Germany Day Trips: Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It’s no secret that Germany has a somewhat gruesome history. While it’s nice to pretend that torture chambers and bloody battles are merely a thing of myths, the reality is much grimmer. Though you may have heard of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, did you know that this town is home to the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum? Nestled among some of the most delightful half-timbered houses and their cobblestoned streets, sits a quiet reminder of the days when battle axes determined who lived and knights reigned supreme.
With no less than 50,000 artifacts from over 1,000 years of German and European legal history, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is one of the most important law and crime museums in Europe. Containing everything from books and manuscripts about torture to masks intended for humiliation, this museum is particularly graphic and not for the faint of heart. Since 1977, it has been located in the former St. John’s Commandery, which was built between 1393 and 1410. In 1710, the building was converted to Baroque style, which is still visible today.
The museum currently has a special exhibition called Luther and Witchcraft, which is available through the end of this year. This exhibition details Martin Luther, the great Reformer, whose doctrine was introduced in Rothenburg in 1544. During this time, leaflets were handed out in efforts to reform art, culture and the economy. Unfortunately, the reformation brought on religious and cultural battles, resulting in Germany having more witch trials than any other European country.
Women were thought to be the weaker sex, therefore likely to be seduced by the devil. The museum displays many torture devices used on witches. For example, choke pears, though seemingly innocent, were inserted into the human body and turned, causing the leaves to expand. The expansion caused extreme pressure. This form of torture was used to force the victim to admit to a crime, committed or not. The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is a haunting reminder of how people were persecuted in the past.
To keep the spooky feeling alive, consider going on the Medieval Ghost Tour with the executioner after visiting the museum. Beginning at 7 p.m., this parody play tour is in English and is sure to make the hair on your arms stand up as you follow the executioner and listen to tales of witchcraft, the devil and the living dead. Full of black humor, this tour will make anyone get in the Halloween spirit and learn about the superstitious culture that gripped the locals during medieval times.
While giving light to the dark side of human nature, you are sure to both laugh at the stories on the tour and be horrified at how people treated each other. The executioner himself is considered a dishonest man, but also a healer who is allowed to cut off fat from the body of an executed convict. He will make you question your belief in ghosts with tales of souls returning as poltergeists after their execution. Of course, the headless horseman and vampires will be mentioned, as they are essential to spooky folklore.
Dance with darkness in Rothenburg ob der Tauber by visiting the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum and wandering the streets during the Medieval Ghost Tour. Halloween fanatics, history buffs and curious minds alike will enjoy this journey into Rothenburg’s dark past. Forget the half-timbered houses and cafes and dig deeper into the fascinating history that this town has to offer. You just might learn a thing or two!
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