Everyone just calls it Rothenburg, but beware: if you plan to go there, know that there are two cities in Germany with the name Rothenburg, hundreds of miles apart from each other. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is on the Romantic Road, which connects fairy-tale towns and castles for 250 miles. Located in Bavaria on a plateau above the Tauber River, its name means “Red Fortress above the Tauber River.” Many refer to Rothenburg as the most beautiful and well-preserved walled city in Germany.
There is an interesting story about how it avoided total destruction in World War II. On March 31, 1945, a bombing campaign destroyed about 40 percent of the city, as it was an overcast day and much of the medieval city could not be seen well. Many other German towns were totally annihilated, and “only” 40 percent being bombed was seen as being very fortunate. The bombing destroyed some public buildings, 300 houses, nine of the ancient towers, and about 2,000 feet of the city walls. However….the old town was spared. The Allied Army was scheduled to invade the city and destroy everything that hadn’t been bombed. But the Assistant Secretary of War, General John McCloy, had a fondness for Rothenburg. His mother had visited, brought home a picture of it that hung on their living room wall, and talked endlessly about how beautiful the city was. So General McCloy instructed General Jacob Devers to negotiate with the Germans rather than continue to destroy the city. It was agreed that German soldiers would leave the city, and the Allies would spare it. Subsequently, McCloy was named a patron and honorary citizen of Rothenburg in gratitude.
The most famous part of the city is the Altstadt, the medieval city. It is so charming to walk around and take in the half-timbered buildings, the adorable tourist shops, colorful houses, pretty squares, windowbox flowers everywhere (these photos are from September 26, 2014), the cobblestoned streets, gardens, the pastry shops, and the remnants of the city walls. “Cute” is everywhere. The first photo is likely the most famous location in Rothenburg, the Plonlein, “Little Square.” If you follow the bicyclist, you come to the Kobolzell Gate and the Siebers Tower, the entryway to the city. In the second photo, note that the building was constructed in 1617, totally normal….in Europe!
There was an orchestra playing on one of the squares, as you can see. The highlight of our time there was the Night Watchman’s/Executioner’s Tour, led by Hans Baumgartner, who delighted the large crowd with stories galore, including the one above about how Rothenburg avoided destruction. There is a photo of the announcement of the tour, followed by three photos of the man himself. After that is a glimpse of our walk along what remains of the city walls, a fun walk with a bird’s eye view of the old city. We also visited the Medieval Crime Museum, filled with torture instruments such as an iron maiden, choke pears, shame masks, limb-stretching racks, stocks, and pillories.
To get to Rothenburg, we meandered by car for quite a while along the Rhine River, with delightful river towns on one side and the many boats and leisure activities of the river on the other. The night before, we stayed in Sankt (Saint) Goar, with a room and balcony overlooking the river. That is the second-to-last photo. It was a pretty little village with more restaurants and cafes than anything! Also along the way was a stop at Eltz Castle, shown on the last photo. Its oldest parts date back to the 9th century. It was a beautiful castle to tour, but no photos were allowed inside.