Germany's Most Enchanting Medieval Town (Rothenburg ob der Tauber)


In the 13 years or so that I have lived in Germany, I have seen many beautiful places. I cannot recollect all the cities, towns and villages I have set foot in, the innumerable roads I have driven on, how many meadows I have passed, how many hills I have climbed and how many museums I have visited. There is one place, however, which will always remain deeply imprinted on my memory and which I intend to visit the next opportunity I get. Its name is Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

This quaint little town of about 12,000 inhabitants in the Middle Franconia region of the state of Bavaria, is a place steeped in history and the stuff of legends. Narrow winding alleys, cobbled streets, medieval towers and a centuries-old completely intact wall that surrounds the town from long bygone years, and which is one of the few still remaining in Europe, give the visitor the feeling that he or she is stepping back in time. Old coexists in perfect harmony with the modern face of Rothenburg, which offers facilities and services comparable to those available in any modern German town. It is perhaps this harmonious blend of old and new that had elevated Rothenburg into one of Germany's most popular tourist destinations, with 2.5 million tourists visiting it every year, mainly in the Christmas season when its marvellous Christmas Market in unveiled (which I had the priviledge to visit in 1998).

Rothenburg is also famous for its annual festival commemorating a dramatic event which occured on 30th October 1631 A.D. This was during the Thirty Years War, a religious conflict of horrendous proportions and brutality fought in German lands, which lasted from 1618 to 1648, and pitted the Protestants against the Catholics. Sadly, upto seven million Germans, about one-third of the population at the time, may have perished as a consequence of the large-scale massacres committed on the citizenry of cities, towns and villages, and the displacement, famine and pestilence caused by this terrible war in which several European armies were actively involved. On that October day, the 60,000 strong imperial Catholic force under Count of Tilly, which was besieging Protestant Rothenburg, broke through the town's defences and captured it. The Count ordered the execution of its leaders and its destruction but before this gruesome order could be carried out, the daughter of the official in charge of Rothenburg's wine cellar approached the Count and presented him a goblet filled with wine. After tasting it, the Count made his legendary pledge which ultimately saved Rothenburg from destruction: If anyone can drink the entire content of the goblet in one draught, he said, Rothenburg and its leaders would be spared. Considering that the goblet contained over 3 litres of wine, this must have posed a great challenge for even the hardiest drinkers! Mayor Nusch bravely took up this challenge and voila - he drank the 3 litres in one draught (he did fall unconscious though and remain comatose for three days though)!!! Hats off to you Mayor Nusch. You saved your beautiful town and gained immortality for yourself in the process. The picture on the right is a sketch of the scene taken from an old postcard.      

There are many resources on the internet about Rothenburg. See the town's official website (in German) and an English-language version of it. I have seen several beautiful photo galleries featuring Rothenburg, including the photogalleries of Hjkret, Markus Huck, Durant Imboden and Clemens Orth Check out Bayern-im-Web for and Fotosearch for more nice photos. There is also a CD containing more than one thousand photos of Rothenburg. The town has two famous museums: the Christmas Museum and the Museum of Criminal History. I visited the second museum on the three occasions that I was in Rothenburg, and took a number of photos there which I have posted down this page. 


  The photo on the left shows the main square in Rothenburg ob der Taube. The building in the left is the Town Hall, parts of which date back to the 13th century and parts to the 16th century. A magnificent structure with a beautiful facade. The adjacent building on the right side of the Town Hall contains a famous clock which plays at certain times as well a camera which broadcasts live images of Rothenburg on the internet.

The photo on the right was taken near next to the Town Hall and shows a beautiful classical house (now an apothecary) with a fountain in front.

  The people in the photo on the left are colleagues of mine from the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer with whom I had visited Rothenburg on a days outing arranged by the office at our university which looks after the interests of foreign students. We are standing in some yard.

The photo on the right of me standing next to a medieval suit of armour was taken in some souvenir shop in Rothenburg.

    These photos were taken in the Town Hall. Our group is seated around the table and we are commemorating the courageous feat Mayor Nusch performed in 1631 to save his town from destruction (and himself from execution). A large pitcher of wine is passed around the table and each of our group members drinks from it (see me on the photo on thr right). Note the period clothing of the officials.  
    Photos taken during our tour of Rothenburg on a bitterly cold day. They show Rothenburg's famous medieval structures and intact wall (photo on the right).

Our Group poses for a photo (first photo on left). In the dsecond photo from the left I'm photographed standing in front of the medieval structures.

  The photo on the left was taken near Rothenburg's old Church. I'm standing next to my colleague Jochen Elsen, his then-time girlfriend from Keny Kati, who is now his wife, and Dorothea Postler, who is crouching on the right.

The two photos on the right were taken in Rothenburg's old allees. 



The photographs below were taken by me at Rothenburg's famous Museum of Medieval Criminal History.

  In the photo on the left I'm standing in front of the entrance to the Museum. In the first photo on the right I'm posing with the Museum's "Iron Maiden" which was an instrument devised in Prussia. The photo on the extreme right shows a chair studded with nails on which victims were placed as a means of their torture. Ouchhh ...       
  The three photos in this row are devoted to Schandmasken or "Shame Masks". People guilty of minor offenses in medieval times, such as women who gossiped too much or men who got drunk in public too often, were forced to wear these masks in public places. Some of the masks are hilarious (see photo of the ogre mask on extreme right) and it must have been quite a sight to be seen wearing them in public.    
    Here we come to the Executioner! In medieval times the Executioner was a person treated by the populace with both awe and fear. It was also a profession which was usually passed on from generation to generation. These photos show the Executioner's cape, sword and mask. The Executioner's approach must have been a terrible sight for the hapless victim.    
  Wheels like the ones in the photo on the left were used in medieval Europe (and in some places well into the 19th century) the hoist the bodies of the condemned person onto a pole where they were left dangling until they died and rotted. Before being hoisted, the condemned persons limbs and bones were broken by the Executioner with clubs. It was one of the most painful and time-consuming ways to die.

The photo on the right shows a a replica of the imperial insignia.

  The cage suspended by the wooden beam in the photo on the left was used to punish fraudsters (often shopkeepers) by suspending them in water for a short period of time before it was pulled up.

The instrument in the two photos on the left is the famous pillory where offenders were displayed in public places to be mocked at by the populace. In these photos you see me pilloried for traffic offences and offences against the environment that I committed :=)

  Another photo of the main square in Rothenburg ob der Taube showing the Town Hall. A large crowd is mulling about the square. This photo was taken sometime around the Christmas season.

The photo on the left shows a cobbled street with one of Rothenburg's medieval towers visible in the background. Ohh, what's that I'm holding in my minds?




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