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Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Germany's Famous and Romantic Medieval City Offers Far More than Meets the Eye

Just say "Rothenburg ob der Tauber" and it seems that everyone is well aware of its fame as an architectural gem on Germany's "Romantic Road," or as the home of the "Mother of All Christmas Shops" -- Kaethe Wohlfahrt's interactive Christmas Village. For two times in a row Rothenburg ob der Tauber made it into the Top 5 of the "Best Travel Destinations in Germany" in the official vote by the German National Tourist Board. Foreign tourists and German visitors alike know and have also enjoyed Rothenburg's entertaining, nocturnal tours with the town's Night Watchman, and devoured its "Snowballs" throughout the year over the years.

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

But these are only a few of the best-known aspects of this small town which continuously invests vast sums in retaining its historical buildings and structure in order to preserve for posterity Rothenburg's singular identity as being a perfect sample of Germany's finest buildings from both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

View of Rothenburg ob der Tauber from the west. The well-known medieval, walled city on Germany's Romantic Road, has been one of Germany's top ten tourist destinations for more than 60 years. Credit: ©Rothenburg Tourismus Service, W. Pfitzingerl

Simply and succinctly stated, "The entire city is itself a monument," according to words of "DEHIO," the German standard reference work cataloguing all of country's artistic monuments.

A city like Rothenburg ob der Tauber may reflect history. However, history needs to be felt and experienced sensuously… with all the senses: taste, touch, sound, as well as sight. And Rothenburg richly offers plentiful activities in order to immerse into its rich, vibrant history.

Rothenburg is always a fine place to visit throughout the year. There is always something going on even during the darker Fall and Winter months, such as the first week of November -- the Fairytale Magic—Maerchenzauber "romantic triad," or the pre-Christmas/Advent Reiterlesmarkt from the end of November until December 23rd; and, the Romanze an Valentin Valentine's Day for contemplative, touching, romantic experiences.

The famous Christmas Market in Rothenburg Credit ©Rothenburg Tourismus Service

Two journeys to the past

Twice a year more than 20 historical groups participate in activities that recreate Rothenburg's exciting times as a privileged "Reichsstadt" —an Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire.

Every Spring at Whitsun, Pentecost, the city becomes a stage reflecting the events of the devastating 30 Years War (1618 -1648) between Catholic and Reformation Protestant forces which ravaged central Europe.

In 2018 this part of Rothenburg's history will be in the focus even more than usually as we commemorate the outbreak of the 30 Years Wars 400 years ago with our neighbors Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen and Bad Windsheim. Visitors to Rothenburg can experience the tumult and turmoil of the warring factions' reenactments. This big annual undertaking is produced by the Meistertrunk Historical Society, presenting its theatrical take on the legendary salvation of Rothenburg back in 1631. This fine quality production was honored in 2015 being recognized an integral part of Bavaria's "Immaterial Cultural Heritage".

For those who would like to learn more and attend this production, go to: www.meistertrunk.de. In addition, there will also be special guided tours through the town during the whole year that illustrate how the period affected Rothenburg ob der Tauber and changed the society. And there will still be special exhibitions about the preceding era in the Imperial City Museum ("Media of the Reformation") and the Medieval Crime Museum ("Luther and the Witches).

The 30 Years War will play a special role in the Imperial City Festival from September 7th to September 9th, as well, when historical groups perform music from this period on the Stöberleinsbühne, right in front of the town walls of Rothenburg (entry is free).

Every first September weekend of the year, 24 historical associations participate in the Rothenburg's Imperial City Festival. The Festival recreates 500 years of Rothenburg's historical past from 1274 – 1802. Highlights not to be missed are the knights' encampment in front of the City's gates, the "fahrendes Volk" (camp followers), tradesmen and merchants, hordes of peasants and simple folk, and the royal court all in their colorful attire complete with lively presentations that are equally authentic and entertaining. Rounding out the impressive program are two evenings of large fireworks and public theatrical productions on market square.

The Franconian Temptation (Fraenkische Versucherle) Credit © Rothenburg Tourismus Service

Rothenburg's Refined Gastronomy and Wine Culture: 10th anniversary of the Wine Festival

Rothenburg ob der Tauber breathes history with every step taken on its cobblestoned streets; steps reverberating in its narrow passageways and quaint alleys. Rothenburg's past – and present -- includes wine making history as well. Since the early Middle Ages, grapes have been cultivated for wine here. There is a winery that, in addition to offering tastings, also conducts vineyard tours along the Tauber River's vine-planted slopes. As the southernmost growth of Germany's Franken or Franconian appellation, Rothenburg hosts a five-day annual Wine Festival in mid-August. The Rothenburger Wine Village is certified for its quality by Franconian brand "Wein. Schoener. Land" – and it's celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

As a direct outgrowth of the high quality requirements demanded of the Weindorf, a wine-culinary initiative was founded in 2015 by nine of Rothenburg's top gastronomic establishments. Named "Geniessen ob der Tauber" (Taste of the Tauber), the initiative celebrates regional products and sourcing of wine and locally grown ingredients. Preparations featuring fresh, seasonal dishes paired with Franconian wines give Rothenburg's visitors delicious insights into the city's historical, regional cuisine. One special taste treat is the "Fraenkische Versucherle" – the "Franconian Temptation." It is an amuse-bouche consisting of three appetizers paired with three sample pourings of different Franken wines. Cost is only 20 Euros at partnering restaurants. These are to be had at each of the nine participating establishments; truly a delicious introduction and overview of Rothenburg wines and food.

For advance bookings and registration, go to: https://www.geniessenobdertauber.de/english.

The Picturesque Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Special exhibitions from 2019 to 2021

Why were painters and architects so enthusiastic about Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the 19th century? From 2019 until 2021 visitors can learn more about the influence of the town on the English Garden City Movement and on famous painters like Elias Bancroft.

Both in terms of topography and morphology, the natural environment of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, at the end of the 19th century, fulfilled all the criteria of the picturesque. The city, which was thus perceived by British artists (architects and painters), takes the picturesque into the modern age.

Until around 1900, more than 100 years of reflection on art had gone into the Anglo-Saxon understanding of "the picturesque" – indeed, one might go as far as saying that a specific manifestation of the picturesque in painting, landscaping (landscape gardening) and architecture is England's main contribution to the development of modern art. It was precisely this "picturesque" element which British painters such as Elias Bancroft (1846–1924), Arthur Wasse (1854–1930), James Douglas (1858–1911), Walter Tyndale (1855–1943), James Garden Laing (1852–1915), as well as architects like Barry Parker (1867–1947) and Raymond Unwin (1863–1940) discovered in the landscape around Rothenburg, in the city's architecture and its street scenes – effects of strong contrasts; irregular roads and house facades; interesting and variegated architectural ensembles such as the market square; an almost Gothic, albeit also derelict, charm; the amalgamation of natural and artificial features, and much more. In particular, the views into the Tauber valley below what is today the "An der Eich" vineyard were thus perceived as the epitome of the picturesque English landscape garden.

In the framework of three Theme Years 2019, 2020 and 2021, Rothenburg ob the Tauber's picturesque topography is to be revisualized as an urban and rural landscape. In addition to an exhibition of British painters around 1900, to be hosted in the Medieval Crime Museum, Rothenburg townscapes from the early modern era to the present day will be shown in the Imperial City Museum. A special exhibition will be devoted to the Rothenburg's influence on Raymond Unwin's English Garden City Movement. Garden projects involve the hidden garden treasures of Rothenburg citizens; artists' federations such as Künstlerbund and Kunstkreis will present contemporary interpretations of picturesque Rothenburg. What's more, there are artist in residence projects organized by the Conference Center Wildbad as well as musically picturesque contributions in the framework of an International Song Festival 2020 and the Franconian Summer 2019.

Rothenburg: A Pilgrim's Way-station and craft products

The Rathausturm and St. Jacob's Church tower Credit ©Rothenburg Tourismus Service, W. Pfitzinger

Rothenburg is also a pilgrimage town on the ancient route from Stade (near Hamburg) to the Holy City Rome (the Via Romea,) as well as on six Jacobean pilgrimage routes to Compostella in far-distant Spain. Over 1000 pilgrims visit St.-James-Church every year. Visitors of Rothenburg ob der Tauber can also enjoy local handmade products like the traditional "snow balls", which visitors can find all over the bakeries in the city till today. It is also possible to experience the production of Schneeballen in two of the stores (contact: www.original-rothenburger-schneeballen.de/ and www.baecker-striffler.de). Handmade products of Rothenburg are also in focus of an initiative of eight stores, who craft their products in the city. Visitors can find delicate chocolate, exclusive clothes and illuminated miniature houses in the shops of the manufacturers (more information: www.rothenburg-handmade.com).

Come visit and see for yourself. Discover Rothenburg ob der Tauber a-new. There's so much more than first meets the eye.

You can learn more about Rothenburg here.

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