by attending Rothenburg’s wine festivity in the midst of August.

Rothenburg, in its splendid isolation, benefits from the surrounding countryside throughout the year. The normally verdant Spring offers opportunity to shake off winter doldrums with vigorous hiking, mountain-biking, golfing or walks along country paths, fields and pastures. Glorious foliage rewards the autumnal visitor. Snowy winters give Rothenburg an aspect which further re-enforces the medieval nature of the town. Nearby Bad Windsheim awaits you with a spa - its healing salt water from regional wells is beneficial to body and soul as well. Rothenburg’s Christmas Market is particularly poignant. Those in nearby Wuerzburg, Nuernberg, and more distant Ulm are likewise of particular interest, but Rothenburg’s “Reiterlesmarkt” charms with more local color and tradition than found elsewhere. Musical offerings in Rothenburg’s churches are especially poignant during the Advent season weeks leading to Christmas.

Be it a single day, a weekend or as a home base for more extensive travels, Rothenburg offers a delightful break from the rigors of the 21st Century granting memorable glimpses into the charms of much earlier times in picture book settings. Visit Rothenburg just once, and like so many others, you will hurry back often.

For more information on activities, sites and accommodations click here.