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History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

As I was working with my mom and sister to create our road trip itinerary through Germany and Luxembourg (my dad and toddler were also along on the trip, but they had equal interest in contributing to the trip planning), one of us stumbled across Rothenburg ob der Tauber in a guide book and proposed at least a night's stop.

It didn't take much convincing for the rest of us to agree to a visit to this gorgeous town along the Romantic Road. What's not to love about a fully walled city that dates back to medieval times?

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com
Clearly, Britton loved Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Eating in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

When we arrived late one afternoon, we dropped our stuff off at our hotel (which was located on the outskirts of town) and headed immediately into the historic city center. Night was falling quickly, so my first impression of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was of its tiny, meandering, and dark cobblestone streets. Since we were visiting in late fall--definitely the off season--we didn't see anyone else in the walled city until we arrived at the Marktplatz, or main square. In so many ways, wandering those quiet streets was surreal, and, if it hadn't been for the electric lights in front of many of the homes, I easily could've believed that we'd fallen backwards through time to Rothenburg's origins.

That night, my dad and I were on the hunt for some German food because, obviously, we were in Germany. My mom, sister, and daughter, on the other hand, were a bit confused about where they were in Europe since they refused to join us for schnitzel and spaetzle in favor of a local pizza place. Since my dad and I wanted a comfortable, laid back place with good food, we walked along one of the roads that shoots off from the main square, our stomachs rumbling.

We found one place that looked good and wandered in (called the Baumeisterhaus), only to find it packed with Japanese tourists (who also seemed to like traveling in the off-season since we ran into large tour groups everywhere). Not to be deterred by fellow diners when my stomach is talking to me, I told my dad that I didn't mind eating there. After waiting a minute or so to be seated, we were led through the light-filled boisterous atmosphere of the front dining room to a dark, lonely one in the back.

My dad and I shed our coats, looked at the menus, and waited. And waited. And waited. After nearly 15 minutes of sitting completely alone in the back corner of what seemed like a forgotten dining room, we decided that we were too hungry to wait around for the waiters to remember us. When we got up to leave, we told the waiters goodbye, and not one of them even asked why we were leaving. So much for good service. (I was very hangry at this time and just wanted something to eat!)

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

Desperate for dinner at this point, we were prepared to eat wherever we could find. Zum Schwan (located at Obere Smiedegasse 15, just down from the restaurant with the not-so-stellar service) was the answer to our food prayers. It's nothing fancy, but it was exactly what we wanted.

When we sat down, I practiced how to order a few times with my dad (when speaking a foreign language, I have to build up my confidence before butchering it) and, when our waitress came over, I told her in my carefully rehearsed--and very bad--German what we wanted.

"Sure thing!" She said in perfect English. It turns out that she was from Scotland, but loved Rothenburg so much that she just stayed. The delicious beer was, according to her, not an insignificant part of her decision to remain. After trying a local draft, I had to agree--both my dad and I thought it was some of the best beer we'd ever drunk. (Silly me didn't even write the name down. Alas.)

After filling our bellies with good beer and simple but hardy wiener schnitzel and Fränkische Cordon Bleu, my dad and I wandered back to the main square to meet up with the rest of the family. On the way, I caught sight of these softball sized dessert balls covered in chocolate, coconut, and powdered sugar. I was full, but not that full! That was my first introduction to the classic Rothenburg ob der Tauber dessert: the schneeballen.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com
Pretzels, schneeballen, and German pastries: carb overload (aka a little piece of heaven)
Schneeballen aren't super sweet and are made from strips of thin, shortbread-like pastry. My favorite one was filled with marzipan and dunked in dark chocolate. Yum.

Sightseeing in the City

The next day, we headed back into the walled city to do some more exploring.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

Rothenburg's biggest attraction is itself, and you'd be amiss not to allow time just to wander among the cute streets. Some of the houses were crammed up against one another and/or the outer wall, but I guess that's the price you pay to live in such a historic place.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com
If hobbits left the Shire for Deutschland, this is probably where they'd live.
In the daylight, the immense span of Rothenburg's history became apparent: we visited the original 14th century St. Jakobskirche (or, St. Jacob's Church).

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

One interesting aspect about the church is that it holds a supposed religious relic; there is a very small piece of cloth at the center of the reliquary that is stained (according to tradition) with Jesus' blood. Even if you're not into religious stories/ myths/ traditions, the actual reliquary, which was carved by Würtzburg carver Tilman Riemenschneider at the beginning of the 16th century, is stunning in its detail.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

The wall (which you can walk) predates the church by a century, and is one of the world's best examples of what a fully intact medieval wall looked like.

Before the unification of Germany in 1871, Rothenburg served as a major city in the Mittlefranken region and was where small local lords would come to conduct their business affairs and shop. As a legal center of this region, Rothenburg ob der Tauber was where you'd come for punishment, which were quite gruesome. If you're interested in the more salacious aspects of European legal history, you've got to include a stop at the Kriminalmuseum.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com
My dad and daughter get a taste of the medieval stocks. Britton's probably a little more excited about that fact than the real criminals were!
The museum is three floors of well researched stories, artifacts, and original legal documents. During the medieval period, if you acted up, the consequences were pretty harsh. For example, if you, as the baker, decided to falsely weight your bread, you could be dunked in the river in this metal cage. Let's hope you could hold your breath. If you were a gossip, the powers that be would lock your face in these huge metal masks (usually shaped like animals) and parade you around the town. There's an entire floor devoted to torture, corporal punishment, and ways that deviants could be put to death.

It's not exactly light reading, but it is fascinating--and you'll come away thankful for our current Western legal system, even with all of its flaws.

Because of the unique atmosphere and the rich history, Rothenburg ob der Tauber ended up being one of my family's favorite spots on our Germany and Luxembourg road trip. It's well worth a day and night of your time while in Germany.

History, Schneeballen, and Murder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber | CosmosMariners.com

What to Know Before You Go:

  • If you're staying in the city center, note that the hotels don't have parking available in most cases. Be prepared to haul your suitcases down the cobblestoned streets. 
  • There are several parking lots ringing the outside of the wall. Lot 1 was the most convenient, as it's located at the end of Spitalgasse, one of the main thoroughfares through the historic center. 
  • All of the roads in the walled city are paved with cobblestones, so wear very comfortable, thick soled shoes. My mom had thin soled boots on, and her feet were killing her by the end of our time there. 
  • Make sure to try a schneeballen! It's made of thin pieces of pastry wrapped around each other into a ball shape and then dunked in chocolate or powdered sugar. You can also get them filled with marzipan, almond silvers, chocolate, or liqueurs. They're not overly sweet despite the sugary fillings and coatings. 
  • Every hour, there's a little puppet performance in the Marktplatz that coordinates with the chiming of the clock. After seeing the one in the Marienplatz in Munich, this one is lackluster at best. Spend your time in Rothenburg soaking up the culture elsewhere!
Have you been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber? What part of the historic city would be most interesting to you?

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