My absolute favorite destination on this trip was a surprise to me (I love when that happens). I was so sure I was going to love Colmar the most but the minute we stepped into Rothenburg late at night I couldn't stop smiling.
The first night there we took The Night Watchman tour, which felt a little disneyfied with its perfect medieval town backdrop and dressed up man cracking jokes while a hoard of tourists followed him. But my cynicism was immediately swept aside when he started telling us all of the strange occurances that lead to Rothenburg still standing in such an old and beautiful way.
Here is a brief synopsis of their incredibly lucky history. When Rothenburg was first built around 900 it was a very rich city. It laid perfectly on the North to South and East to West trading routes so they had many people coming through the town spending money on food, drinks and a warm beer. Fast forward to the Thirty Years war, in October 1631 an army of 30,000 approached wanting to take over their city. The townsfolk tried to defend their walls knowing they would kill everyone if their small town of 6000 surrendered but unfortunately they were quickly defeated when a soldier walked into the gunpowder room with lit torch. The army stayed for the winter and left in the spring, leaving few remaining. Only 3 years later, a further stroke of bad luck came as they are attempting to rebuild the city which was still in shambles – the plague known as Black Death killed most of the remaining townsfolk. After the war was over trade routes were moved and Rothenburg lay in ruins for almost 300 years, having no money to modernize and therefore accidentally managing to perfectly preserve its 17th century town.
One more stroke of luck helped Rothenburg stand today. In WWII with the Allies bearing down on Germany, a bomb strike on the town was called. But it was a foggy night, and the bombing of Rothenburg was unsuccessful. As the Ally ground troops approached Rothenburg, the main Nazi general in Rothenburg had briefly gone away to Nuremberg, leaving behind his second in command. At the same time, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy was familiar with Rothenburg, as his mother had visited years ago and came home to tell young John how beautiful the town was. McCloy gave an unusual command to offer terms of surrender to the German forces holding Rothenburg. The second-in-command for the Germans that was in charge at the time accepted, allowing for Rothenburg to avoid the horrors of war that affected countless other European cities.
Nowadays in Rothenburg you can admire the well preserved city. We started the day by walking the city walls. After the war the town raised money by putting advertisements in foreign newspapers seeking donations in exchange for getting that person's name on the wall.
One of the bigger towers around the wall exits you to a beautiful garden and the oldest fortress.
The opposite side of the town holds the castle gardens. They believe that during an earthquake in 1600 the castle crumbled off the cliff side and was destroyed. The beautiful gardens remain in its absence with some phenomenal cliff side views.
Rothenburg has its own pastry called Schneeballen, reviews are mixed on it but we were absolutely obsessed with the large balls of dough, we tried almost every flavor and deemed the dark chocolate one to be the best.
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