Sunday, August 3, 2008

In Hell

Day 145

When I woke up I got myself together quickly and quietly. I had half a mind to wake up the ROL on purpose, but I´m a better person than her and I decided not to do it.

It took 3 trains and about 3 hours in a drizzle to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg is the only medieval walled city in Europe with no modern buildings inside of the walls. I was already in a state of awe from the ten minute walk to my hotel. Hotel Raidel was just a few dollars more than the cost of a hostel would be, and there are no hostels in the old part of Rothenburg. My guidebook had promised that it would make me feel like I had stepped 500 years back in time. Not only did my guidebook say this, but I recognized the guy who owned the hotel. I tooke me a minute to figure out why. He had been in a Rick Steves show. This would have to wait though, my room wasn´t ready so I just dropped off my stuff.

My stomach was growling, I wanted to have something traditional in a nice square. This didn´t really happen. I was just not in the mood to wander far and I ended up with bratwurst around the corner from my hotel. It was pretty good though.

Rothenburg has a few museums, but the main reason to being here is to check out the town. I spent hours just wandering. Eventually I found the town walls. You can walk on the top of them for almost the entire length. In the walls there were plaques from people who had donated money to the city. One of them was even from New Jersey! It was really amazing to get to see the town at roof level. I think that it should be mandatory for everyone to dress the part when the come here. The clothing and the cars were the biggest distractions from feeling like I had stepped back in time.

I stepped in to a magical Christmas store. They had everything here. I thought that I might by ornaments for my family. Then I saw that most of them were €15 or more. It’s the thought that counts, right?

After wandering for most of the afternoon I grabbed an ice cream and headed back to my hotel. When I was finally able to see my room I knew that my guidebook was right, I had stepped back 500 years. I spent some time reading and just listening to the noises outside of my window. When I closed my eyes and listened to the clopping of the horses I was sure that I had time traveled.

I didn´t want to rest forever though, and decided to explore the trails outside of the city for a bit. The Tauber valley was pretty amazing. I pretty much had the park to myself, it was lovely. By the time I had finished this it was 8pm and time for my tour.

At 8pm the bell rang on the Ratstrinkstube (city council tavern) and on either side of the clock two windows opened up. They portrayed a former mayor of the city drinking beer. In 1631 Catholic troops attacked the city. They were about to destroy everything when the general came up with a challenge on a whim. If someone could drink 3 ¼ liters of wine in one gulp he would leave. The mayor took the challenge and succeeded. This is reenacted a couple of times a year.

I was sort of shocked to see that there were about 250 people waiting for this tour. I had never seen such a huge one before. The night watchman´s tour is quite famous though, I have seen in on every travel show that includes Rothenburg.

When the figures were gone the night watchman appeared. He was a fabulous tour guide. Up until 1920 five watchmen cared for the city. Our guide acted like he had been the watchman since the beginning of the city and that he had knocked off the others for less competition.

During the middle ages Rothenburg was fabulously wealthy. It sat at the crossroads of two trade routs and owned huge amounts of land and sheep. It was a city of wealthy merchants and traders. It wasn´t very clean though, just like all medieval cites. Everyone threw out their garbage in the middle of the streets. The night watchman added that there were no good old days.

When we passed through the oldest city gate, dating from the 12th century, we all admired the new door that had been installed in 1450. The old door was from about 1350.

You might be wondering why Rothenburg never modernized. The answer is the 30 years war. About 13 years into the war Rothenburg was pillaged and lost everything of value except for the buildings. This was despite the fact that Rothenburg had a good fortification system. They fought off the attackers for 3 days. Then the guy in charge of keeping the gun powder save accidentally brought his torch in and blew up the entire tower. This allowed the enemy in. By the time the war was over Rothenburg was very poor with no way to recover.

For the next 250 years nothing happened. The night watchman said that they were very patient, but that it was a very long time. Rothenburg was rediscovered in the 19th century with all of the other romantic ruins in Europe. Tourists came in droves and brought loads of money, the town became wealthy again. At this point of the tour we passed the oldest building in the city, a tavern called In Hell. The cellars dated from the 10th century and the building from the 13th century. He told us that if we were wandering around at night and someone told us to go to hell we should take it as a good suggestions and not an insult.

At the last stop he told us about what happened during WWII. When Nurnburg was bombed the Nazi army retreated to Rothenburg. The allies (the Americans to be exact) wanted to take the city. They did an aerial bombing, but it was cloudy and most of the bombs missed. About 40% of the city was damaged. The next step was to take the city with heavy land artillery. The American who was in charge of this had never been to Rothenburg himself, but his mother had. She had love the city and had bought a painting of it. He didn´t want to destroy the city, therefore he tried to strike a deal with the Nazis. If they would surrender the town then it would not get bombed. The Nazi general happened to be out of town and his next in command decided to surrender the city. This would have been treason for him. However, it was very near the end of the war and he did not see why Rothernburg should be lost. The next morning the Nazi´s moved out and the American´s moved in. Rothernburg was saved.

At the end of the tour everyone had to fight to pay. This guy must be making a huge amount of money. A €4 per person and extra souvenirs to buy he must have made over €1000 for just one hour of work.

I had wanted to check out a beer garden I had found earlier and write in my journal for a bit. The beer garden was very dark though and I needed light to see my journal. In the end I decided to go to hell.

When I had written as much as I could I wandered out of hell and back to the magical streets. There really isn´t another place that has the same sort of magic as Rothenburg.

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