Rothenburg: Walled German village enchants with medieval charm
Along Germany’s Romantic Road sits one of the oldest and most historically preserved walled towns in Germany.
Dating to the 10th century, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the very fairy-tale setting many tourists search for. Just a 2 ½-hour drive southeast of Wiesbaden and two hours west of Grafenwöhr and Vilseck, Rothenburg is worth the journey.
A 1.5-mile stone wall reinforced by oak beams encircles the town, and visitors may walk around the entire wall. Children might find navigating the old wall just as exciting as exploring the town, and they will enjoy looking out the watch windows, round and square alike. Take the city guided tour or purchase the audio tour of the wall that offers fun facts and interesting tidbits about how the wall was constructed. Families with strollers, however, might find the narrow top of the wall difficult to handle.
As you wander around the town, notice the charming facades of the merchants’ buildings. Even though the streets are bustling, one can still leisurely stroll and enjoy the views.
Before entering the central market square, where the Rathaus and its bell tower are located, you will come upon the Criminal Museum. While some of the content might be too graphic for younger children, my 11- and 14-year-olds enjoyed it.
The museum contains originals and replicas of many torture devices and methods of imprisonment common in Rothenburg throughout its history. One of my favorite displays was several authentic handwritten punishment orders by the king of the time, all written in the 13th and 14th century. Displays span three floors, which require a fair amount of stair-climbing and aren’t stroller-friendly.
Continuing toward the market square, note the popular Schneeball pastries. These sphere-shaped treats are pie crust cut into strips, deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar or chocolate.
Rising above the market square, formerly the site of public executions, stands the bell tower, the tallest building in Rothenburg. It offers a panoramic view of the entire town and the surrounding Tauber Valley.
Once you climb countless steps, you must wait at an electonic gate for the light to turn from red to green, allowing another 20 visitors to complete the journey to the top. Just before squeezing through the final hatch to the crow’s nest, I encountered some the steepest and most difficult steps I have ever seen. The area at the top is very confined, and one must wait for those on the viewing platform to come down the ladder before moving up.
My kids loved this part of the trip. Unfortunately, backpacks with babies would not work because the climb is so steep.
As our day was winding down, our group visited the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store and museum at Saint Jakob’s Church. The gardens offer picturesque views of the Tauber River.
While Rothenburg is well-known for its Christmas market, don’t miss an opportunity to visit this romantic fairy tale city in the summer as well.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany GETTING THERE From Wiesbaden, take autobahn A7 Würzburg-Ulm to Rothenburg. Take exit 108 “Rothenburg/Tauber” and follow the signs for Stadtmitte, or town center.
From Grafenwohr and Vilseck, take autobahn A9 toward Munich/Nuremberg. At the Kreuz Nuremberg-Ost, follow the signs for the A6 toward Heilbronn/N.-Fähre. Take exit 49-Feuchtwangen-Nord for B25 toward Schillingsfürst; turn left onto state road 2419 and go through the roundabout. Take the A7 toward Wurzburg/Rothenburg o.d.T. and take exit 108 to the town. Park in one of the car parks that are within a few minutes’ walk from the old town.
TIMES The bell tower is open 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. daily from April to October; noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in November. During Rothenburg’s Christmas market (Nov. 28-Dec. 23 this year), the tower is open 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 2:30-6 p.m. It will remain open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during the market.
COSTS Entrance to the Criminal Museum costs 2 euros. Climbing the tower is 2 euros for adults and 50 euro cents for children up to age 14. It’s free to walk atop the wall.
FOOD Rothenburg has an array of restaurants.
INFORMATION There is an English link at www.tourismus.rothenburg.de.