The Red Fortress above the Tauber
In German, it translates to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This well-preserved medieval old town is situated within Bavaria Germany and earned itself such a name due to its location upon a plateau overlooking River Tauber. If you find the name a mouthful, I do believe that simply calling it ‘Rotherburg’ should point to the same quaint town once hailed as ‘the most German of German towns’.
I first learnt of this incredibly enchanting and cute (yes, cute because the architecture of the houses in Rothenburg reminds me so, so much of Disneyland) medieval town through a junior who made a day trip to Rothenburg as part of her grand tour of Europe with some friends. Therein began my obsession with the town. I knew I had to visit it at least once in this lifetime. In fact Rothenburg, together with Nuremberg, were the two locations I refused to remove from the itinerary in the wake of repeated revisions (requested by the mister) to make the trip route more sensible.
How We Got There
Rothenburg was the first destination of our 24-day winter vacation. Right after landing at Frankfurt Rhein Terminal 1, we headed straight for Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Fbf – long distance railway station) to catch our train to Rothenburg. According to DB Bahn, we had to make 2 changes along the way to get to our destination, at Würzburg Hauptbahnhof (Hbf – central railway station of a larger city) and Steinach Bahnhof (Bf – railway station). Writing this post 8 months after this vacation meant that I have very little recollection of the transfers we made. Which is not a bad thing, I reckon. In the very least it meant that they went rather uneventful.
The Germans have always been known for their world-class transport systems, in particular their train system. Up till now, I would say I have the most positive experience on the German trains (but I have to qualify that we were travelling first class with our Eurail Passes, most of the time). The Japanese locomotives come in a very close second.
Like clockwork, we arrived at Rothenburg train station, ten minutes to 11 o’clock. Based on information I gathered on the internet, the guesthouse we would be putting up at is located 800 m away from the station. It would have been a walkable distance, sans our luggage and jet-lagged bodies. The mister made a quick decision; we hailed a cab to bring us to our guesthouse. It was a mere 5-minute drive away and the best-spent 5€ of the trip.
Where We Stayed
As usual, I made use of TripAdvisor extensively when deciding on our accommodation. Using location, price and reviews as as indicator, Gasthof Goldener Greifen was decided upon. The town square where the modest-sized Christmas Market was set up is almost literally at the guesthouse’s doorstep. And we got a large double room at quite a steal – 86€ a night.
Room 20 was a very spacious double room indeed! There were two distinct sections in the room itself: the bedroom and the living area. The room was clean and the bed sheets fresh. Although it also came equipped with the heater as a standard installation, we didn’t utilise it at all. Instead, we kept the windows open to allow the crisp and cold winter air in to permeate the whole room. This is the way we like to ventilate our rooms during our travels in winter.
The bathroom was small and functional, equipped with hot water. Admittedly we did find the shower compartment (there was only standing space) somewhat too cramp for comfort, but we only had to go into the shower twice, maybe thrice daily; we could most certainly live with that for two nights.
Gasthof Greifen is a charming and quaint guesthouse with a very strong medieval flavour to it. The guesthouse owners also run a restaurant below the guesthouse and it serves some delectable traditional German fare. We made the right choice of dining at the restaurant for one of our meals, and had first taste experience of Bavarian hospitality. It shouldn’t have surprised us given its popularity in the town: the restaurant was always filled with diners every single time we passed by to leave the guesthouse premise.
What We Did
After settling in, we refreshed ourselves (it’s been 18 hours since we had a shower), wrapped up like Eskimos, and then bravely stepped out of the guesthouse. I was glad to learn that it wasn’t as cold as I was expecting it to be. Excitedly, I trotted towards the Christmas Market at the town square. My first Christmas Market! The mister’s response was a lot more muted. I should have taken cue from him because Rothernburg Christmas Market was not terribly exciting. What was I expecting? Rothenburg is a small town, and a large Christmas Market just wouldn’t hold.
Though small, the Christmas Market was replete with the usual stalls and activities one would find at any other Christmas Markets in Europe: the Glühwein Stand selling hot wine (served in Glühwein souvenir mugs tourists could bring home with them – or be reimbursed some cash on returning the mugs), sausage stalls, candy stalls, to name a few. Coupled with the gigantic Christmas Tree and the Nativity scene at the heart of market… Christmas Markets are indeed legitimate playgrounds for adults and children alike.
We explored the Christmas Market for a bit before proceeding to visit the the Medieval Crime Museum and the Christmas Museum (entrance fees at 8€ for each adult). The Medieval Crime Museum has a very interesting collection of medieval torture contraptions, decrees pertaining to medieval laws, shame masks etc. We were very entertained by the numerous shame masks for different ‘occasions’ and misdemeanours. Apparently, constant quarrelling with one’s neighbour might also get one into trouble with the law.
Personally I enjoyed the Christmas Museum a little more although it is essentially just another tourist trap. Made me feel like a child again. The authentic high quality glass kugels reminded me much of my late grandma who frequently enlisted my help to dress up her Christmas Tree. And the high-quality Christmas Tree ornaments… oh! I wish I could buy everything, but they don’t come cheap, and it’s not wise to fill our luggage with fragile souvenirs at the start of our long trip.
After visiting the museums and walking along the streets of the charming town, we proceeded to St. Jakob’s Church, a historic Lutheran Church that housed some very important historical relics like the Holy Blood altarpiece and the High Altar. We intended to join a free introduction tour of the church conducted in English so imagine our immense surprise when the guide started speaking in German. We understood not a single word, and therefore quietly left the church after sitting through it for almost 15 minutes.
And found ourselves back at the Christmas Market. By then, it had already turned dark and there were throngs of crowd at the town square. The atmosphere was lively and ‘christmasy’. Just the way I imagined a Christmas Market to be like. We walked through the stalls not so much to window-shop or to buy any food but simply to soak in the festive atmosphere.
Alas, the rain came and wouldn’t let up. Since we were still feeling the effects of crossing 7 time-zones, we decided to settle our dinner quickly (with finger food from the Christmas Market) before returning to the guesthouse to retire early. That meant we had to forgo attending the Night Watchman Tour despite wanting very badly to. The rain was getting too heavy and we didn’t want to fall ill while on the roads.