Of all the cities on my Christmas Market trip, the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber. It is renowned and praised for its Old Europe medieval character wherever you research it. When I planned the trip, all of the other cities were inserted as waypoints in-between Berlin and Rothenburg. It is not an easy place to get to without a car and requires several train connections from major German cities. It sits geographically between Nuremberg and Wurzburg and therefore those two cities became dots on the route to get me to and from Rothenburg and Berlin. That is not to take anything away from Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Wurzburg, but Rothenburg was the main goal.
The first picture I ever took of Rothenburg was approaching one the city towers, Markusturm while walking from the train station. There was no doubt in my mind that the city would be worth the hype.
So what makes any medieval city so well-preserved? Americans are generally in awe of Europe and one of the reasons is that there is an impression that everything you see has been around longer than the United States has existed. Well after living here in Europe for more than seven years, you start to see the flaws in that thinking. There are things that are old and things that are made to look old. There is both authenticity and smoke and mirrors in everything you see in Europe. And that is why a local guide is often a great way to spend a couple hours getting underneath the facade of a European city and seeing its true face. And there may not be a better local guide in all of Europe than the one that gives a nightly walking tour of Rothenburg. The Nightwatchman.
The Nightwatchman, Hans Georg Baumgartner, decked out in full costume including halberd gives an amusing and informative one-hour tour of the city. I have seen his tour twice and for sure the jokes are pretty consistent from one year to the next. But it’s the deadpan delivery with a characteristic lilt in his voice that makes the jokes work. He will inform you of the reason why Rothenburg is so well-preserved (hint: it’s the plague) and the reason why Rothenburg was spared in World War II as well as other quirky trivia about the city.
The fact which stood out the most to me was how even among the Germans, Rothenburg is special. The Nazis idealized the city and referred to it as the “Most German of German Cities.” Obviously today that would not be a legacy to be proud of, but it is definitely a magical place and deserves the praise it gets.
Being a small town, the Christmas Market cannot match that of Nuremberg or Dresden, but the mix of Christmas lights and decorations and the half-timber buildings makes Rothenburg a life-size Kathe Wohlfahrt window display. The best viewpoint of the Christmas Market is the balcony of the Rathaus.
And speaking of Kathe Wohlfahrt, there is a very nice giftshop on the main square selling Kathe Wohlfahrt cuckoo clocks. For years I have been tempted to buy a cuckoo clock but scared away by the sticker prices. Maybe it was the glühwein or just the euphoria of my Christmas spirit, but I finally threw caution to the wind and bought one.
Rothenburg is a walled city perched on the top of a small mountain, hence the “burg” in Rothenburg. It is possible to walk along the walls checking out the surrounding views and there are plenty of cozy lanes to explore. The most famous picture spot is facing the Siebersturm where two lanes converge on the Plönlein.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is definitely the small fairytale village that it is made out to be. It was very difficult narrowing down the pictures for this post. The Christmas Market is small, as the city is small, but it feels more like a part of the city, not just a one-time a year celebration. Rothenburg is in a sense a Christmas market village. Even in the summer time, I imagine that it still feels like Christmas there.