The Night-watchman

Jamie – 4 November 2011

In our research on where to travel to in Germany there was one name that kept coming up everywhere we looked:  Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  Friends of mine had been there. Fellow travellers we met along the way had been there.  Everyone said “you have to go” and the travel websites raved.  It is always risky then going to a place like this as your expectations have been raised to such a level that disappointment is all but assured.

We drove the 2.5 hours from Munich to Rothenburg o.d.T with high expectations and it did not take long to see what all the fuss is about.

This was a very wealthy town about 600 years ago thanks to its positioning on major trade routes. It sits high on a hill with a massive fortified wall surrounding it, and looks down on the Tauber River. It used to be one of the 20 largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire – today you would simply consider it a small town.  After centuries of prosperity it was crippled in one foul swoop by The Thirty Years War and Black Death which both hit in 1630 leaving the town poor and virtually empty. It remained dormant for the next several hundred years, thereby preserving its 17th century state. Apart from some damage during WW2 it remains one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the world. It is just like walking into the Middle Ages.

The main square of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

A section of the wall which surrounds the town. You can walk the entire circuit.

The real fun of the town comes from two features. Firstly, the bearded night-watchman who tours to the old-town each night (accompanied by an entourage of visitors) to “lock the gates” of the wall. In reality he is a walking historian – in traditional dress with cape, lamp and spear –  who recreates history through his story telling of “the old times” which is delivered with great humour and wit.  The children thought he was wonderful – Foster even did the whole tour again on our second night (in zero degree temperatures) and roared with laughter at all the jokes which apparently were even funnier on their second telling.

The night-watchman.

The second attraction of the town is its its main industry – Christmas decorations! This might sound a bit uninteresting to some but when you take a town as beautiful as this and give it an “eternal Christmas” feel it creates something truly unique and unforgettable.

Bec and the children discovered a couple near the main square who were making apple juice using an old fruit press.  You had the choice of hot or cold apple juice (Foster loved it hot) and there was no wastage anywhere – the large cakes of pressed fruit simply get fed back to the farm animals!  Tasty AND environmentally friendly!

You simply can not help but feel good walking around this town. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is happy.  It has a purity about it which is hard to describe. All the locals we met (from our restaurants to the hotel) were delightful. It would be magical to be here in the depths of winter when the town is under snow. Next time!

Pressing apple juice the old fashion way.

After two wonderful nights we headed north for another 2.5 hours to Rudesheim am Rhein.  This is another old town on the so-called Romantic Road – a 350 kms route that was once the main trade route that connected southern Germany to central Germany (from Fussen in the south to Wurzburg in the north). As its name implies Rudesheim is on the Rhein and our intention here was to catch one of the tourist boats for a river adventure. Unfortunately we arrived two days after the “tourist season” ended and there were no boats to be had.

Nevertheless we went for a long walk along the Rhein and enjoyed the region’s famous Riesling and schnitzel. A highlight for all of us were the friends we made with a lovely family at one of our dinners.  Their son, Julian, spoke almost no English but was familiar with the rules of Uno (and later Hide and Seek, once all the other diners had left) and that was all that was required for a wonderful night of laughter.

Next stop Amsterdam – a 4.5 hour drive and our final destination in Europe.

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