DAY 14: Wednesday, October 29 (later that day)
One of the most well-preserved towns is Rothenburg, a “free imperial city”. Remember how Trier was under the Archbishop’s thumb? Well, Rothenburg escaped that fate by reporting directly to the HRE (Holy Roman Emperor). From 1150 to 1400 this town was strategically placed to take advantage of the north-south routes (sound familiar?). Then, it lost its place in history and proceeded to fade from view. Ironically, it’s because of lack of funds after its heyday that Rothenburg is now one of Germany’s most-visited sites. Because they couldn’t afford to renovate over the centuries, when they finally got some funds, they reconstructed their old buildings as if the setting was still the Middle Ages.
By the time we found our inn,
parked and dropped our bags, it was time for a major event in town: their glockenspiel to chime. Rothenburg’s clock tower (built in 1466) features two men coming out behind closed shutters and playing out a centuries-old legend.
During the Thirty Years War in 1631, the Catholic army was all set to plunder and pillage the Protestant town. The conquering general, taking the mayor up on the traditional ‘have a drink’, offered the town leader a dare: “if you can drink this entire, three-liter tankard of wine in one gulp, I’ll spare your town.”
Evidently the mayor did just that, and the town was saved. A fun start to a town to which we would love to return.
We had read in Rick Steves’ guidebook that an English Conversation Club met every Wednesday night at Mario’s Altfrankische Weinstube am Klosterhof. Thinking it’d be fun to meet some locals we headed over. Sure enough Wolfgang was holding court, and we were welcomed immediately. Sitting at our end were two other tourists, Laurie and Dennis, and Michaela, a local school teacher.
Among other nuggets of history and local folklore, Wolfgang said Rick Steves visited here many years ago as a young backpacker. Somehow he ended up speaking with a shopkeeper, telling her some of his experiences. She suggested he write them down and make a living doing so. To this day, you can visit the shop now run by the same woman, Anneliesse Friese, with the help of her son and granddaughter. I can just see it now. Soon, there’ll be “Rick Steves slept here” as a mark of distinction.
Meals, beer, and wine later, the night passed too quickly. However, we made a plan to take the highly recommended Night Watchman Tour the next evening with Laurie and Dennis.
DAY 15: Thursday, October 30
Rick Steves does an excellent job of presenting travellers with easy-to-do, self-guided walks around sites of interest, Rothenburg being one. So, up and out that morning we went, taking advantage of the continued summer weather.
On the Market Square sits the Town Hall with old measuring standards attached to the wall. Of course we had to test the accuracy of each one…
Besides the town itself one of the main attractions is a beautiful, wood-carved alter piece by Tilman Riemenschneider. Standing 35 feet high, the carving brings Jesus and his disciples to life in spite being wooden.
Created over five years and completed in 1504, the free-standing alter sits upstairs at the back of the church and showcases the last supper with surrounding events leading to his crucifiction.
One interesting occurrence is the removal of Judas every Easter. Why, I have no idea. And, I also don’t understand why John’s head is in Jesus’ lap. But, I do the know the perfect person to ask.
Downstairs the main alter had the friendly face of Jesus painted on the back, which, seeing it, I’d have put it there, too.
Today the church promotes its sister church in Tanzania.
Next to the pews, a Tanzanian carving is quite impressive and lovely.
Continuing our walk we went by the spot where we had dinner the night before (which was one of our top six meals; matter-of-fact, we’d have to say our two top meals were here, based on food and atmosphere).
We walked through the convent’s garden where poisonous herbs were marked with crosses,
and, we spotted a cat blissfully content in its bed of catnip?
Rothenburg was named for its red castle (destroyed in the 1300s). Now, only the chapel from that time remains.
Outside the chapel is a memorial to the Jews slaughtered in 1298 by paranoid townsmen. Another reminder of intolerance. Chilling when compared to the tranquility and loveliness of the garden.
We reversed our walked back through the gate where we happened upon an old church. Stepping inside we immediately noticed large, free-standing display boards of cheerful Nazi supporters. Silently we went from one photo to the next puzzling over why they here here and why in a church? There were no English translations and no one standing by to answer any questions.
It was only later we discovered Rothenburg had been promoted as the ideal, Nazi small town. Hitler was even made an honorary citizen in 1933. This exhibit created a shocking counterpart to the cheerful crowds of happy tourists we saw wandering the medieval streets. Once again, almost 70 years after the end of WWII, Germany was displaying its dirty laundry, demonstrating that even this fairytale village had its evil past.
The next stop was the Crime and Punishment Museum. I wasn’t really looking forward to it since I thought it was going to include primarily medieval torture tools; but, I was pleasantly surprised. The displays were focused more on the evolution of the legal system.
Yes, there were gruesome artifacts
but, also comical punishments. Although, I’m sure it didn’t feel so funny if you were the one wearing any of these.
For those unable to get along…
as punishment for playing bad music (I wonder who decided what was awful?)…
and, for gossipers.
What I found most interesting were documents from the medieval times. One was a papal document with seals of Indulgences. Rich nobles would purchase these in order to be pardoned for sins. In short, this transaction offered the Catholic Church a method to extract money in order to finance its growing wealth (such as paying Michaelangelo for painting the Sistine Chapel). These Indulgences figured powerfully in Martin Luther’s revolt against the established religion of the time.
Actually, this might be the pic of a leader granting a beer license…
Once out, we again had to test the local hardware.
Back in our room we relaxed prior to heading to our night tour.
And, checked how well our daily laundry drying was doing (thank god for those heated towel racks found in most inns!).
No pics of the Night Watchman’s Tour but the hour spent with him and ten or so others was one of the highlights. He was a consummate performer who looked like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
DAY 16: Friday, October 31
There was still plenty to explore as we woke to a sunny day beginning with a wall walk.
Surrounded by a 1.5 mile city wall, Rothenburg can be circumnavigated most of the way by climbing up the stairs to the covered walkway.
The night watchman had mentioned we’d see inscribed stones as part of the wall. They were the result of a post-WWII, destitute Rothenburg raising monies to rebuild the wall.
Once down on the ground, we found a 700-year-old tradesman’s house that felt as if he just left on an errand. If I had been him, I wouldn’t have bothered coming back.
One of our last stops of the day was taking Max to the Christmas shop for which Rothenburg is famous: Kathe Wohlfahrt has her headquarters here and, boy, does her shop do up Christmas big, big as in you would not believe how many hand-painted, wooden ornaments can be crammed into a room. Her shop is so popular, no photos are allowed, and you follow a one-way path up and through numerous displays. You feel as if you’re on the yellow brick road only this time you’re in Santa Land. For Max, this was pure torture :)
He survived it, though, with all limbs and wallet intact.
Walking back to our room we spotted another display, only this one was sitting on a ledge blowing bubbles.
Opposite our inn there was a lovely shop, and, being a devotee of sweets, including hulking doughnuts, I was immediately drawn to this display.
Schneeballens are a local trademark (one shop even had a video on how they’re prepared),
and they looked just perfect for a morning (mid-day, afternoon, nighttime) snack. Fortunately, I had read they were basically tasteless, so I steered clear. But, they were tempting. Although, I’ve found in my taste-testing that most of the pastries I tried looked better on the plate than planted on the tongue.
DAY 17: Saturday, November 1
Prior to leaving our inn owners kindly printed out detailed directions for our next stop, one they had recommended since we had two unplanned nights before dropping off our rental car in Berlin.
They had suggested Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, north of Rothenburg. Straddling the River Regnitz, five churches form a cross creating the city’s layout. The historical part of the city is divided into three, distinct areas: episcopal town, island town and the market gardener’s town; and, it is because of this structure and the well-preserved medieval buildings that Bamberg earned its UNESCO title. Sounded like a good place to spend a day, so off we went.
We headed off with only a few stops along the way…
when we discovered the loud banging noise was because we had neglected to put the gas cap back on…
when we spotted some storks cruising a field for nibbles.
Continuing on we drove into Bamberg, did our usual dumping of bags and headed out to explore.
The historical town is lovely. It being a holiday weekend coupled with glorious sun, the streets were packed with tourists.
As opposed to touring a lot of interior sites, we chose to simply walk around the three areas, beginning with the famous old Town Hall, which sits in the middle of the river.
Circling around we spotted parent-child transportation vehicles :)
and a sign reminding us of one of our friends :)
With the sun setting, we ended the day knowing we had tomorrow for more walking and gawking.
DAY 18: Sunday, November 2
When poking down the alleys we saw some brass plaques set in the cobblestones. Looking more closely we noticed names and dates.
These were the Solpersteine or stumbling stones. They’re called that because you’re meant to strumble or trip a bit and they’re brass so shoes polish them. These stumbling stones are placed where Holocaust victims lived and how they died. Earlier ones would describe a victim’s death as ‘perished’ but it’s been changed now to ‘murdered’. There are over 250,000 of these throughout Germany. Munich didn’t use them saying it was insulting to the people they’re suppose to memoralize because people are walking on them; however, I found the quiet notice moving and powerful.
With another beautiful day we decided to walk up one of the hills dominated by a large cathedral. Founded by Heinrich II (Henry II) St. Peter’s and St. George’s Cathedral has the only Vatican-approved burial north of the Alps (Clemens II’s tomb is there), but the Cathedral was closed for visitors. It still made for a nice walk around part of the old wall.
After climbing up the hill and then down we went back into town and wandered around the riverfront and side streets.
We enjoyed the modern sculptures, both those used as playgrounds
and one with a slight Mona Lisa smile.
Lunch was composed of our other street -ood option when taking a break from sausages and no Turkish Doners are around…
For dinner we decided to try a restaurant rated as offering the best burger around. We ended up sitting at a table with four young students, three finishing their teaching degree and one working on his PHD in engineering. The waitress warned us it would take 1.5 hours to be served, but we were enjoying the conversation (and the beer, although not Bamberg’s smoked beer) so didn’t care.
Sharing that time with those young folk (Anne, Viki, Michael and Moritz)
was one of the highlights of our trip. We spoke of politics and one student exclaimed, ‘in my program there are people from Cuba, France, Canada, England, Russia, United States and we share meals, discuss events, and we all get along just fine’.
It was a wonderful way to end our stay in Bamberg.
DAY 19: Monday, November 3
Instead of driving straight through to Berlin we decided to stop in Wittenberg where Martin Luther lived and preached. This city was one of our briefest stops yet one of the most impactful because (1) we were able to focus on a singular person and (2) that person was so much more intriguing than we would have thought.
Unfortunately, the one museum (Martin Luther’s former home, now a museum) was closed but we were still able to see the church where he use to preach (the other famous one to which he nailed his 95 theses was being renovated for the 500th anniversary in 2017).
Further down the street in the Market Square, two statues stood:
one of Martin Luther (1483-1546),
the other of his sidekick, Philipp Melanchton (1497-1560).
Melanchthon was a brilliant university professor who helped Luther translate the Bible into German. He was valued so highly that when he threatened to leave Wittenberg, the ruler, Frederich the Wise, bribed him to stay by arranging Melanchthon’s marriage to the mayor’s daughter. Evidently, that was quite a coup for, in addition to not being wealthy, Melanchthon was sickly and extremely unattractive.
Doesn’t look so bad to me.
Continuing down to the street we came to the church where Luther had preached. It definitely had the feel of a Protestant house of worship due to not having a lot of flourishes hanging about.
I didn’t know too much about Luther but what little I’ve learned is fascinating: enjoyed the good ole life practicing law in Erfurt until caught in a thunder storm; he promised the patron saint of miners (he came from a large mining town and his father was involved with the industry) St. Anna (who also just happened to be Virgin Mary’s mama) he’d become a priest if he survived; must have been some storm for he became a monk.
A visit to Rome in 1510 as part of his monastery’s delegation really made Luther think twice about his profession. The corruption he witnessed in the Vatican including the selling of indulgences to the wealthy (allowing them to buy their way into heaven) got him thinking.
Once back in Germany, he transferred to Wittenberg, earned his doctorate in theology, and began teaching. Soon, his lectures were packed as he began to question the role of priests as religious authority and obtaining salvation through deeds; in short, it came down to the Bible is THE religious authority versus some men dressed in red suits and you can’t buy your way into heaven, your faith earns your place up in the starry blue sky. Can’t you hear those cathedrals’ walls cracking?
With Luther spouting his philosophy, he was beginning to cause quite a schism amidst the rich and poor. Pope Leo X ain’t too happy. Finally by 1521 the guy in Rome had had enough and excommunicated Luther. Well, Luther escaped, thanks to the local Duke’s friendship, hiding in the Wartburg Castle, and began his ten-year translation of the Bible into German. Luther, also, had enough followers that carrying him back to Rome for a barbecue wouldn’t have been popular.
Meanwhile others had taken up his preachings causing major disruption. His championing of religious freedom led to the desire for less restrictions in other areas of life (politically, economically). Voila, the 1525-1524 Peasants War, which also included nobles looking for an opportunity to change the political landscape. Luther’s influence was such that local officials asked him to intervene. He tried and actually, when he feared the total overthrow of Church (his church) and State, he urged authorities to crush the rebellion. They did, brutally in some areas; but, this war did set the stage for the Thirty Years War 100 years later.
Back to Luther, he came out of retirement and took up his preaching again in Wittenberg. Together with Melanchthon, they completed the translation of the Bible to the common language. He also married a former nun, Katharina von Bora, in 1525, made children (six) and was good friends with the painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, the court painter for Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony (there were seven of these prominent positions that carried tons of authority).
Cranach the Elder was also the only artist Luther allowed to paint his and his family’s portraits. In Luther’s church we saw several of Cranach’s paintings.
Cranach the Elder wasn’t shy about supporting Luther’s cause as witnessed by one of the paintings showing the Catholic Church’s priests and bishops pulling up all the good work the Lutherites (on the right) had carefully planted in a garden with the Pope holding out his hand for payment.
But the one that really fascinated me was where it truly transported me back in time as kids will be kids. Check out the painting below. Theology students would scrawl their names after their theology exams: if they passed, it was on the side of the angels; if not, the side with the devils. One of his sons who did fail contributed to the graffiti. Fortunately, his legal studies ended in a better result.
What’s a real bummer is Luther began his religious quest preaching religious tolerance for the Jews. He supported Jews, encouraging them to revolt agains the Catholic Church; but, when they weren’t converting to his church, he turned against them. Hmmmm, anyone see some double standard here? He became a rabid anti-semetic and an ugly one at that, as witnessed by a sculpture sitting atop his church wall.
Today, the sculpture is countered with a thoughtful one placed in the church yard below the nasty one along with an olive tree from Israel.
At this point, our Luther tour had to end in order to make our car rental return time in Berlin. We hightailed it back to our car but not before passing some of the Stumbling Stones
and picking up one of our most favorite lunches.
Next stop BERLIN!