17 – 19 September 2019 – Rothenburg ob der Tauber- Ulm
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is on the river Tauber about 185 kilometres from Frankfurt. It was a Free Imperial city in 1274, which meant it had its own seat of government.
After parking the motorhome, we headed into the town centre which was 150 metres away. To enter the town, we walked through Spital Gate and Bastion, a 17th century bastion in the shape of a figure eight. It has two inner courtyards, seven gates, a drawbridge and an upper walkway. On the bulwark as you enter the gate is a Latin inscription and translated into English ‘Peace to those who enter in, good health to those who leave again’. It is a very impressive part of the town’s fortifications.
Walking Tour with Tourist Information Guide
The tour began at the information centre in the main square, Marktplatz. This has to be one of the most stunning places in Rothenburg with its cafes, quaint shops and beautiful half-timbered houses.
The guide began by explaining how the town’s name was derived. The name ‘Rothenburg ob der Tauber’ is German for ‘Red fortress above the Tauber’. This is because the town is located on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. As to the name ‘Rothenburg’, it comes from the German words rot (red) and burg (burgh, medieval fortified settlement), referring to the red colour of the roofs of the houses which overlook the river. We have noticed that this appears to be a common thread when finding a name for a town.
The sights of Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
The Town Hall features two architectural styles, Gothic at the rear (1250-1400) and Renaissance at the front (1572-1578). This is a result of a fire in 1501 which destroyed the front section. The facade is decorated with intricate friezes and a large stone portico opening onto the main market square.
City Councillors Tavern was once an exclusive tavern to city councillors. On the gable of the building is a big town clock dating from 1683 with a date display and a sundial and the famous imperial crest.
The clock not only keeps time for the town, it also puts on a show. Two doors in the gable flip open, chimes sound, and out comes Bűrgermeister Nusch and General Tilly. According to tradition Nusch saved the town from destruction at the hands of the troops of General Tilly by winning a bet by drinking 3 ¼ litres of Franconian wine. What a martyr!
Georgsbrunnen Fountain was built in 1446 and holds 100,000 litres of water which was an important drinking reservoir of Rothenburg. For over 400 years this intricate pillar has decorated the fountain, crowned by the figure of the knight St George and the dragon.
Ratsstube is the oldest café in Rothenburg. There is an inscription on the house which states, in 1474 king Christian I of Denmark stayed here.
Staudt house belong to the reigning mayor of Rothenburg until 1802 when he lost power at the end of the Constitution of the imperial city. It is the oldest preserved patrician house in Rothenburg. It originated in the 12th century and since 1644 to the present day belongs to the family of Staudt. Behind the facade extending to the street behind, is the spacious area where the stables and the servants’ quarters were which are now gardens. Inscription panels on the house indicate the prominent visitors who lived here, such as Emperor Charles V and Ferdinand I.
St Francis Kirk is one of the oldest basilicas in Rothenburg, consecrated in 1309. Inside the church is a wooden ‘rood screen’, which spatially separated the house of God monks and the laymen. This is one of a few churches in Europe who still have the rood screen on display. Outside in the church yard, is a sign stating the current Pope, Pope Francis, as a boy attended the school attached to this church and this is where he took his name ‘Pope Francis’ from. The church is quite modest inside.
The Castle Gate replaced the former Hohenstaufen Castle due to a natural disaster. At this gate is the special Eye-of-the-Needle door with a small opening only big enough for one person without armour at a time. This small door was carved in 1555 and was the only way into town if you missed curfew at dark when the gates were locked.
In the middle of Castle Gate is a decorative Pitch Nose Mask (pechnase) where hot oil or tar was poured out onto attackers. On the side of the mask, there are two large slots where chains were fastened to raise the gate’s drawbridge.
The Berggarten is where the former Hohenstaufen Castle was located. The Castle was built in 1142 but was supposedly destroyed in 1356 by an earthquake. The rubble from the castle was used in the construction of municipal building and reinforcing the city walls. The guide gave us two theories about the castle. Legend or history? An earthquake in Switzerland is said to have destroyed the castle grounds in 1356. Or did the city residents feed the king a line so that they could use the expensive masonry for their own town wall and buildings because the king rarely lived in the castle.
All that remains today is a small park with beautiful well-manicured gardens and the Blasiuskapelle (Blasius Chapel). Today the chapel is dedicated to memorialising past wars and their victim. The view over the Tauber Valley and the Infirmary Quarter is magnificent. The Infirmary Quarter was outside the original walls and mainly developed as a hospital and finally enclosed by a wall in 1370.
Saint James Way Markers and Saint James Church
Walking through the streets of Rothenburg are numerous seashell medallions in the cobblestone pavements marking the route of Saint James way. These pilgrimage routes spiderweb around Europe from Medieval times carrying travellers all the way to the shrine of the Apostle Saint James on the coast of Northwest Spain. In Rothenburg they lead to the massive Saint James Church (St Jacobs Kirche) built in 1471, in honour of the saint. Inside the church is a rock crystal capsule (Reliquary of the Holy Blood), which is said to contain three drops of the blood of Jesus Christ. Outside the church is a statue of Saint James. It is said, by rubbing the staff of the shell held by him will bring travellers good luck. So, almost everyone rubbed the shell.
Items of Interest:
Plönlein (Little Square), which is on the cover of our German guidebook, is a narrow half-timbered building with a small fountain in front. It is framed by the Siebers Tower with restored townhouses on either side creating a beautiful picturesque effect. So, you just have to take a photo or two of it too!
Snowballs (Schneeballen) are a traditional sweet of Rothenburg, which goes back to the middle ages. It is made from pastry and is woven into a ball shape and deep fired in a special utensil in the shape of a ball which is attached to tongs. After it comes out of the fryer it is rolled in either cinnamon or icing sugar, this is the original version. Nowadays, there are a lot of varieties, for example chocolate, yoghurt and caramel. The best way to eat them according to our guide is to crush the ball inside the packet and then eat the pieces. We decide to try the original flavour and we have to say it looked much nicer than it tasted. It was like eating cooked unsweetened pastry. In hindsight we should have purchased a flavoured one.
Hanging over many of the buildings are decorative iron signs. These expressive signs were meant to serve as symbols for either the name of the house or as a representation of the type of business because in Medieval times most people couldn’t read. Today, there are an amazing number of medieval signs on every street which depict the business or the black imperial eagle from Rothenburg’s time in the Holy Roman Empire. Some of them are very intricate and interesting and trying to guess what they represent is sometimes tricky.
On the portals on the side of the Town Hall are the old Rothenburg dimensions. From the Middle Ages every small state possessed its own measurements, these were made known in the public marketplace. On the left portal is ‘tail’, ‘Elle’ and ‘shoe’ and on the right side ‘the fathom’. An interesting concept to measure by.
The Hayloft Windows
One of the most common things on Medieval houses is the wooden beams jutting out from under the eve. These beams were part of a pulley lift system to bring dry goods and hay up from the street for storage in the hayloft attics. Below the beam is a door facing outwards with no steps or ladder because these doors were only meant for pulling goods into the home after they were hoisted up. Storing a full year of goods was a very important part of Medieval life because they never knew when a famine, drought or siege would occur.
Christmas car in front of one of the many Christmas shops owned by Käthe Wohlfahrt for the last 40 years.
Tourist car Rothenburg’s alternative to a tourist train or hop on hop off. A very novel idea.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most beautiful medieval towns with its massive stone town walls studded with 42 towers; half-timbered houses with red tiled roofs; cobblestone streets and flower filled window boxes.
The next day we headed to Ulm.
Ulm is situated on the River Danube, founded around AD 850 and is about 130 kilometres from Rothenburg. The city is primarily known for having the church with the tallest steeple in the world, the Gothic Minster and is the birthplace of Albert Einstein. Most parts of the city, including the old town, are situated on the left bank of the Danube.
After calling into the Tourist Office, we strolled around the city to see the sites.
The church was started in 1377 and completed in 1890 due to its soaring spire. At present the church is covered in scaffolding and mesh as it is being renovated. I think every church we have seen so far is in a state of renovation. Apparently, it is officially the tallest complete church in the world and in the 20th century it was the 5th tallest man-made structure. We did not visit the church and climb the tower which has over 750 steps and is about 140 metres up. We have seen our share of churches for the time being.
Ulm Town Hall (Rathaus)
The town hall is composed of three buildings, the oldest of which dates back to 1370, which was a medieval department store, housing a variety of different merchants and tradesmen, before becoming the town hall. It is covered in murals, which were completely restored along the lines of the originals, from 1540 in 1900. The murals depict moments from Ulm’s past which are absolutely stunning. There is no denying the building’s visual appeal as there are so many colourful, detailed scenes, you could stand and gaze at them for quite a while. On one side of the Town Hall is the astronomical clock, dating back to 1520.
The Fish Tank Fountain (Fishkasten) outside the Town Hall is the oldest surviving Ulmer fountain built in 1482. The name ‘fish box’ comes from the fact that the Ulmer fishermen used them in their trade.
Stadtmauer (Old Town Walls)
In 1482, the town walls were built as a defence against hostile armies. Today, we walked along the remaining walls overlooking the Danube. The Butcher’s Tower is integrated into Ulm’s fortifications and is known as the ‘leaning tower of Ulm’. It is 36 metres high and leans 2.05 metres in a north westerly direction. It is quite noticeable but not as much as the leaning tower of Pisa. According to legend, the tower got its name from some butchers in Ulm, who put sawdust in their sausages. When the customers found out, they locked them in the tower. When the angry Mayor entered the tower to deliver his verdict, the obese butchers cowered in one corner of the tower, causing it to lean. In truth, it was built on marshy ground. But I think the first version is more colourful.
Fischerviertel (Fishermen’s and Tanners’ Quarter)
Where the mouth of the River Blau enters the Danube is the Medieval waterside quarter where the tanners, fishermen and shipbuilders resided in the 1500s when the trade on the Danube was prosperous. Strolling through this area you notice the very small tight streets with cantilevered timber framed houses, some so close to each other that they touch. You can understand why this area was named Kussgasse (Kiss Alley).
On one of the corners is the famous Schiefes Haus, a 14th century timber framed house which was used by Ulm’s shipmasters for hundreds of years. At an incline of between 9 and 10° it appears like it is just about to collapse. Adjustments have been made over time, especially after one of the sides started sinking. It is now a hotel and according to the Guinness Book of Records it is the most crooked hotel in the world, literally, not figuratively! The old wooden houses are now speciality shops, bars and restaurants. It is a wonderful place to explore on foot with very colourful houses, flower gardens, running streams and quaint little bridges.
From Ulm, we continued to our campsite outside Munich in a park with a playground and swimming pool and from there drove to Innsbruck.