Germany // Northern Bavaria: Franconia //

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The jewel-like hilltop town of ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER has reason to be grateful for the Peasants’ War of 1525 – in which it allied itself with the rebels – and the Thirty Years’ War that swept across Central Europe to such catastrophic effect a century afterwards. A former free imperial city that had been thriving and prosperous, Rothenburg dwindled to insignificance after these events, its wealth lost to plunder and reparations and its population halved. As a result of this reverse in its fortune, development came to a standstill, leaving the town with the miraculous legacy of perfectly preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings with which it charms visitors today. The twentieth century’s greatest conflict wasn’t so kind: aerial bombardment in March 1945 damaged Rothenburg to an extent that would surprise present-day visitors. After the war, the town’s numerous fans – including many from abroad – rallied round to ensure its reconstruction was swift and successful, and to all but the most hawk-eyed observers there is little visual evidence of the destruction.

Rothenburg lies on the Romantic Road, accessible by rail (change at Steinach) and close to the Ulm–Würzburg stretch of the A7 Autobahn. As such, it’s something of a day-tripper magnet, and the crowds can be oppressive – not only in summer, for the town has an undeniable magic in the weeks leading up to Christmas, too. Yet this is no mere tourist trap: Rothenburg’s beauty is undeniable, its restaurants often cosily inviting and its hotels frequently charming. Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to simply stay overnight, to experience the calm that descends when the shops are closed, the bus tours depart and the crowds have finally thinned.

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