Between Frankfurt and Munich on the Romantic Road lies the Medieval walled city of Rothenburg, Germany. Once a proud and free city state, Rothenburg suffered through 250 years of poverty before being discovered and preserved as a city-sized museum of history. Rothenburg’s history is its most intriguing draw. The tourist city is pedestrian-friendly and one day and one night is all you need to explore its cobbled streets and medieval architecture.
Market Square at the center of the city is a great place to orient yourself and begin your tour of Germany’s best preserved medieval walled city. The tallest building in the square is the Town Hall. Visitors have a chance to climb the stairs in the 700 year old structure to catch a bird’s eye view of the city. The clock tower in the square has eight free shows per day. On the hour, like a cuckoo clock, wooden figures act out the scenes of a folk tale involving the mayor of Medieval Rothenburg downing a tankard of wine in one gulp.
Rothenburg hosts more than two million visitors each year, but less than a fourth of those spend a night there. Those that do not stay the night most likely miss the opportunity to go on the walk with the Night Watchman. Each night from mid-March through December, visitors follow local resident Hans-Georg Baumgartner on a walk through town and he recalls the storied history of the town and points out architecturally significant buildings. He explains the years of poverty that Rothenburg endured and the story behind its preservation effort during World War II. The tour is an entertaining opportunity to learn about the medieval ways of life and should not be missed.
The brick, stone, and wooden wall that encircles the whole city serves as a place to take a stroll. There are several entrances to the wall and visitors can walk at the top of the wall – a roof covers most of it. The wall provides great views of the city. For an even better overview of the city, follow the wall to the Rodertor – the city’s single gate tower that tourists are allowed to climb. In addition to the view, there is a display showing the damage the city sustained as a result of bombing near the end of the Second World War.
Rothenburg has several museums. Its most popular is the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum. Everyone’s favorite exhibit is the huge display of medieval torture and punishment devices. From execution implements for justice of the most heinous crimes to a leash with collars on both ends to aid reconciliation between feuding spouses, the gallery provides a unique look on punishment techniques of hundreds of years ago.
Regardless of the time of year, you’ll be singing “O Tannenbaum” after a visit to the German Christmas Museum in the top level of the Famous Kathe Wolfahrt Christmas Village Shop. You’ll be awed by the displays of thousands of ornaments and Christmas-related items in the shop. Of course, Christmas ornaments aren’t the only items for you to take home from Rothenburg. There are several shops that sell trinkets and small German souvenirs as well all throughout the city.
All the walking you do will work up an appetite and there are several options for traditional German fare throughout the city. If meat and potatoes aren’t your thing, you can find a Chinese restaurant and a pizza shop in town. Whatever you choose to eat, no trip to Germany is complete without capping a night off by enjoying a draught beer or a glass of Rhine Valley Riesling.