Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Christmas on the Romantic Road

Germany’s Romantic Road is a scenic 220-mile-long touring route that runs from Würzburg in the central wine country to Füssen in the Bavarian Alps—and Rothenburg ob der Tauber is its crown jewel.

Rothenburg Tourismus

I first learned about Rothenburg in the pages of popular fiction: Borrower of the Night, by Elizabeth Peters, a cracking good yarn with lots of suspense, romance, and art history—highbrow escapist froth. The description of the ancient medieval walled city impressed me enough that I determined to see it one day. And when I learned that it was also famous for its Christmas market, the deal was sealed.

Rothenburg’s Christmas market is  called the Reiterlesmarkt, referring to a rider in an old Teutonic legend. According to the tourist office, “In pre-Christian times, the Teutons believed in a fearsome rider who took charge of the souls of the dead. However, attitudes changed in the Middle ages, when it was said he had been transformed into a benign messenger who brought gifts to the people of the earth.”

We arrived in Rothenburg just as it was getting dark, which was the perfect time to strike out and see both market and city. Really, it almost didn’t matter which way you went—every street was full of picturesque half-timbered houses with steep gables. I must say there were a whole lot of foreign tourists—not enough to ruin the experience, but maybe dampen it a bit. And the phenomenon is year round.

In the center of town the markets kind of flowed into each other and many Christmas shops were open late. The most famous one is town is Käthe Wohlfahrt. It was very large and bursting with every imaginable Christmas item (and tourists) and I definitely preferred shopping in the market.

My only regret is that we decided not to do the daily Night Watchman tour (in English). We had settled comfortably into our hotel, the Romantik Hotel Markusturm, and just wanted to have a nice dinner and take it easy, but then a group arrived in the restaurant who’d just had a great time on the tour—hence the regret.

The next morning I made it a point to get up just as it had gotten light and struck out on my own to walk along the ramparts of the old city wall. (This is the kind of thing I frequently think about doing but don’t always follow through on). What a different experience from the night before. This was the Rothenburg the book has promised—timeless and serene. It’s the one I prefer.

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