Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Half-timbered Rothenburg is the most popular stop on Southern Germany's Romantic Road

Plönlein, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg guide
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one the best-preserved medieval cities in Germany, one of the prettiest towns on the Romantic Road—and undoubtedly the most heavily visited stop of the Romantischestrasse.

It's a tangle of half-timbered gingerbread houses, rambling city ramparts, gabled roofs, and cobbled streets.

Rothenburg remains a picturesque sight and a highly recommended stop depsite the log jam of tourists in summer, the giant tour buses lumbering across the otherwise perfect Marktplatz square, and the glut of gift shops stuffed with Bavarian souvenirs and countless pyramids of Schneeballen (crunchy pastry strips crumpled into softball-sized balls and dusted with sugar or icing).

The sights of Rothenburg

The Rathaus (Town Hall) of Rothenburg
The Rathaus (Town Hall) of Rothenburg.

City Hall

You can get a view across the city from the tower of the Gothic/Renaissance Rathaus on the central Marktplatz square.

The tower is open Par–Oct daily 9:30am–12:30pm and 1–5pm; Nov and Jan–Mar Sat–Sun noon–3pm; Dec daily 10:30am–2pm and 2:30–6pm (Sat to 8pm). Marktplatz; tel. +49-(0)9861/404-177. (Adm)

The Marktplatz and the clock show

Ultimate drinking contest

When a Catholic army threatened to level Rothenburg during the Thirty Years War in the 17th-century, a retired mayor named Nusch saved the day in true Bavarian style.

The army's General Tilly agreed he would spare the town if any Rothenburger could drain a three-liter mug of wine in one gulp.

To Tilly's surprise, Nusch proved up to the challenge—although reportedly our hero did sleep straight through the next three days.

In addition to the mechanical puppet in the town hall clock, the event is re-enacted live on the second weekend of September.

You'll notice, near the top of every hour, throngs of tourists showing up in the Marktplatz to stare up at the Rathaus's clock tower, waiting to watch the world's most boring mechanical clock show.

A little door swings open in the clock face, a puppet pops out and drinks from a giant beer stein... and it's over.

Far more interesting than the Glockenspeil is the legend behind this odd little tableau (see the box to the right).

The postcard shot

The most photographed bit of Rothenburg (the picture at the top of this page) is the Plönlein a fork in the road at the south end of town where Spitalgasse, the main road, is split in two by a half-timbered house and both branches run under city gates just beyond.

The city walls

The city walls of Rothenburg
The city walls of Rothenburg. (Photo by Weners)
Keep following the main branch of Spitalgasse to the left to reach Spitaltor, (tor means "tower") one of the towers in the city's very impressive walls.

At many points along this medieval circuit surrounding the city, you can climb up to its wooden ramparts and stroll around the city 30 feet up. From up here you get views across nearby rooftops and can peer through arrow slits to the countryside beyond.

The most popular and rewarding walk along the walls starts at Spitaltor and winds counterclockwise all the way to Klingentor on the northern end of town (the walk takes a half-hour, including a few dozen pauses to snap photographs).

Halfway around you can climb up the eastern Rödertor tower for even better views.

St. Jakobskirche

The Tilman Riemenschneider High Altarpiece in St. Jokobskirche, Rothenburg
The Tilman Riemenschneider altarpiece in St. Jokobskirche, Rothenburg.
St. Jakobskirche church has a wooden altar (1499 to 1505) carved by late Gothic master Tilman Riemenschneider.

The church is open Apr–Oct 9am–5:15pm; Nov and Jan–Mar 10am–noon and 2–4pm;Dec 10am–4:45pm. Klostergasse 15; tel. +49-(0)9861/700-620. (Adm)

The city museum

The Reichsstadtmuseum, installed in a 13th-century convent, contains a mishmash of artifacts from prehistory to the middle ages: paintings, furniture, objects from the city's old Jewish population, and one of those three-liter wine mugs.

It is open daily: Apr–Oct 10am–5pm, Nov–Mar 1–4pm. Klosterhof 5; tel. +49-(0)9861/939-043; (Adm)

Torture instruments at the Medieval Crime Museum

Nasty leg-crushers in the Rothenburg Kriminal Museum
Nasty leg-crushers in the Rothenburg Kriminal Museum
The Kriminalmuseum chronicles the laws of Germany from the 12th to 19th centuries and emphasizes the punishment aspect.

There are plenty of iron shame masks, chastity belts, spiked chairs, iron maidens, finger-crushing neck violins, and other medieval party favors that were once inflicted upon criminals.

The Kriminal Museum is open daily: May–Oct 10am–6pm; Apr 11am–5pm; Nov, Jan, and Feb 2–4pm; Mar 1–4pm. Burggasse 3–5; tel. +49-(0)9861/5359; (Adm)

Where to eat in Rothenburg

Although very busy and packed with visitors, the Baumeisterhaus just off the Marktplatz is irresistible for a meal if only because of the setting—a 16th-century courtyard under a skylight ringed with ivy-trailing balconies. The Franconian grub is of the rib-sticking, meat-and-potatoes variety. Obere Scmeidgasse 3; tel. +49-(0)9861/94-700;

Where to stay in Rothenburg

Hotel Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister [€] is nothing if not centrally-located, a block from the central Markplatz in a 12th century building on the main drag. It also happens to be comfortable and reasonably priced. Double rooms start at €73. (Kircheplatz 8; tel. +49-(0)9861/9700; Full Story

Hotel Gästehaus Goldener Hirsch, Rothenburg, GermanyHistorik Hotel Goldener Hirsch Rothenburg [€] has been a family-run inn at the heart of Rothenburg—right by the much-photographed Plönlein intersection—for more than 535 years. The rooms are pretty plain, but comfy, with rates that offically start at €103—though you can get a double room online for as little as €75. Untere Schmiedgasse 25; tel. +49-(0)874-990, Full Story

Historik Hotel Gotisches Haus garni, Rothenburg, GermanyHistorik Hotel Gotisches Haus garni [€] has more quirky Olde Worldliness to its decor—lots of timbered ceilings and plaster scraped away to expose old brick or stone walls—than most other hotels in the historic center. Upper-floor quarters have more light, but less room thanks to the steeply sloping ceilings. You also get a lot—including four-star amenities—for your euro. Doubles start at €88. Herrngasse 13; tel. +49-(0)9861/2020; Full Story

A room at the Hotel Herrnschloesschen, Rothenberg, GermanyHotel Herrnschloesschen [€€] is a brand-new (summer 2010) Bavarian boutique inn, just eight wonderfully decorated, vintage-meets-modern rooms in a medieval buidling with a baroque garden on a less trammeled street of the historic center. Doubles start at €195. Herrngasse 20; tel. +49-(0)9861/873-890; Full Story

Hotel Altfraenkische Weinstube, Rothenburg, GermanyHotel Altfraenkische Weinstube [€] is the budgeteer's choice: a typical Bavarian small hotel—just six rooms above a "wine cellar" restaurant behind an ivy-clad facade—on a quiet sidestreet at the edge of the historic center with wonderfully underpriced rooms: Doubles start at €82. Klosterhof 7; tel. +49-(0)9861/6406, . Full Story

» More hotels in Rothenburg

Continuing on the Romantic Road

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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