Think FAIRYTALE and most people immediately think of Disney. Disney capitalized on the tales of fairies with their movies and theme parks, television shows and other media connections. Their stories have all the pixie dust and wands and touch of spirit that make children dream and adults long for something better.
Yet, what sometimes gets forgotten is the REAL reasons, stories, and places that brought breath into what we know as fairytales. Some of the legends date back millenia in some form or another, while others are were brewed by our 19th centuries great-great grandparents. Regardless, the roots of out legends come not from the animated world, but from deeper folk legends that were published and share decades before Snow White was even a sketch in Disney studios.
Many people know the Brothers Grimm and that they had the darker, scarier versions of our beloved tales like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Which is true, but the layers to their creations are much more than coming up with ideas. These stories came from folk legends that were originally compiled, and were deeply inspired by the areas that the Grimm Brothers lived. It is much of the methodology that was used by others like George Washington Irving in an early United States and countless others in Europe and further afield.
No doubt in travels and in reading and listening to tales that little towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Fortress above the Tauber River) were inspiration for that epoch of literature and the centuries of stories after.
Rothenburg was founded in the 13th century and to this day the foundations and much of that original medieval town stand today. Walk around the city and you will see a wide variety of placards that mark the dates of buildings that were constructed. Somehow a vast majority survived centuries of wear and tear and a world war that almost leveled them.
Rebirthed after WWII the city transformed from a nazi village to one that is a beautiful stop on the Romantic Road. The city is transformed seasonally with garlands, and full of old world charm that is unmatched in most the world.
Good or bad, the history and stories in Rothenburg are quintessentially German. The architecture is timbered and warm, the clocks and stories are quaint. Each corner reflects the past and a preservation for the future. The best part is seeing the diverse population that now walk the streets. Turkish immigrants next to Japanese tourists, and everyone in between.
Those that are looking for treats need not travel far, baked goods are sold on every corner and carts selling hot apple cider fill the main square. Stop into a cafe for some gluhwein (warmed spiced wine), something potatoes, and schnitzel for you carnivores. You won’t be disappointed.
Small shops ad to the charm, a toy store sells German-made stuffed toys, while the Christmas shop is sure to make the biggest scrooge smile. Other novelties and artisan goods exist in jewelers, grocers, and other small family businesses.
For those seeking education the town is not sparse on church or museum. For families, the Christmas museum (along with the shop) are safe bets. For those interested in the darker corners of history, like myself, the Torture Museum is a great choice.
While the torture museum seems macabre, it does have more than metal death probes. Perhaps most interesting is some of the pages from a 15th century song book, or the large collection of royal seals. Medieval history was not all iron maidens and spiked chairs, mind you*.
All around I can’t suggest a stop in Rothenburg enough for you history, photography, and travel geeks. It’s unlike anywhere I have ever been before or since, and it’s worth every moment to explore some cobbled alleys and eat delicious regional dishes. Go in the off season, and early in the day to avoid crowds. Make it a pit stop as you explore southern Germany, and most importantly, Happy Travels!
*Iron Maidens have been pretty much discredited as a hoax from the 18th century, from people wanting to pass them off as historical, when they were really a novelty item meant to perpetuate how awful the middle ages were. Because plague wasn’t bad enough?