Dollhouse town in Germany…
Factoid: Germany’s second largest city in the middle ages, with 6,000 residents (mammoth for those times) was reduced to poverty during the 30 years war, and virtually faded into oblivion. But life comes full circle. Today it has regained its glory as Germany’s best preserved medieval walled town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber seems like the perfect name for this fairytale place until you translate it into English…red fort on the River Tauber). Mmmm…something less practical, maybe?
It takes four train changes to reach here from Heidelberg, but the journey is cakewalk, considering the precious rewards…rolling hills, sloping valleys, thick forests, quiet villages, huddled half-timbered houses, blending into or breaking the rhythm of the green. A deserted little station, and five minutes to enter the fortress walls of a dreamland. Movie set…nah? Cardboard storybook…nah? Cutest of gabled houses, pointy red slanting roofs, wooden plank surfaces and flower tubs decorating the windows. Pinch yourself. Ouch, you’re awake!
The fantasy continues if you’ve booked a room at the Hotel Gotisches Haus. Converted from an old bread house, with 700-year old oak floor and ceiling beams, ancient doors and creaky stairs, its medieval splendour shines through exposed old stone-work. Charming room decor…a room heater from the past, a wrought iron bed, brick exposed walls, a cupboard and dainty white lace window curtains. Hold on, which year is this?
Explore every inch of the town…yes, its tiny enough for the possibility. Along the popular shopping street of Herrengasse, where once a cattle market flourished, notice the hotels and shops converted out of houses belonging to wealthy families. Upper floors with windows that look like barn doors. At the top of each house, a bar sticking out with a pulley to hoist sacks of grain up to the two top floors. To stock food supplies during war or siege? The houses almost touching together, but with separate walls for the water to drain off and fires to be contained. Innovation of town planning from back then!
Hop into Käthe Wohlfahrt’s flagship store, Christmas Village, located in several separate buildings, one of which is the Christmas Museum. Learn how many of the Christmas traditions started in Germany, including decorating of Christmas trees. Outside the store, is a parked truck with fake, bright gift packages and at the entrance stands an adorable cuddly six-feet teddy. So, planning to return at Christmas?
Nearby, at the Franciscan Church, the oldest in town, dawdle in the solitude of unpretentious, white interiors, offset by the graceful wooden-slat ceiling. Then head opposite to the imperial family castle of the Hohenstaufens. At the Burgtor gate, pause to study the mask used to pour hot oil onto attackers. Evil or inventive? Explore the huge gardens and the grey stone ruins of the castle left over from the earthquake destruction of 1356, trying to visualise the missing pieces. Gloat over the incredible views into the lush green valley stretch for miles, the calm river Tauber weaving a path, red-roofed houses, steeples, towers, turrets, playing hide and seek with the natural landscape. Wonder…had the town been built to hide behind the trees or had the trees grown over the years hiding the town?
Change of scene. In the Marktplatz, the bustling center of town, follow the throngs to the Rathaus (Town Hall), a grand building combining Gothic and Renaissance styles. Next to it, at the tall, yellow coloured clock tower, witness the sweet clockwork of the glockenspiel…admiring the precision of the two windows opening and two figures drinking from mugs. Then wander around the medium-sized square, peeping into souvenir shops selling schneeballen, wooden crafts, beer mugs, as well as numerous cafes, gelato shops and restaurants. At one of the typical German taverns, gorge on the Franconian specialty…schnitzel (breaded pork cutlet). Notice familiar faces…the town is so small, you can bump into the same people a few times!
A little north of Marktplatz, go religious with St Jakobskirche (St. Jakob’s Church), built between 1373 and 1464 or delve into past treasures at the Reichstadtmuseum, a former convent. Close by, in the Mittelalterliches Museum (Middle Ages Museum), impassionately study the torture and punishment instruments, venture into dark dungeons and peep into dingy cells sporting life-size models of prisoners. Too much? Go lighter and livelier at the Doll and Toy Museum.
Save the best for last. Meander in and out of curved, twisting little alleys, savouring that quintessential old-world charm. Countless gabled doll-houses in pretty pastels…lime, aqua, lemon, ochre, lilac, teal, peach. Window sills alive with bright flowers, an odd cluster of wine grapes hanging from a wall creeper, a tiny family hotel with an outdoor cafe, a toy monkey on a small chair on a window ledge, an ornate iron door knocker, a quaint oil lantern, a dwarf statue guarding a doorstep, a painted white wooden bench with a row of planters, hand-painted signages of specialty shops. Scattering of gems everywhere. Can you see why Walt Disney’s Geppetto village in Pinocchio was inspired by this little fairytale place?
Search out Gerlachschmiede, the most photographed location in Rothenburg, on the fork of Plönlein (Little Square). A crooked, narrow, half-timbered building in a golden mustard colour making a silent statement against the cloud-scattered blue skies above. Framed by the Kobolzell Gate and Siebers Tower, it marks the entrance to the town. Would you believe that this is a 1951 reconstruction of the original building, destroyed in 1945? Looks like its been here since the beginning of time.
Back in the main square, as the sun dips into the evening, elegant shadows of the Rathaus fall on the little gabled houses resting on the slanting cobbled square, their soft colours sharply contrasting against the still sharp blue of the sky. You can feel it then…Rothenburg ob der Tauber on the Romantic Road is the epitome of German romanticism, inspiring artists through the ages with its unmistakable silhouette created by 42 gates and towers. If you have the time, indulge in the 1.5 mile long walk along the historic centre. Feel the remnants of a thousand-year past seep into your senses.
When the shops down their shutters and the tour groups melt away into the darkness, the town enchants you even more with its sleepy and peaceful avatar. Honey, they shrunk me, you whisper to yourself…feeling like a miniature figurine in a gigantic doll-house town. But it is no dream…there’s a piece of Rothenburg in your heart and your footsteps are on its old stone streets. A bond. For eternity.
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