ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY, August 10, 2019 — Each year, on the first weekend in September, the medieval village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber celebrates the Imperial City Festival where groups from different epochs of the city’s history come together.
Situated on a plateau overlooking the River Tauber, Rothenburg’s well-preserved medieval architecture, considered by many as the best in Germany, makes it an idyllic setting for the festival.
As part of the famed Romantik Road, which begins in Wurzburg where it wends a serpentine path through many of Germany’s most picturesque villages, Rothenburg o.d.t. became a Free Imperial City in the late Middle Ages until 1803.
The name “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” is German for “Red fortress above the Tauber”. The name “Rothenburg”, itself, is believed to be derived from the German words rot (red) and burg (medieval fortified settlement), referring to the red color of the roofs of the houses overlooking the river.
Once you experience Rothenburg for yourself, there should be no doubt about the origin of its name.
Nowhere else will you find such an eclectic wealth of original buildings dating from the Middle Ages featuring the secluded squares and tucked-away corners of the old quarter. Here towers, taverns and town gates alternate with fountains, fortifications and former storehouses.
Add to the mix the colorful array of costumes and traditional pageantry during the Imperial City Festival and you have the ultimate blend of “travel for travel’s sake” set amid natural surroundings. Who cares whether the individual eras of history intertwine? This is jubilee celebrating centuries of German culture.
According to legend, in 1631, during the Thirty Years’ War, Rothenburg was captured by General Tilly of the Catholic militia. In desperation, local officials offered him a tankard that held more than three liters of wine, roughly three quarts as a peace offering.
Tilly, who intended to burn down the town, showed clemency and decreed that he would spare Rothenburg if anyone could empty the vessel in one steady gulp.
To everyone’s surprise, a former mayor, Georg Nusch, came forward and met the challenge. Suitably impressed, Tilly kept his word and Rothenburg survived. No one knows for certain whether the story is true but, no matter, it only adds to the romantic allure of Rothenburg’s historical ambiance.
The victory was short-lived however. Following the winter, when the soldiers left, the town fell upon hard times due to an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1634. Many townspeople died, and without money or power, Rothenburg stopped growing.
Over time, the result became a blessing, because with no financial resources for growth, the 17th century architecture was preserved in the state of perpetual history from which it thrives today.
As such, Rothenburg evolved into a town that, for many Germans during the mid-1930’s, represented the epitome of the German “Home Town” and all that was quintessentially German. Rothenburg’s reputation became that of being “the most German of German towns.”
With German soldiers defending Rothenburg in March 1945, 16 planes bombed the city, destroying more than 300 houses, six public buildings, nine watchtowers, over 2,000 feet of the city wall and killing 37 people.
When John J. McCloy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War who was aware of the historic importance and beauty of Rothenburg, heard the news, he ordered US Army General Jacob L. Devers not to use artillery in capturing the city.
Thus the “cat-like” lives of Rothenburg once again survived near ruin, and today it remains one of Germany’s top travel attractions.
Among the favorite places to visit is the Rathaus (town hall). It’s s a notable renaissance building, and its tower is one of the only accessible towers in the town of Rothenburg.
As would be expected, many stores and hotels catering to tourists are clustered around Town Hall Square and along several major streets.
A favorite museum is the Criminal Museum, containing various punishment and torture devices used during the Middle Ages, including a dunking stool.
Culturally, Rothenburg was the inspiration for the village in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. It was also the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in the 1968 family movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. More recently, filming was done in Rothenburg for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011).
Foodwise, try the local pastry called Schneeball, deep-fried dough shaped like a snowball and covered in either confectioner’s sugar or chocolate.
It doesn’t really matter where you go in Rothenburg because new and wonderful sights await at every turn. And whichever you choose to visit, there’s always a cozy inn waiting afterwards in which you can satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst.
If you happen to be in Rothenburg for the Imperial City Festival so much the better. Best of all the celebration is free.
Keep in mind that one of the best things you can do in Rothenburg is to get lost. Don’t worry, the village is small, you’ll always find your way back. After all, it’s a fairy tale village. Worst case scenario, just follow the bread crumbs.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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