Exploring Rothenburg ob der Tauber: A Frozen-In-Time Medieval City

Rothenburg | Introduction

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a historic medieval town located in the state of Bavaria, Germany. It lies at the intersection of Germany's Romantic Road and Castle Road tourist routes. The town is situated along the Tauber River and features winding cobblestone streets. Due to its fairytale-like scenery, it is often hailed as the most romantic fairytale town in Germany.

In the 13th century, Rothenburg was one of the top twenty cities of the Holy Roman Empire and continued to thrive until 1634, when the outbreak of the Black Death caused the city to lose a significant portion of its population almost instantly. The city remained dormant for the next three hundred years until the 19th century, when tourism began to revive its fortunes. Due to the importance placed on tourism, during World War II, when the conflict reached Rothenburg, the city surrendered to the American forces without hesitation. As a result, unlike other ancient cities that were ravaged by war, Rothenburg was preserved in its original state, maintaining a remarkably intact cityscape.

Rothenburg | Transportation

Traveling to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from either Frankfurt or Munich is quite convenient. For independent travelers, you can take the German National Railway (Deutsche Bahn) from Frankfurt or Munich to Rothenburg, with a transfer required at Würzburg or Ansbach. The entire journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. Another option is to drive: from Frankfurt, it takes approximately 2 hours by car; from Munich, it takes about 2.5 hours. Along the way, you can enjoy the scenic Bavarian countryside.

If you don't want to worry about transportation, you can also consider joining a day tour.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber Day Trip (From Frankfurt)

Rothenburg ob der Tauber Day Trip (From Munich)

Rothenburg | Attractions

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a small town, so whether you arrive by car or train, you can easily plan a walking tour for the day after getting off. The main attractions include Plonlein, the Town Hall, the German Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum), the Medieval Crime Museum, and the ancient city walls. Most of the sights are concentrated within a one-kilometer radius.

Plönlein

Plonlein is a small square located at the intersection of two streets and is a quintessential scene of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This fairytale-like marketplace is the most photographed spot in the town and a must-feature in travel brochures with its iconic image.

Marktplatz

The Marktplatz is an essential stop for tourists, surrounded by historic buildings. To the left is the Town Hall (Rathaus), while the white building on the right is the Council Building, which houses the famous drinking hall. According to legend, it is the site of the spectacular "Master Draught" drinking contest story.

During the Thirty Years' War in 1631, the Protestant town of Rothenburg faced an attack from the Catholic forces led by Tilly. Protected by their thick city walls, the residents of Rothenburg managed to hold off Tilly's troops for an extended period, causing significant casualties and frustration among the attackers. Eventually, due to dwindling supplies and ammunition, Rothenburg was forced to surrender. In his anger, Tilly ordered his men to plunder and destroy the town and to execute all the councilors.

The residents of Rothenburg pleaded for mercy, and during a moment of revelry, one of the councilors brought forth a large goblet holding over three liters of wine to offer Tilly a drink. Tilly then announced, "Whoever can drink this goblet in one go will have my order rescinded." The elderly mayor, Nusch, bravely volunteered and drank the entire three liters of wine in one go. True to his word, Tilly rescinded the order. After this heroic feat, Mayor Nusch slept for three days and three nights.

To commemorate this story, the white clock tower now features a daily performance where small windows on either side of the clock open at specific times: Tilly appears on the left, and Mayor Nusch, holding the goblet, appears on the right. On weekends, there are also live reenactments of the legendary "Master Draught" drinking contest.

You can climb to the top of the Town Hall, but you need to purchase a ticket to enter. From the top of the Town Hall tower, you can get a panoramic view of the entire town, showcasing the impressive medieval architecture and the surrounding city walls. Rothenburg, which means "red fortress" in German, features houses with predominantly dark red roofs, creating a striking and cohesive visual effect.

Christmas Museum

The Christmas Museum is located right next to the Marktplatz. The museum is on the second floor, while the first floor is a store. Kathe Wohlfhart is the largest Christmas ornament brand in Germany, and this store in Rothenburg is the largest of its kind. If you love Christmas decorations, you can easily spend a lot of time just admiring the exquisite ornaments. Even though we visited in the summer, stepping into this store felt like entering a Christmas wonderland.

Medieval Crime and Justice Museum

The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is another fascinating attraction that showcases and explains various medieval punishment tools. It is astonishing to see the creative ways in which people in the past inflicted pain. The museum houses a collection of ancient instruments of torture and judicial documents that send shivers down your spine. For example, the wooden barrel in the photo was used to publicly humiliate people by parading them through the streets, while the long iron rod with serrated edges was used to catch witches.

Ancient City Walls

Climbing the ancient city walls is another highlight of visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber. These thick walls were originally used for defense, and it is rare to find such well-preserved walls today. We climbed the walls to experience the medieval atmosphere and to enjoy the town's scenery from a different perspective. Rothenburg's walls are remarkably intact, and you can walk along the wall path to take in panoramic views of the entire town.

Rothenburg | Cuisine

Rothenburger Schneeballen

  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $

When visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, you must try the classic dessert that has been popular for 300 years: Rothenburger Schneeballen, also known as Rothenburg Snowballs. These treats look quite whimsical, with the traditional version simply dusted with powdered sugar on top of dough, giving them a taste similar to Sachima. There are also various flavors such as chocolate and strawberry, making them look as delightful as colorful snowballs.

Hotel-Gasthof Goldener Greifen

  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $$

When we arrived in the afternoon, we randomly chose the Hotel-Gasthof Goldener Greifen restaurant. This establishment is located near the Town Hall Square and has a more homely and straightforward style compared to other tourist restaurants. For drinks, we ordered white wine and beer. For the main course, we opted for the simpler German sausages and schnitzel, with sides of fries and roasted potatoes. The taste was average.

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