I’ve been hearing about this place for years. “Ya gotta come; the beautiful magical city is a dream come true.” At some point, hype bleeds into “white noise”, and attention turns elsewhere.
The day arrives when the timing is a great fit, when the city becomes the first stop on a four-week long tour of the country. I’m hitting a seasonal “sweet spot” in between the summer surge and the Christmas crush. There are far fewer tour buses and day-trippers, but even in mid-November, plenty of visitors are spellbound by the visual beauty. Freed by the weight of the crowds, the feeling collectively from Rothenburg ob der Tauber and her residents feels a lot like a big exhalation of relief.
Directly translated as “red castle over the Tauber (river)”, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is located in the Middle Franconia (Mittelfranken) region of Bavaria. The city lies at the junction of the Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road) and the Burgenstrasse (Castle Road).
From the first community established in nearby Detwang in 960 AD/CE, the Hohenstaufen “Castrum Imperiale” (Imperial Castle) in 1142, a new settlement adjacent to the castle recognized as “Civitas” in 1241, the young city’s Free Imperial City status claimed in 1274, the Reformation’s arrival in 1544, the Thirty Years’ War siege and forced occupation in the early 17th-century, an independent imperial city forced to join the Bavarian Kingdom in 1802, Allied bombing destroyed a large chunk of the old town in World War Two, to subsequent post-war reconstruction and repair, the rich and tumultuous history together with the half-timbered red-roofed houses, cobblestone streets, and the stone wall perimeter make Rothenburg ob der Tauber one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe.
What follows is a photographic and walking tour of the city, with 20 spots indicated in the map below. Each numbered spot is accompanied by corresponding photographs below; click on the “arrow-window” icon in the upper left corner of the map below for additional details.
1. Marktplatz: Rathaus, Ratstrinkstube (Market Square: Town Hall, Councillors’ Tavern)
Anchoring the west side of Marktplatz (Market Square), the city’s Rathaus (Town Hall) consists of two parts: the west Gothic part goes back to the 14th-century and the east Renaissance construction goes back to 1572. The gallery arcade facing Market Square was added in 1681. At the north side of the square is the Ratstrinkstube (Councillors’ Tavern) built around 1466, with the astronomical clock added in 1683, and figures for the legendary “Meistertrunk” (Master Draught) scene added in 1910. The city’s Tourist Information Office resides in this building.
2. Herrngasse (Nobles’ Lane)
Over centuries, the street was once the preferred area where wealthy families resided in their big patrician houses. Constructed in 1615, the Herrnbrunnen (Nobles’ Fountain) was the former market fountain where livestock markets once stood in proximity. The Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church) is the one of the city’s oldest churches, inaugurated in 1309 and built in the early Gothic style. Near Marktplatz, the Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum (German Christmas Museum) is inside the Käthe Wohlfahrt Weihnachtsdorf (Christmas Village).
3. Burgtor (Castle Gate)
The tower leading to the former castle was completed around 1470 with adjacent guard houses added at the end of the 16th-century. An earthquake in 1356 destroyed the Hohenstaufen Castle which was never rebuilt; the rubble was used as subsequent building material. All that’s left are the castle gate and the castle gardens.
4. Burggarten: Taubertalblick (Castle Garden: Tauber valley view)
The castle garden is a beautiful park which looks over the Tauber river valley. The garden is at the site of the former Hohenstaufen Castle built in 1142 and destroyed in 1356. At the west end of the garden is a view below of the Topplerschlösschen (Toppler’s Manor House, 1388) owned by Lord Mayor Heinrich Toppler and put into use as Toppler’s weekend house and defensive tower to repel possible invaders. The building now houses furniture collection from the 16th to the 19th-century.
5. Burggarten: Stadtblick (Castle Garden: city view)
At the south end of the garden, the view is south-southeast to the city. At centre-right next to the Tauber river are the Herrnmühle and Kobolzellerkirche (Nobles’ Mill, Kobolzeller Church). The Herrenmühle site first began as a grain mill in 1340; over centuries functionality expanded to oil press and timber mill. Buildings in use now as guesthouse for visitors were built in 1760. First construction of the Kobozeller Church dates back to 1472. Along the way to the next location, you’ll come across the Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum (Medieval Crime Museum).
6. Plönlein (Little Square)
The name for this small flat square is derived from the Latin word “plānum” or “level ground”. The south facing shot (below) at Plönlein generally makes for one of the best known settings and photographs for Rothenburg ob der Tauber. But this photo is a north facing shot with the late-autumn afternoon sun behind me to the south, and is equally representative of half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets in a medieval setting which gives the city its “romantic” description.
7. Siebersturm (Siebers Tower)
Siebers Tower was built in 1385 as part of the “new” defenses (second or outer wall) to fortify the southern entry into the city. From here south along Spitalgasse is the hospital (“Spital”) quarter which began in 1280 and was subsequently included with the fortifications when Spitaltor and Spitalbastei were built. The main hospital in the hospital quarter was built in the late 16th-century.
8. Spitalbastei (Spital Bastion)
The Spitalbastei (Infimary/hospital bastion) is one of the largest and most extensive fortifications to the city wall. Construction began in 1542, with the outer gate built in 1586, and additional defense structures added in 1616. The two inner courtyard fortifications are in the form of a figure-eight. The outer gate built in 1586 bears the Latin inscription: “Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus” (peace to all who enter, fare well to all who leave).
9. Spitaltor (Spital Gate)
The Spital Gate is one of my gates from which the city wall can be accessed, climbed, and walked, up high along its perimeter. The south perimeter is particularly vulnerable to the flat terrain along the right/east flank of the Tauber, which goes some way to explain the extent of the defensive measures built here.
10. Auf der Stadtmauer (On the city wall)
As the medieval city expanded, a second wall was built as the outer defensive perimeter beginning in the middle of the 14th-century. Walking along this city wall provides extensive views of the red roofs, timbered houses, sheltered side streets and alleys, and the prominent skyline with St. Jacob’s Church in the distance; quiet contemplation is highly recommended at daybreak and dawn.
11. Gerlachschmiede, Rödertor (Old Forge, Röder Gate)
The pretty triangular half-timbered house with the gable, windows, and the crowned serpent coat-of-arms once belonged to the blacksmith, Georg Gerlach. Destroyed in the Second World War, the building was reconstructed in 1951 to resume function as a forge until 1967. The Röder Gate goes back to the 14th-century and includes one of the few lookout towers on the medieval wall.
12. Paradeisgasse (Paradise Alley)
“Geniesse, was Dir Gott beschieden,
Entbehre gern, was Du nicht hast,
Ein jeder Stand hat seinen Frieden,
Ein jeder Stand auch seine Last.”
From the poem “Zufriedenheit mit seinem Zustande”, in the book “Geistliche Oden und Lieder”, Leipzig (Weidmann) 1757, written by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (*1715-1769+).
13. Am Platzl (At the little square)
This tiny square marks the former boundary to the Jewish community: to the left is Judengasse, and the road to the right leads to Schrannenplatz (grain storage and animal farms) which itself was also the site of the former Jewish cemetery.
14. Pulverturm, Schrannenplatz (Powder Tower, Grain Trade Square)
At the northern perimeter to the Old Town, the “outer” medieval wall runs east-west. Shown at left is the Pulverturm (Powder Tower) which was used to store the town’s supply of gunpowder. Built around 1408, the tower was originally known as Fürbringer Tower, but the name was eventually transferred to a smaller 16th-century tower to the west near Klingentor.
15. St. Wolfgangskirche (St. Wolfgang Church)
Also called the Shepherds’ Church to honour its patron saint, St. Wolfgang Church was built in the late 15th-century in late-Gothic style. Constructed behind the Klingen Tower, the church is also known as the Wehrkirche (defense church) by its inclusion within the city’s fortifications, complete with cannon platforms and underground caverns for storing ammunition.
16. Klingentor (Klingen Gate)
To bolster the northern flank, the 30-meter high Klingen Gate formed part of the extra defence built in the late 16th-century. With the installation of a copper tank, the tower was converted to water storage to serve the fresh water needs of the city’s populace.
17. Klingengasse 9 (Klingen Alley 9)
“Du findest für den Leib,
das Brot in diesem Haus.
Das Brot für deine Seele,
teilt Gottes Wort dir aus.”
Built around 1501 and housing a bakery until 1966, the Feuerleinserker (“Feuerleins Oriel”) building is particularly well photographed at the corner of Klingengasse and Küblersgässchen, particularly in spring and summer with flowers in full bloom. I’ve chosen to photograph the Klingengasse side of the building with the inscription.
18. Reichsstadtmuseum (Imperial City Museum)
The Imperial City Museum is housed in a former Dominican convent founded in 1258. With the 14th-century nunnery kitchen left almost intact, the museum also contains exhibits about the art and culture for the former imperial city, including the Rothenburg Passion (1494), archaeological finds, medieval and post-medieval artifacts, as well as an important “Judaica” collection of Jewish historical artifacts.
19. Klostergarten (Convent Garden)
The garden was once a part of the neighbouring former Dominican convent which is now the Imperial City Museum.
20. St. Jakobskirche (St. Jacob/James Church)
With construction of the east end beginning in 1311, this Lutheran church is dedicated to St. Jacob (St. James) and is included on the pilgrim road to the St. James shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Outside the entrance to St. Jakobskirche is the statue of the saint dressed in a pilgrim’s hat with staff in one hand and the scallop shell in the other; he is the patron saint of pilgrims and merchants. The name “Santiago” (Diego) is the Galician version of the Vulgar Latin “Sanctu Iacobu” or “Saint James”.
and back to Marktplatz (Market Square)
After leaving the church you can head back to Marktplatz, where this walking tour began. Alternatively, you can go to the restaurant or tavern of your choice where food and drink you’ve been eyeing all day wait for you.
More on Rothenburg ob der Tauber
• City tourism
• Bavaria, in English
• Germany Travel, in English
• Castle Road (Burgenstrasse), in English
• Cities of Franconia (Fränkische Städte), in English
• Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse), in English
• List of city’s heritage and historical buildings, in German.
• Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (BLfD), Bavarian State Conservation Office.
• ( Bundesland: Bayern, Regierungsbezirk: Mittelfranken, Landkreis: Ansbach )