Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Bavaria’s Medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber, contributed by Corrine and Jim Vail at Reflections Enroute, is the fifth small town expose in the series Small Town Explorer. The villages and towns we visit in our travels are often the hidden gems of a country or region. In this series readers are introduced to small centers around the globe from travel bloggers who have experienced the location firsthand; featuring their uniqueness, their history, what to see and do, and often where to stay and where to dine.
Previous towns featured in the series:
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a quaint medieval walled town in Bavaria. It is well-known for its charming and romantic cobblestoned streets and half-timbered medieval old town. Located along the Tauber River, it is easily accessible by train from some of the larger German cities like Frankfurt and Munich.
Rothenburg is situated on a high hill and has magnificent views from its fortress walls. It is a popular place for Germans to go on a lazy Sunday afternoon for a beautiful walk, a little shopping, and a traditional lunch. We have adopted this idea and have been a few times just to be outside in the fresh air, especially in late spring or autumn, which I think is the best time to visit. To be clear, if we are trying to get a workout, we’ll walk in and count our steps; Rothenburg is not the best place to go for this, however, because there is always so much to stop and do. It’s not like you can get your heart rate up unless you get an adrenalin rush from buying that perfect Christmas ornament at their iconic Christmas market.
Our day out begins with the drive to Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, which is in itself gorgeous. The entire area is farmland, and there are many half-timbered houses with huge enclosed farm courtyards. Upon arrival, we park near one of the wall’s entrances, because it is really convenient. Along with walking the outer walls and admiring the scenery, the town streets are lined with cute shops that are owned by local artists and bakers. When you go, the one shop everyone must visit is the Kathe Wolfart shop full of hand-made Christmas items. I love the wooden ornaments. They look gorgeous on any Christmas tree, and I usually buy at least one when I visit. They are just too hard to pass up.
Shopping isn’t the only reason to go. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is full of small, yet fascinating museums. Probably the most popular one is the Criminal Punishment Museum which explains how in the Middle Ages people were punished for everyday misdemeanors or even tortured for worse crimes (like baking the bread loaf too small). If you are prone to nightmares, this museum might not be for you, but especially for teenagers and young adults, it is the highlight of the visit. I have to admit, it draws you in when it starts talking about how they determine whether the person should live or die or just be shamed. Just like in Salem, Massachusetts, witchcraft was often a reason to persecute someone and the punishments were downright cruel.
There are a few other museums that are worth noting as well, such as the Christmas Museum, the History Museum, and the Old Rothenburg Craftsman’s House. With a history dating back to the late 10th century, Rothenburg has some unique traditions like the Shepherd’s dance and parade during the Easter season. It takes place near the St. Wolfgang Church or the Shepherd’s Church wherein the 12th century they would hold a Thanksgiving feast to honor the hard-working shepherds. We haven’t made it to this yet, but it’s on our list.
Another odd-ball tradition comes in the form of pastry. Germans love a “schneeball,” especially around the Christmas holidays, and this oval treat was first developed in Rothenburg. It is a pastry dough folded into a ball, baked and covered with a variety of toppings. It is not very sweet, but sweet enough if you are drinking the gluhwein during Rothenburg’s famous Christmas market.
When we visit, we spend plenty of time walking the walls, shopping, and we’ll usually pick a new museum to explore. In doing so, we always work up an appetite and we have eaten at the same restaurant each time. When you know the food is good someplace, it’s hard to try something different. We go to the Reichskuchenmeister for hearty Franconian food. I always try the local dishes, and this past time I had the fall specialty, pork medallions with Chanterelles and spaetzle. Since we are driving we get our favorite non-alcoholic drink called apfelsaft schoerle, which is a sparkling apple juice that tastes delicious with German food.
There is always something going on in our favorite small German town, and we highly recommend that if you are traveling to Germany, you should check out Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Have you visited Rothenburg? Can you recommend a hotel or Airbnb? Let us know in the comments?
Corrine and Jim feature firsthand encounters of various Europe destinations and beyond at Reflections Enroute.