Rothenburg: A city so nice, we visited twice
Saturday mornings are frenetic and exciting at my house because they equal road trips. My husband and I had just unpacked from a cosmopolitan-packed weekend in Düsseldorf, and we yearned for a leisurely, quiet city to explore. We found it in Rothenburg.
Located along Germany’s picturesque Romantic Road, Rothenburg (RO-TEN-BURG) has long captured the hearts of those who meet her. Founded in 1170 along the Tauber River, it is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the country. More than 3.5 kilometers (2.15 miles) of the ancient city walls remain intact and walkable. Rothenburg has also appeared in several films, notably as the inspiration for the village in Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” and in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Parts 1 and 2.
We were sold. We punched Rothenburg into our GPS and off we went.
We exited the A6 near Heidelberg and threaded our way through the rural countryside. As the hills grew, so did our excitement. The road morphed from the well-marked concrete of primary roads to soft black asphalt, then gravel. Gravel gave way to dirt, and as we approached a small hamlet, I had to fight the urge not to hang out of the sunroof like it was a Las Vegas limousine. One lonely hill waited at the end of the street. Surely that’s where Rothenburg’s famous ancient walls must be hiding.
We crested the hill, and the GPS chirped, “Your destination is on the left.” We craned our heads left, but the only thing we saw was a field of grazing sheep.
“Maybe she meant right?” I offered.
We looked right, but to our dismay only saw more sheep.
Utterly confused, we flipped through our guidebook, and in the tiny print reserved for discussing medicinal side effects, the resident expert chastised travelers to make sure to get the right Rothenburg. The right Rothenburg?
As it turns out, there are several Rothenburgs in Germany. In our naivety, we ended up more than two hours away from the Rothenburg more formally known as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the red (rot) fortress (Burg) on the Tauber River.
Hungry and angry, we were determined to see some ancient city walls. Two long, silent hours later, we finally reached the right Rothenburg.
GETTING THERE, WHERE TO PARK
Driving within the city walls is discouraged. If you book a hotel in the city, you are allowed to drive to it, but check regulations with your hotelier first. Otherwise, there are five well-marked parking areas surrounding the city walls, P1-P5. We parked in P5, which put us a few blocks north of the city’s White Tower (Gothic 13th-century tower housing Town Hall and the tourist office) and Market Square. Pay at the automatic Parkscheinautomat kiosk, and display the ticket on the dash before you leave the vehicle.
Walk the city walls. The city walls are an unforgettable experience. With its covered walkways, this is also an excellent rainy weather activity and it’s free. If you are over 6’2” tread carefully, as the height dips in places. You can enter and exit the walls at several stairwells around the city and take breaks at your leisure. A perfect stopping spot is at the Spitaltor to see the town’s crest emblazoned on the tower.
Explore Market Square and Old Town. Make a wish at the 17th-century St. George’s fountain and meander through Market Square, taking in the adorable Christmas and trinket shops and picturesque half-timbered architectural style.
Take a shopping stroll down Schmiedgasse and Spitalgasse. These two streets bisect the city and are lined with dozens of shops, eateries and bakeries. If you have time, tour the Medieval Crime & Punishment Museum.
Avoid the Schneeballs. These snowball-sized pastries are prominently displayed in bakery windows as the town Spezialitat, but are terrible. Imagine a flavorless unsalted piecrust cut into strips, rolled into a ball, then dusted with powdered sugar or chocolate — and you’ve got Schneeballs. Save your money.
There is no shortage of eateries in Market Square and Old Town. But if you’d like to get away from the crowds and enjoy a nice beverage in a quiet, patio atmosphere, go to Alter Keller. This hidden gem is just a few short blocks off Market Square. From Schmiedgasse, walk toward the Medieval Crime & Punishment Museum and St. John’s. Turn down the street Alt Keller, and you’ll see the restaurant’s patio tables in just a few hundred feet.
Entrées are reasonably priced at 8 to 14 euros. The Jägerschnitzel, wursts and krauts are excellent.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Not all Rothenburgs are created equal, so make sure you put “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” into your GPS before you go. Not simply “Rothenburg,” or “Rothenburg ob der” any other river. Enjoy your trip!