The Altstadt or old town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is virtually unchanged from the Middle Ages… well… the facades of the buildings look the same, as they did way back then… but now there are more Ice Cream shops. Still, if you squint a bit, and ignore the cars and tourists, you could be back 500 years ago. To really make that transition to the past, take the Nightwatchman Tour! Every night at 8pm in English, and again at 9:30 for those of you who prefer a German Tour, the Nightwatchman makes his rounds of the old town, telling stories and jokes, while also giving you the history of this amazingly beautiful city.
Photo Credit- Karen Lodder
Nightwatchman Tour Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The crowd gathers early in the Market Square by the Rathaus. Kids and adults eating Eis or people-watching while waiting. We were lucky, the Chopin String Trio was playing Violin and Cello, keeping us all entertained with both classical music and familiar popular tunes (the crowd really perked up when they launched into the Game of Thrones Theme).
And then suddenly he was there… Dressed all in black… Long cape, a three cornered hat and dark pants. In one hand he carried a lantern, in the other, a pike. We all gathered round (and I wondered, HOW could we possibly hear and understand with such a crowd!?) I shouldn’t have worried. His voice was clear, and he spoke with an interesting slow cadence that drew everyone in. The chattering group fell silent, and hung on to his words.
The Nightwatchman Brings History to Life!
The Nightwatchman shared the history of Rothenburg with us. But it was more than just a dry history lesson… we got extraordinary details that brought the Middle Ages to life. The Nightwatchman’s status was at the bottom of the status ladder (only slightly above the Executioner), and really didn’t associate with the “better people”. His job was to keep an eye out for fires and to keep the locals safe from the boogeyman.. because, in the Middle Ages… the dark was full of danger. But, like many of those who dwell at the bottom of society, the Nightwatchman knows everyone’s secrets.
We learned what made Rothenburg ob der Tauber such a wealthy town in the Middle Ages (and how despite the wealth, it still was a stinky place in the summer.) More important he explained WHY the town retained its Medieval Character. It wasn’t because people wanted to live in a Fairy Tale world, it was because of money, well, lack of money. You see, once they were invaded during the Thirty Years War, they never quite recovered.
One of the crowd’s favorite stories came toward the end of the Tour. WHY was Rothenburg ob der Tauber saved from destruction during WWII? Simply because of a painting…Major John J McLoy grew up in New York with a very special painting on the wall. His mother had visited Rothenburg in 1910, during the height of the painter’s movement, and brought home a souvenir. She told him as a child how special the town was. And now, in 1945, he was the US Secretary of War, and he ordered the military to stand down, thus saving the city from being wiped out by artillery fire.
More about the Nightwatchman Tour in Rothenburg
Photo Credit- Karen Lodder
The tour takes an hour, and the walk is really not that difficult. It’s flat, and there are a few stops along the way. (If you hustle, you can cover the same distance yourself in about 15 minutes.) At each stop, the Nightwatchman points out something of interest… the Merchant’s buildings, the small door in the City Gate, and even “hell” itself.
When you walk through the gates to the Burg Garten, you even find benches to sit on while admiring a panoramic view of the city glowing in the setting sun.
Hans Georg Baumgartner has been doing the Nightwatchman tour for many years (I’ve been getting LOADS of emails and messages from people saying they did the tour 6, 10 and 20 years ago). And the tour is still popular for a very good reason. It’s worth every penny of those 8 Euros. Honestly, I can not emphasize enough just how interesting the Nightwatchman Tour is (and how FUNNY!). It’s history brought to life. Take the tour, throw yourself into history… and when it’s over, you can stop by Hell for a nightcap.