Rothenburg ob der Tauber translates as the Red Fortress above the Tauber River. The red fortress is no longer there. It’s successor castle was destroyed in a 1356 earthquake. It is just a city park. But what remains is an iconic symbol of Germany. Many Americans, who have only seen pictures of Germany, have seen pictures from this classic Bavarian town with its covered surrounding wall.
The castle was first built in 1070 and the city was founded in 1170 with a city center market at St. Jakob’s (St. James) church (built between 1311-1484). The church became a regular pilgrimage stop on the route to St. James in Santiago de Compostela, and the city’s population grew until it was one of the twenty largest in the Holy Roman Empire. The church’s high altar is a magnificent 1504 wood carving by the Wurzburg wood carver Tilman Riemenschneider.
The main square shifted a few blocks in the 16th century to the location of the town hall. There a clock tower celebrates the feat of a mayor who was said to have drunk a prodigious quantity of wine in one draft as part of a bet to save the population of the city. Unfortunately, the City Hall and its clock were hidden by scaffolding for repairs and restoration. It was also unfortunate that we dealt with rain for most of the day.
The catholic Count of Tilly besieged the protestant Lutheran town during the Thirty Years War, easily taking it in 1631 and leaving the town poor and depleted. A few years later, the Black Plague completed the job. The town, now of no particular significance, was preserved in its 17th century state for 21st century tourists.
The Nazis venerated Rothenburg as the most German of German cities. Soldiers were stationed there to defend it. In March 1945, bombs heavily damaged the city but Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy ordered U.S. forces not to use artillery in taking the town. And although ordered by Hitler to defend all cities to the end, the local commander gave it up. The town and its walls were quickly rebuilt with donations from all over the world.
We visited Käthe Wohlfarht’s Christmas Village, possibly the largest Christmas store in the world. It has now become a chain with stores in other towns as well. It was so large and had so many stairways and halls, we wondered if people were ever lost in there at the end of the day.
In 2002, witches were on display everywhere. I bought a little red-headed witch tree ornament and brought it home only to discover when I got it home that the label said the witch’s name was Alice, Alie’s original name. She didn’t seem to mind, but there were no witches available in 2013. That fad has passed.
The store has a museum with many interesting displays. One area that caught my attention showed the wooden towers and toys that are the separate Christmas tradition of the Erzgebirge region of Germany.
After lunch, we just wandered the town. We climbed the wall and walked on it for a while. We took lots of pictures of half-timbered houses and stores. And we took a picture of another now-antique structure, the telephone booth.
When we returned to the ship, I took a quick walk around Schweinfurt. It and Regensburg were the centers of ball-bearing manufacture during World War II. Both cities were effectively leveled to the ground by American forces. In one operation, Schweinfurt was bombed twenty-two times by 2285 aircraft. The industry, however, was dispersed and rebuilt elsewhere.
Today, Schweinfurt is a fairly sterile modern little city. It is clean and a nice representative of modern German life but has little to offer the casual tourist. (I did notice, however, that prices seemed much lower than in the “tourist towns” we had visited.) The most elaborately decorated building I saw was what our guide Marly would have called the “American Embassy.” I took a photo of a local Red Cross vehicle for our Red Cross volunteer friends. The Red Cross in Germany has donors but is more professional.