Sunday, September 26, 2010

Into the Valley of Tauber

We love these old medieval towns, so unlike anything we might see in the United States. As a kid walking around the point section of Newport I admired the sturdiness and craftsmanship of the homes that dated all the way to our revolutionary days (late 18th century). These walled citadels were really old when Ann Hutchinson ditched the puritans and moved to Acquidneck island back in 1636 and John Clarke formed the first really free community in the colonies at Newport in 1639. Really old. Here in Europe, most of these old walled towns don't allow a lot of cars inside so we automatically decided to get a room outside and walk in and spare a repeat of the craziness of Siena and it's tiny little alleyway streets. It was a great decision.

Sunday - September 26, 2010 (Part 2)

Around 6:00 pm Mr. Alex Molitor, our host at the Pension Fuchsmühle (our Sunday overnight), showed us to our room. We were delighted to find a modern, spotless, beautifully appointed room in this 600 year old mill house. It was on the second floor (room number 1 - out of 8) and we were thrilled with the view and the soft, bubbling serenade of water passing over the mill's waterwheel. It was just lovely. Alex provided us with the essentials for the evening; a good town map, directions to the wall gate, and a little wind-up LED flashlight for use on our return.

A half hour later fresh, happy, and hungry (with all that Nazi nastiness securely behind us), we grabbed our flashlight and walked out into the beautiful Tauber valley. From where we stood, the town of Rothenburg (row-ten-burg) seemed a long way off, and a good way up. It really wasn't - just 15 walking minutes away. There was a nice footpath along the riverbank, that led directly to a covered bridge (with a great view of the city at dusk), then to a well worn path which ended right at Castle Gate. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I was not huffing and puffing when we reached the top, though we did stop only once on the ascent.

The little town is picture postcard perfect, and was just about deserted when we walked through the gate. We had read that it is usually packed with tourists, but they must have all been wherever they go in the evening, because we felt like we had the place to ourselves (I know what you're thinking, but we don't think of ourselves as tourists). We meandered down the little streets, looked in some of the store windows (and there were many), and realized that if we wanted to eat before the Night Watchman's walking tour, we better settle on something fast. By accident we stumbled upon the Pizzeria-Eiscafe Roma (like the hotel, another Rick Steves' recommendation - he is so reliable), a restaurant we had marked in our guidebook.

Inside we found all the tourists (and a lot of locals we think). The place was buzzing with good cheer, as the manager and waitresses did their best to keep up with the demand. We split a caprese salad, Kat had gnocchi, and I had a delicious bowl of pepperoncini pasta that was cooked to perfection. My accompaniment was a marvelous local beer; 1/2 litre of Brauhaus Rothenburg anno 1631 - Kat had a small (.41 litre) coke that was about the same price as the beer $4.00 (I still don't get that). At 24 Euros, it was a real bargain. We've eaten a lot worse for a lot more. At 5 minutes to 8:00, we (and about half the other restaurant guests) were on our feet and making our way to Market Square for the most interesting and unique tour we have ever taken.

Hans-Georg Baumgartner is the latest in a long line of Nightwatchmen of Rothenburg, and we have to imagine, the most engaging ever to walk the cobbled streets. In his lilting sing-song style he delivered a lot of information and a lot of humorous anecdotes as he led us through the dark streets. In a black cloak and carrying a lantern and a hellebarde (which is a very menacing looking implement and I think translates to "bat out of hell") he explained his trade (fire patrol mostly, but always on the lookout for the bad guys), and told us the story of the mayor who saved the town by virtue of being a good drinker. As the Meistertrunk legend goes; back in 1631 (remember the 30 years war - Catholics v. Protestants?), Rothenburg was attacked by Imperial troops led by Count Tilly who offered to spare the city if someone would drink a tankard holding 6 pints in one draught. The mayor did, the town was saved. End of story. Like a lot of the Grimm brothers' tales, this one also was of the fairy variety.

In fact the townspeople decided to fight it out, lost, were robbed blind, and the fact that there was nothing left to plunder kept Rothenburg off the list for future assaults. This reputation lasted 300 years and is the main reason that the town today looks much the same as it did back then. He then told us the non-fairy tale story of what happened during WWII. With a full contingent of German soldiers stationed in Rothenburg to defend it, Allied bombers killed 39 people and destroyed about 300 houses and 9 watchtowers in preparation for the ground assault that would turn Rothenburg into another Dresden. The US commander, remembering a picture of the city his mom kept on the wall in his childhood home, negotiatied with the German commander (who defied Adolph's orders to fight to the end) and spared the city. True story. (In fact U.S Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy was named Honorable Protectorate of Rothenburg after the war. Ed.) The residents of the city quickly repaired the bomb damage.

The tour lasted a very quick hour, and most of the crowd (about 100 of us), gathered around him at the end to pay him (a cheap 5 Euros each), and pepper him with questions. It was fun, and informative, and will go down as one of the highlights of our trip. (Here is the link to his website, in English. It gives a pretty good history and has lots of great pictures. Ed.)

By 9:15, as we headed back to Castle Gate, it was pitch black and there are not too many lights on the streets of these old towns. Everyone else must have been staying inside the walls, because once again, we were alone. We exited the gate, and with the help of our flashlight began the descent back into the valley of the Tauber. We couldn't see anything beyond the illumination of the little LEDs, but it was fun and spooky all at the same time. It was a joy to act like two kids lost in a dark Bavarian woods. Crossing the river we spied our little Pension, and headed toward a good night's sleep at the end of a good day's living.

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