Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romantic Germany: Wurzburg to Rothenburg

Marienkapelle (St. Mary's Chapel) at the
Market Square in Wurzburg.

Wurzburg    I’ve always been interested in Germany because my family name, Schreiber, is German. We have an equal number of German and Irish ancestors on both my mom’s and my dad’s sides of the family, so a few German words and traditions survived the century between their arrival in Detroit and mine. The Irish side seems to emerge more at parties and funerals.    
Just a week after I got back from my two-month stay in the USA, Mark and I were on a plane to Frankfurt. Our Lufthansa flight took off from Abu Dhabi at 12:55 a.m. and landed in Frankfurt at 5:45 a.m. Still recovering from jet lag, I slept most of the way, but I did wake up for the in-flight breakfast; I chose the pancakes. Normally I don’t like pancakes that much, but I figured that they might be different on a European flight, and I was right. No rubbery flapjacks with maple syrup, these were fluffy, sweet little cakes with sautéed apples and berries.

Wurzburg locals with Wurzburg Cathedral towers behind.
Once our large plane was on the ground, we boarded a bus to the terminal. Most of the people on our flight were immediately drawn like bugs to the lighted screen showing connecting flights, but Mark and I wound our way through the airport, in no hurry, to baggage claim. If we picked up our rental car too early, we would also have to return it just as early when we left, and our return flight wasn’t until 10:50 a.m. By the time we got to our lonely bags they were huddled together, circling around in the eerily quiet baggage claim area.        To waste more time, we decided to have a snack. Latte for me, tea for Mark, and we split a little sandwich – Breakfast #2. Finally we meandered to Hertz and picked up our Volkswagen. Mark was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a BMW, but eventually he got over it and decided he liked the VW.   
The first two breakfasts were just practice.

Our first stop was Wurzburg, for breakfast. Yes, you read that right, breakfast #3. It was still morning; only 9:00 a.m. Most places weren’t even open yet. Fortunately we found a cute little cafe right on the Main River that was open and, even better, there was a breakfast that included bratwurst, a pretzel, mustard and beer – “People from Munich love this!” the menu said. I had to try it. My German DNA was asserting itself. Of course, Mark enjoyed his first glass of German Riesling with his eggs.

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Getting an education.

Next, we walked across the Old Main Bridge as the town was waking up. There were groups of students standing around the statures of saints and historical figures, listening to their teachers lecture. We noticed ships in the locks, which we were to observe on rivers in Germany, France, and Switzerland. We entered the quaint old section of town, the first of many that we would see on this trip.

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The locks in Wurzburg.

It was at this point that I realized: I should have brought that quilted jacket, the black one that I decided at the last minute to leave behind for no reason except that I was hot in Abu Dhabi and couldn’t imagine wanting it. Or my black leather coat and knee high boots from Italy, which would be perfect. They were sitting in the closet in Abu Dhabi. I had thought about bringing them – and didn’t. Here, it was damp and chilly, despite the early morning sun.

I congratulated myself on the couple of pashminas that I threw in my bag at the last minute, and tried not to think about it anymore. I had my fleece jacket. Fleece! Sheesh.

Mark did the same thing. Didn’t bring any of the nice coats hanging in our closet in Abu Dhabi, waiting to go to Europe. I know that some of you out there can relate to this. What were we thinking? All I can say is, if you had been in Abu Dhabi, you might understand. It was so hot there, you would overheat just by touching a coat.  When you’re on a trip, and you start to feel out of sorts about some trivial thing, my advice is to either have a drink or take a nap. Since we had already done the first, it was time to do the second. Back at the car, we discovered that we had a parking ticket, but we shook it off and drove up into the hilly neighborhood above Fortress Marienberg to park and take a power nap. I normally can’t just drop off to sleep, but both Mark and I got a refreshing little snooze.  
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Fortress Marienburg

Afterward, we looked down on the giant fortress. Fortress Marienberg began as a refuge castle constructed during the Bronze Age. The oldest surviving structure on the site is a church, St. Mary’s Church or Marienkirche, built in AD 704. The fortifications were built in the 13th century. You can read about the many skirmishes and captures at the site through WWII at

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Commuting by bicycle.
Romantische Strasse
It was time to be on our way via the Romantische Strasse, or Romantic Road. Our VW had a navigation system which took us winding through the countryside and villages, while the female voice with a generic European accent said “Prepare to turn right soon …” We didn’t know it at the time, but she would lead us in a big circle or a dead end more than once.

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Don't upset the apple cart.

As we left Wurzburg, I really began to feel like I wasn’t in the USA any more, and we certainly weren’t in the Middle East. The already narrow two-lane road got narrower as we entered the towns and dodged parked cars, and the GPS had us making what looked like very improbable turns. More than once, an intersection was confounded with multiple paths and we wondered which could be the right way.

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Old town, new technologies.

Usually – usually, we stayed on the right path, passing through farming villages with Gasthofen (country guesthouses) and biergartens (outdoor seating areas perfect for drinking the locally made beer.)
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Germany is a leader in the renewable energy industry with rolling fields of not only crops like corn but also solar panels and wind turbines. Houses, barns and other outbuildings are covered with solar panels, and wind turbines are scattered around the countryside. It presents an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new.

We only saw a small portion of the Romantisch Strasse, but we swear we’ll be back to see the rest. For more information about it:

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We have arrived.
Our first overnight destination was the walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the Tauber River. Mark had us booked in a nice little Gasthaus with a biergarten and restaurant serving home style German fare. We checked in, and I was immediately charmed by the courtyard with colorful laundry hanging off of a neighboring balcony. The room was small, and the layout was odd, but that’s what you expect in Europe.

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Everywhere we looked we saw quaintness.

We were ready to walk. Just around the corner was the White Tower, which was a helpful landmark to find the way back to the hotel, even though  there is a similar tower, the Markus Tower, not far away. These two towers mark the gates to the original 12th century Rothenburg, and a Jewish dance hall and Jewish gravestones are nearby.

       According to Rothenburg held a special significance for Nazi ideologists. For them, it was the epitome of the German 'Home Town', representing all that was quintessentially German. Throughout the 1930s the Nazi organisation "KDF" ("Kraft durch Freude") Strength through Joy organized regular day trips to Rothenburg from all across the Reich. This initiative was staunchly supported by Rothenburg's citizenry – many of whom were sympathetic to National Socialism – both for its economic benefits and because Rothenburg was hailed as "the most German of German towns". In October 1938 Rothenburg expelled its Jewish citizens, much to the approval of Nazis and their supporters across Germany.[2] In March 1945 in World War II, German soldiers were stationed in Rothenburg to defend it. On March 31, bombs were dropped over Rothenburg by 16 planes, killing 39 people and destroying 306 houses, six public buildings, nine watchtowers, and over 2,000 feet (610 m) of the wall. The U.S Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew about the historic importance and beauty of Rothenburg, so he ordered US Army General Jacob L. Devers not use artillery in taking Rothenburg. The local military commander Major Thömmes ignored the order of Adolf Hitler for all towns to fight to the end and gave up the town, thereby saving it from total destruction by artillery. American troops of the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division occupied the town on April 17, 1945, and in November 1948 McCloy was named Honorable Protectorate of Rothenburg. After the war, the residents of the city quickly repaired the bombing damage. Donations for the rebuilding were received from all over the world. The rebuilt walls feature commemorative bricks with donor names. Traffic-reducing measures were put in place in a significant portion of Rothenburg to increase safety and accommodate tourism.    Rotenburg town map

Passing through the town square, we had a glass of wine and a snack at an outdoor café on busy Klingengasse, where the Christmas shops are. Our waiter was was dodging among the many tables as well as talking with a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, lingering near him. “Is that your son?” I asked.
“No, but it feels like my son. He lives there,” pointing up the street. A few minutes later, we heard a loud banging and watched as this little boy paraded past, playing a large drum just like the Little Drummer Boy, obviously enjoying attracting looks from tourists.

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Gallows Gate.

It was 4:30 p.m. We returned to our room for a rest … and both fell asleep until the middle of the night! So we decided to take advantage of our unusual schedule, and walk the medieval wall at dawn.
Everything looks very cheerful during the day, but there is no erasing the dark history at Galgen Tor, or Gallows Gate. Steps lead to the top of the wall, where grisly public executions once took place. It was damp and chilly, the beginning of an overcast day. We got to the wall well before dawn; the village was still fast asleep; we talked in hushed voices. In the pitch black, we climbed the winding stairs. With no flashlight, we had to feel our way along the wall, holding hands and stepping carefully – there were many opportunities to trip.

Just before dawn, we heard a couple of cars driving noisily over the cobblestones, and then, in the distance, rock and roll music. Presently, a small pickup truck pulling a trailer rumbled past, with the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up blaring though the closed windows.

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The spell was broken. We needed coffee, and a Schneeball! My German blood must be thick, because I totally understand Schneeballen. The name means “snowball,” and they were first created as a way to use up leftover pastry dough. This is something that I have actually done myself in the past: you gather up the leftovers, make them into a ball, and bake. I sprinkled powdered sugar on mine back then, but nowadays in Rothenburg they have chocolate, caramel, nuts, and all kinds of flavors of Schneeballen.

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Lining up for torture.

The cruelest torture and execution marked the Middle Ages. Those who are fascinated, curious, or just can’t miss a thing visit the Criminal Museum, which Mark remembered as the “Torture Museum” when he last visited. He wasn’t hell-bent on going there, and I took a look at the photos in the brochure and thought – “There are nicer things I want to see.” We were in such a pretty town. The red tiled, gabled buildings strewn with overflowing flower boxes were so pretty … we just weren’t in the mood for torture, I guess, even if it did happen centuries ago. Walking the wall in the dark was enough.
             Instead, we visited the Reichsstadtmuseum (Imperial City Museum.) Housed in a former Dominican convent (my cousin Sue is a Dominican nun!) this place has something for everyone. Mark and I were both fascinated by the nine centuries of tools, weapons, furniture, and art. And as you can see from the photos, we were the only ones there. What a treat, to be able to wander through at our leisure. We paid a few extra euros for the privilege of taking photos, and had to promise not to sell them or otherwise make money on them.  
   Next we went to St. Jacobs, a Lutheran church which contains the masterpiece carved wood altarpiece, created in 1500-1505 by a Wurtzburg artist, Tilman Riemenschneider.'s_Church,_Rothenburg_ob_der_Tauber Later, at dinner in our hotel restaurant, we met a charming mother and daughter team who told us that they were going to an organ recital in the church that evening. We’ll go too! we said. Which we did. If you have ever been in a large church with a pipe organ playing, you will understand. It’s half spiritual, and the other half … kinda creepy. 
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We wentr all the way up there!

We also found time to climb to the top of the Town Hall tower, where you get a wonderful view over the rooftops of Rothenburg. The climb to the top is an adventure. First, you climb several sets of steps until you arrive in a room with a turnstile, which would not let us through. What to do?

There were a few people in front of us, and as we discussed it, someone came out, turning a little light green. Aha! One person went through. We waited, and a couple more came through. Now, one person in their group was left. “What if we do this …” I said, reaching over and flipping the turnstile back our way.  The light went green, our new friend went through, and … “Alarm! Alarm! Alarm!” blared, and a stern German voice scolded us over the loudspeakers.

I thought maybe they would throw us into das Gefangus, the prison. Or, at the very least, a German Shepherd dog would appear. Fortunately, our friend hurried back to our side, and all was quiet again, except for our beating hearts.

The photo album below contains picture from the top of the tower, and also some taken from the wall during the day of the tower itself, St. Jacob’s towers, and some interesting roofs.  
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The happy couple will soon be proud parents.

After the trip up the tower, we joined the crowds in the town square. A wedding was underway, with a very pregnant bride. Apparently this is somewhat common in Europe – they make sure that there is no fertility issue by impregnating their girlfriends, and then planning the wedding. Our Italian friends told Mark that they did it this way.


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Mark is serious about his German wine.

The next morning we walked the wall again, and then Mark shopped for wine. As we were leaving the wine shop, the Little Drummer Boy came by on his bicycle, continually ringing his bell while pedestrians dodged out of the way. Little darling! I wonder what kind of driver he’ll be when he grows up?

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Finished here. On to Koblenz!

I took a spin through some shops. Then, it was time to hit the road again, headed for Koblenz, my ancestral home.

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The most-photographed spot in town.

According to Rick Steves, the baby boomer tourist’s Pied Piper who was there before it was besieged by people just like him, Rothenburg is “well on its way to becoming a medieval theme park.” But don’t worry, there are no rides where they chain you upside down by your ankles and then twirl you around.

Call me "Schreib."

Thanks for reading!

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