Exploring Rothenburg 2

We enjoyed the breakfast food and service at Hotel Prinz very much but we didn’t linger over our food on our second day in Rothenburg; there was too much to see. We were ready and out the door promptly and our first aim for the day was to turn right along the town wall from our hotel, rather than the left turn taken the previous day. This brought us very quickly to Roder Tower, a much more complex tower facility than what we had seen the previous day. In 1208, the defences of Rothenburg had been expanded by up to 70 more watchtowers (42 left!) and this one was one of the most impressive. It doesn’t just function as a watchtower, it is an entry way through the walls into the city and its defence was supported by canals and drawbridges. The photo to the right shows the tower itself and on the top can be seen an extra room which today holds an exhibit that displays plenty of information about the tower itself. The image below is of the entry-way through the gate, taken from outside of the walls.

The image left below shows the inside section of the outer gate with one of the bridges over the canal which was originally a drawbridge. On the right is one of two curious buildings that were used as toll booths and custom houses for those traders entering Rotheburg.,

As can be seen from the map of our walking route for the day to the left, our next job was to climb back onto the wall and take the long but very attractive walk south and exit at the Plonlein Platz. Late on the previous day we had turned around here and headed back up to the Market Place to find a restaurant for our evening meal.

On arrival at the famous fork in the road at Plonlein, we took the left-hand route towards Siebersturm Tower, a very pleasant street with large rose bushes attached to the ancient houses lining the way. The other name for this tower built in 1385 is the Sifter Maker’s Tower named after the Association of Flour Sifters.

We made our way through the archway of the Siebersturm Tower which was originally an exit  gate in the wall of the town, leaving significant housing outside the walls. In 1280 a hospital to help the sick and the poor was built here called the Holy Ghost infirmary. Less than a 100 years later, this area of town was enclosed by another city wall with a new gate, Spitalbastion, being built. The German word ‘Spital’ generally refers to a hospital or infirmary. The diagram on the right shows what the area looks like today; the almost figure eight bastion was built in the late 16th century.

The image on the left above is of part an inside wall of the first section of the figure eight bastion and the image on the right is the exit door to outside the walls of Rothenburg from the second part of the Bastion. The Latin inscription over the outside of the gate says: “Peace to those who enter; Farewell to those who leave.” This exit led us to where Nordlinger Strasse took traffic around the city fortifications. We crossed the wooden bridge shown at the back of the photo on the left and this took us around the bastion and through another entry door to the city.

After we returned inside the walls of the town, we turned left into the area behind Spitalgasse and found ourselves heading towards the western wall of the town where there were a number of buildings used for back-packer accommodation. We came across the wall which at one point became the back wall of a wooden amphitheatre (left below). Nearby there was another tower in the external wall (Stoeberlein) which was built in 1390. Those cones that can be seen on the four corners of this tower are called ‘bartizans’ and originally most of the town’s towers had these features. They overhang the corner turret, no doubt to make it easier to drop boiling oil or other weaponry on tower-climbing enemies. This tower is the only example in Rothenburg that has retained its original Medieval roof.

We then returned to Rothenburg’s main tourist street and continued up the hill towards the Market Platz.

One of the regular ‘tourist attractions’ in the medieval cities of Europe is that of the Torture Museum or as Rothenburg’s example is called, the “Medieval Crime and Justice Museum”. These places are generally full of examples of the worst excesses of human cruelty from medieval times. We were lured into one of these places as we walked back up the hill to our rendezvous in Market Platz. I am not sure why the imaginative ‘Torture Chair’ (below left) was on exhibition apart from being used as a threat to badly behaved children.

The premier piece in the museum was an Iron Maiden, the human shaped cupboard full of spikes to plunge into the unlucky victim whose views and opinions were supposed to have offended sensitive local authorities. It apparently came from Nuremburg and this museum was proud to announce that their researchers had found no historical evidence of its use in torturing witches, heretics or other anti-social types. Perhaps the only positive use of the term ‘Iron Maiden’ in history is by the famous heavy metal band who used the term on the covers of their 41 albums to warn potential purchasers of the musical pain that lay ahead of them.

We met up with our English-speaking guide outside the Tourist Burau on the bottom floor of the Rathaus. He started the tour off by taking us around the Market Place, discussing the message from the clock tower’s characters as well as some of the stories about the St George and the Dragon fountain and past fires in the city. When he was finished with this area, he took us through the white renaissance tower that was the other half of the Rathaus. There was a corridor here that took us all the way through this building, leading us to the platz around Jakobskirche (St James).

On the other side of the Rathaus after we had exited from the back of the building, we were greeted with an impressive view of St James Church. I have to admit I didn’t check the details of the statue standing with a walking staff outside the church’s main door but it seems some people think it’s meant to be St James himself. I suspect it refers to a standard example of a pilgrim making his way to Santiago de Compestella from Germany. Our guide gave us a general history of the church, illustrated by a bronze model of the St James building that stands outside the church. There was no time on tour for entering the church and so we proceeded on, turning right through a street tunnel that led under the back of church to the neighbourhood on the other side

Our trail led us to the Rothenburg Museum, (‘E’) on the map above left. This building was originally home to a Dominican Monastery; previous to this it had been a 13th century farmhouse before being donated to the Dominican Nuns. Our guide indicated that he believed the Nuns did good work for the community in Rothburg, particularly in feeding the poor. By the 16th century and the Reformation, the life-style of a Catholic nun was no longer attractive in Rothenburg and the convent fell into disrepair. It was taken over by the local council and its church building pulled down. It eventually became the town’s museum in 1936. Entry to the museum was not part of the tour which was disappointing as looking at the details of the exhibits, it would have been a very interesting place to visit.

From the front of the building we were led through a gate at the side of the Museum to the outdoor cloister of the old monastery, which, as usual in such places, was a very peaceful, pleasant place. Our destination from here was to head out through the walls of the city to a spur of the mountain to where the original castle of the city was built in the mid twelfth century. As we walked along the street that led towards the Fürbringer Barn Gate (Burgtor), I couldn’t help but admire the gorgeous houses along the way, both their architecture and their gardens. (See above right and image below).

The photo below left was taken in one section of the alley leading through the tower gate to the outside of the walls, looking back at the façade of the Burgtor. On the façade of the gatehouse in front of the tower can be seen a carved mask above the entry way through the wall. The spot in front of the doorway of such a tower is not the place to stand if you are aggressively demanding entry into the city…it is through the mask that the defenders will douse you with hot liquids of various destructiveness (Hot tar, oil or effluent!) Past this section is another protective structure (right below) where the toll and customs buildings stand.

The other name for this gate is ‘Castle Gate’ and the garden in front of it is called the Castle Garden. This area was the site of Hohenstaufen Castle in 1142, built on this land-spur heading west and was about 60 metres above the Tauber River below. It is after Konrad III, Duke of Swabia, built his castle here that the town of Rothenburg developed further back up the hill.

The diagram below is taken from a helpful sign in this area. It’s a very interesting diagram as it attempts to set out what local historians know about the castle that existed here for about 200 years from the mid twelfth century. They know some definite details of the buildings from archaeological work done here but other aspects are “supplemented by parts that are typical of the time.” The only building that links back to the original castle is the grey stone building (coloured red in the diagram below) named St Blaisius Chapel which, although it has been reconstructed over the years, is thought to have been the original Castle Chapel.

Although history has left few details of its demise, the castle is believed to have been destroyed by an earthquake in 1356. It is also suspected that many of the stones from the structure of the castle were used elsewhere to build the growing town of Rothenburg.

Although this castle is considered to be the earliest significant building on the site, it was not the first habitation built on this spur. Archaeologists have discovered evidence here that show that humanity has lived here as far back as 1000 BCE.

Our guide took us through the history of the site and then led us down to the chapel of St Blasius. Along the tour, our guide had discussed various stories about the presence of Jewish people in the town for many centuries. In front of the stone chapel he pointed out the memorial devoted to the treatment of Jewish citizens of Rothburg, particularly the events surrounding the Pogrom of 1298.This was a series of dreadful massacres of Jewish people throughout Franconia based on the spreading of blood libels (false accusations of Jews murdering Christian boys to use the blood in religious rituals). 146 communities were destroyed and about 20,000 people were killed by roaming mobs in the region at the time.

Over the centuries Jewish people have been forbidden entry into Rotheburg. Anti-semitism broke out again in the 1930s, particularly under the NAZI’s Final Solution pogrom of 1938.

Our guide took us into the chapel and allowed us to inspect it for ourselves. Perhaps the most interesting and moving moment of the tour was when our guide invited us to gather together while he sang us a song; I believe it was a Jewish hymn, a mourning for those who have past.

From St Blasius’s chapel, we then moved to the edge of the Castle Garden where the stone walls marked the edge of the spur. From here we were able to enjoy the stunning views along the walls of Rothenburg and down into the Tauber Valley.

From the Castle Garden we returned through the city gate and made our way directly up Herrngasse which led us back to our starting point in the Marktplatz where we said goodbye to our very interesting and helpful guide. Along the way we passed the Franziskaner Kirche, a former Franciscan Friary which today is a Lutheran parish church. It was founded in 1281 and consecrated in 1309. It was wound up as a Franciscan institution in 1548 in the wake of the Reformation.


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