Shortly before my European trip in the summer of 2000, I called my German friend Pamela who lives in Nuremberg and told her that I plan to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber as my first stop after Frankfurt airport. Pamela and I met a few years ago in one of New York Cityís clubs and weíve kept in touch ever since. For about five minutes I tried to explain to her where Rothenburg ob der Tauber was, trying to pronounce it in several ways. Who knows, maybe in German the name sounds different (like MŁnchen vs. Munich, NŁrnberg vs. Nuremberg). Then I tried to point the place on the map.
After I safely landed in Frankfurt airport, courtesy of Singapore Airlines, I took a train to Wurzburg, where I made a transfer for a train to Steinach, where I made another transfer for a train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is the end of the line (61DM for the whole trip if youíre under 26, I miss these discounts now that I'm older). It actually sounds more complicated that it is in reality as the German rail system is one of the best in Europe. From the station it is a short walk to this well-preserved medieval city without a single modern building. 40% of the city was destroyed during the bombardment in 1945, but it has been remarkably restored with donations of people from all over the world.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber reminded me of Prague. Both cities would be so much more attractive without thousands of tourists that infest their surfaces every summer. Iím talking Disneyland crowds. The good thing about Rothenburg is that unlike Prague many tourists visit it only for a day and go elsewhere at night. (About only 1 out of 4 visitors during the day spends the night in the city.)
Two million visitors per year (American high school bands, Japanese photo-every-second tour groups, hopeless "romantics," etc.) aside, Rothenburg is an interesting place to visit. "Worth Seeing, Worth Knowing" is the cityís motto. I agree, but I would rephrase the "seeing" part. Worth seeing for a day, thatís more like it. For starters, the whole city is walkable in a few hours.
I stayed at the hostel. It is the only hostel in the city and the only HI (Hostelling International) I have ever stayed in. I prefer independent hostels without stupid rules and regulations that HI hostels have (i.e. curfews). In Rothenburg, I simply had no choice. And at midnight the whole place went dead. Not only the hostel went dead, but the city went dead too. There was absolutely nothing going on. A night in Rothenburg is the definition of "nothing." This was Friday night. Weekday nights canít be any worse, I suppose. So, if you plan to visit Rothenburg in the future, donít let the timing affect your plans.
Surprisingly, despite being a major tourist trap, Rothenburg is not as expensive as one would think. For dinner I ate a very tasty Turkish kebab for only 6DM, and the place was just around the corner from the main market square. I was surprised to find the place completely empty. Lonely Planet listed it as one of its inexpensive food options. Usually, if a place is listed in Lonely Planet, itís jammed with English-speaking tourists. Not here. In fact, when I showed the owner the name of his restaurant listed in Lonely Planet, he couldnít believe his eyes. Neither could I when I saw the whole staff gather around my Lonely Planet guidebook expressing their joy and pride. Generally speaking, I find Turkish kebabs a quick and fulfilling meal. And in Germany they seem to be a very good value for the money.
So, Alex, besides sleeping and eating, is there anything else to do in Rothenburg? Yes. And the quick answer is walking and looking around. Rothenburgís cobbled streets, picturesque old houses, towered walls are worth seeing and discovering. After dinner I took a night watchmanís tour. Itís a daily 1-hour tour, which starts at 8pm. It is quite interesting and entertaining (obviously in English). Certainly worth 6DM. After the tour I climbed up the stairs to the towered wall and circled the city. (This would be an awesome place to play paintball.) A real fortified wall surrounding the whole city. It felt like someone let me inside the fortress and forgot to charge the entrance fee, and also forgot to inform me about the hours of operation and rules and regulations. I loved it.
Even though there are no nightly activities, I guess there is something about being in Rothenburg when itís all dark and quiet. I think itís worth leaving the 21st century for one night to spend a little time roaming the streets of this medieval city.
The city wall Main Market Square--tourist galore