Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the State of Bavaria, is one of the oldest and most historic of the medieval walled towns located along the Romantic Road. The area’s history dates back several centuries before the first millennium, with the official history thought to date from the 10th century when the castle was constructed in an easily-defensible position above the River Tauber. The city was granted its own charter the 12th Century after the castle and neighboring town’s rule came into the hands of the Hohenstaufen Emperors. The town’s Medieval architecture is unique and unmistakable, because the town’s silhouette is created by 42 gates and towers, and city’s fortification continues to encompass the entire medieval center of the town, still walkable along almost its entire length.
The city acted as a regional Medieval walled fortress located on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. But, the name “Rothenburg” either refers to the red coloration of village’s roofs that overlook the river or may relate to the process of retting (“rotten” in German) flax for linen production. No one is certain, some 1000 years after the city was founded, leaving the origin of this walled city’s name still a mystery.
The City Councillors’ Tavern, die Ratstrinkstube, dates from 1446 and was accessible only to the city councillors. The main clock was installed in 1683 and enhanced in 1910 when der Meistertrunk, the “Master Draught,” was added. Der Meistertrunk legend goes back to 1631 during the Thirty Years War when Catholic troops attacked and occupied Protestant Rothenburg. The Catholic general, Tilly, threatened to plunder and destroy the city. But, promised to spare the town if a Councillor could empty an enormous, 3 1/4 liters of wine in one draught. The former mayor, Nusch, accomplished this task and by doing so saved his city. You can’t go wrong with a draught of wine in this kellar.
The city’s marketplace, der Plönlein with Kobolzeller Steige and Spitalgasse, is one of the most photographed sites. What makes this area unique is the close quarters of the half-timbered houses, aligned on opposite sides of a cobbled stone street which rises and descends in elevation, conforming to the city’s topography. These buildings originate during the time when Rothenburg ob der Tauber was granted the position of a Free Imperial City. One unique museum in this quarter area is the criminal museum, in which various punishment and torture devices used during the Middle Ages are on display.
Der St. Jakob Kirche is a historic Lutheran church that serves as a stopover on the pilgrimage route to St. James Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It was built between 1311-1484, and consecrated in 1485 by the Bishop of Würzburg. Located in its western gallery is the famous Holy Blood altarpiece of the Würzburg, a wooden altar Tilman Riemenschneider carved between 1500-1505 that includes a rock crystal reliquary cross (circa 1270). The focus of the altar are three glass vials in each of which is a single drop of Jesus’ blood collected from his cruxification, some 15 centuries prior to its installation! In addition, several holy artifacts, bones of various saints, are entombed in the altar, all of which just happened to be available for acquisition in the years prior to the church’s completion.
The High Altar of St. Jakob’s Kirche, known as the Twelve Apostles Altar, was carved in1466 by Friedrich Herlin, a student of Rogier van der Weyden. The oldest portrayal of the city and exceptional images of the Jakobs pilgrim legend are found on the altar’s reverse side. The stained glass windows behind the altar, in the east chancel, are adorned with images from 1350-1400 AD. Scenes of the life of the Virgin Mary are in the left window, whereas scenes of Christ’s work of redemption and sacraments are found in the right window. Both of these works were created in approximately 1400 AD. The central window (dated circa 1350) shows scenes from Christ’s life and passion, and all have survived the ravages of time and war.
One tourist industy centered in the city and known worldwide is that of the Rothenburg Advent Market that begins in November, offering a unique experience different from that one has in the year-round Christmas shops. This one industry, the 365 Christmas villages and shops of Käthe Wohlfahrt is connected in most people’s minds to what many consider to be the “Christmas town.” This global enterprise, first begun by Wilhelm Wohlfahrt, with the company named after his wife, began in former East Germany where sales of traditional Christmas articles from his home region were brought home to the American soldiers stationed in Germany near Stuttgart. Some 13 years after the war, the company moved to the walled city and now has six shops in Rothenburg, alone, a major presence at all Weinachtmarkts across the country, and a strong internet presence. You’re sure to drop a few hundred Euro without a blink of an eye.