Sunday, February 19, 2006

Going Medieval in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Our walking club took their annual trip over the weekend to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is along Germany's Romantic Road. From where we live, it's anywhere from a 4.5 to 6.5 hour drive, depending on traffic. Our club hired two 9 passenger vans, so we met up at 4 pm Friday afternoon at the car rental shop on base and loaded our luggage and ourselves into the van to begin our journey. Lance and I sat in the back of our van and we were the only 2 Americans among Canadians. We all got along well and the trip was pleasant enough, despite the wind and rain we had when we left. As we drove further into Germany, the weather became much nicer. About 2.5 hours into the trip, we stopped at roadside rest for snacks and a bathroom break. Our drive took us through/past Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, and Wuerzburg.

We arrived in Rothenburg sometime around 10:30 or so (we hit several traffic jams along the way), and stopped at an Aral station to ask for directions to our hotel. Our hotel - Gasthaus zum Schmölzer - is inside the Altstadt, or the Old Town, which is enclosed inside a giant medieval city wall. We found the hotel without much of a problem, located on a quiet cobblestone street. The owner of the hotel, Herr Hofmann, directed our group to another building nearby on another quiet cobblestone lane. That building, known as Pension Hofmann, is a part of Gasthaus zum Schmölzer, and that was where we were staying. Lance and I were handed a skeleton key with room 7 on it, and we climbed up 2 flights of spiral steps to our room.

Our room was small but cozy, with wood paneling on one wall, decorated with sketches of local sights and Renaissance and 18th century era portraits. We had down pillows and comforters. There were two single beds pushed together. We had a private WC with a small shower was tight quarters, but clean and cozy, and the room was very cheap with free breakfast every morning. Lance immediately checked on the television and we found that all the channels were in German (typically we get BBC World or CNN World), so he settled on Eurosport to watch the Olympics, while I settled in with a book. We didn't have a clock or a phone in the room, so we asked our new Canadian friends across the hall if they would rap on our door at 7 am. One of them had a cellphone with an alarm (I have one on my cellphone too, but I found that my cellphone battery was dead). We settled in for the night and I was soon asleep in the very cozy, comfortable bed.

At 7 am, there was the knock on our door, but I was already awake. The day started out cold and wet. We walked down the street to the main hotel for our breakfast - brotchen, cold cuts, cheese, hard boiled eggs, juice and tea. Lance and I weren't scheduled to do our volksmarch until the afternoon, but most of the group elected to do a morning walk as well, so we followed them to the start hall after breakfast so we knew where to go when our walk started. As we got there, the weather got worse and worse. And Lance and I were walking back to the hotel, it started to snow. We were going to spend the morning wandering around near the markt, but with the weather looking bad, we decided to stay in our room awhile to see if it might improve. I got so cozy that I fell asleep for about half an hour, and when I woke up, all precipitation had stopped. So Lance and I bundled up and made our way outside, where I decided to just walk straight to the start hall to wait for our walk to begin. The start hall is a lively place full of crowds, live music, and free flowing beer. There are always interesting characters there. We saw several men in lederhosen walking about.

After waiting some time for members of our club to get back for the afternoon walk, they announced the start of the Old Town Walk, and we took off. During the wait, we met some other Americans (there were a lot there) and got to pet some dogs. The afternoon walk was 11 kilometers, but I actually think it was much more than that. The weather was beautiful for the most part...we only got spit on a little bit about 3/4 of the way through the walk.

Much of the walk was on the outside of the Old Town, around the perimeter of the wall. Occasionally, we would be directed into the city, only to leave it again. We got nice views of the valley below.

Once we got inside town, I was instantly charmed. The buildings were colorful and beckoning us to slow down and look around. We made several detours for souvenirs on our way. I especially liked the Käthe Wohlfahrt store - the world famous German Christmas store. I think the one in Rothenburg is the original, and it was absolutely GIGANTIC. It was like walking into Santa's workshop. The Christmas displays were breathtaking. I managed to get some pictures of a cute animated display right inside the entrance, but beyond that, no pictures were allowed. Lance and I were walking through the store, looking for a Rothenburg Christmas ornament to add to our collection of ornaments that we've purchased on our travels. We finally found one - an exquisite handpainted glass one that will look wonderful alongside our ornaments from Paris, Holland, Brugge, London, etc.

We were in the Markt (town square) at 3, and our walking companions mentioned that the astronomical clock at the Rathaus had a little show at the top of every hour. So we watched the little windows on either side of the clock open up, and two medieval figures appeared in the windows. One was drinking beer, the other wine.

We finished our walk around 4 - roughly a four hour journey, and we got a really good look at most of the city, so Lance and I were pretty satisfied. We went back to the start hall, got our walking books stamped, and picked up a souvenir beer mug that we ordered that has a painting of Rothenburg's town square on it. Lance and I were pretty worn out, so we decided to go back to the hotel and freshen up, agreeing to meet most of our group for dinner at the main hotel at 6:30.

So back to our room for a nap and a shower. At 6:30, we walked to the main hotel. Lance ordered pork schnitzel with spaetzle (German noodles) and one of the regional Pilsners. I ordered jagerbraten (roast beef with mushroom sauce) with knodel on the side (potato/flour dumplings) and a nice Kabinett wine. The food was very good. I am not a fan of the knodel though, I must admit. It was very sticky and bland. I wish I had gotten the spaetzle.

Our dinner ran a couple of hours, so we got back to the hotel room and watched the Olympics. I was still exhausted, so I fell asleep pretty early. I slept really well, only being awakened by a few drunk guys singing on their way home from a bar.

We breakfasted at 8 this morning, and by 9, we were loaded up in the vans and on the road again. This time, it only took us a little over 4 hours to get home.

It was a nice weekend - way too short, but a nice change of scenery, which I badly needed. I fell in love with Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and I hope I get to go back. Before I moved to Germany, there was a certain way that I pictured it. Rothenburg is what I pictured. I'm just glad that there is an actual place in Germany that lives up to my imagination.