Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Middle Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

After a superb day at Forchheim we returned to our campsite near Bamberg to plan the next day or two and enjoy a couple of drinks. I’d previously researched Franconia and it didn’t take me long to persuade Vanya that the little town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Middle Franconia should be our next destination.

Sitting on the terrace of the campsite bar, planning our next move.

I booked us into a camp site near Rothenburg – the Tauberromantik; so called because it sits on the ‘Romantic Road’ (a scenic route conceived and marketed by canny travel agents as a ploy to increase tourism in the area between Rothenburg and Fussen) and we set off early the next morning.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is an extraordinarily pretty place. In terms of population it is only a third of the size of Forchheim but it easily matches the larger town for things to see and do. Anyone visiting the town needs to spend a minimum two days here (and at least one night) just to scratch the surface of the place and we decided to do just that.

Rothenburg resembles a Walt Disney fairytale town and it is easy to see why it was revered as ‘the most German of German towns’ in the 1930’s. Indeed, the Nazis used to bus children into the town from all over Germany so that they could experience this picture perfect town. We made our way towards the town centre through the Klingentor (gate) and stopped at the Guckloch bar for a spot of refreshment (it was a hot day) and to plan our route around the town.

Sitting in the sunshine outside the Guchloch Bar near the Klingentor. There are 4 kilometres of sentry walls to walk from the Klingentor.

Sadly, our plan didn’t materialise. Vanya was in real pain with her hip and after escorting her and the dogs back to the Van I was left to explore the place on my own in the hope that, after resting her hip some more, she would be able to join me for a shorter more focused tour of the town during the evening. Fingers crossed.

Making my way back into the town I again passed through the Klingentor, this time pausing to view the Wolfgangskirche. The Wolfgangskirche is a fortress church near the Klingentor and it originally formed part of the medieval town’s defences. Indeed, the tower gate adjacent to the church (that’s the Torwachterhaus or Sentries’ House) and it’s casements (gun emplacements) are each accessed from inside the church through a door by the altar. It wasn’t until I saw the Wolfgangskirche that I really began to understand what a fortress church is.

I set my mind to walk a section of the castle walls later in the day but to start with I made for the “Plonlein”. A plonlein is a small square with a fountain and there are few of those across Rothenburg but the plonlein I was going to is arguably the town’s most popular landmark and certainly one of the most picturesque. It’s not far from the town’s main square and it features a tall crooked mustard coloured half timbered house which sits on a cobbled square (with the necessary fountain) between two 13th century city gates, the Siebersturm and the Kobolzellarturm. There is little that is historically significant about this particular setting but images of the place are to be found on countless travel blogs (especially those promoting the Romantic Road) and it was the inspiration behind Geppetto’s home in Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film ‘Pinocchio’. It really is the most picturesque spot in a particularly enchanting little town.

After visiting the Plonlein I made for Rothenburg’s lively Marktplatz where the Rathaus (Town Hall), with it’s unusual mix of 13th century Gothic and 16th century Renaissance styles, is located. The Rathaus, together with it’s white tower, is the most imposing building on the Marktplatz but there are other interesting features to be found on the square, most particularly the Georgsbrunnen Fountain (with it’s wonderfully detailed statue of St. George killing a dragon) and numerous half timbered buildings, my favourite being the Ratstrinkstube Clock Tower.

The Rathaus was not open while I was on the Marktplatz or I would have made a point of going up it’s 50 metre high Tower which is towards the back of the building. There’s a nominal charge (with the entrance being through the arches at the front of the town hall and not where you might expect it to be at the foot of the tower) but it supposedly offers some of the best views in Rothenburg.

Which brings me to my favourite building on the Marktplatz, the Ratstrinkstube (sometimes known as the Council Tavern because for a period of time it was only the city fathers who could drink in the bar – the general public were denied entry). Legend has it that in 1631, during the Thirty Years War, the Protestant town of Rothenburg was seized and about to be destroyed by the Catholic forces of a certain Count Tilly until the then mayor (Burgermeister Georg Nusch) persuaded the Count to accept a wager which would see the town spared if the mayor could drink an entire (3.25 litre) jug of wine in one go. That’s almost a gallon of wine. Mayor Nusch finished the wine in one visit and the Count honoured the wager and spared the town. Nowadays, when the clock chimes on the hour (between 10am and 10pm), two doors either side of the clock on the Ratstrinkstube open and the event is to some extent re-enacted by puppets, one of which is Mayor Nusch drinking from a large tankard while the clock chimes.

It is a real joy strolling Rothenburg’s pretty little backstreets, not least because it takes you away from the numerous tour groups that frequent the town during the day. One particularly charming building I stumbled across while walking the backstreets is “Die Gerlachschmiede”, an old forge built in 1469 which was destroyed during a bombing raid in WW2 but faithfully restored to the original specification (and which continued to be worked by a blacksmith until well into the 1960’s).

I could go on for ages writing about the many wonderful places in Rothenburg but it is time to let some photos do the talking; starting with the town’s High Gothic Church of St Jakob’s (Saint James in English). This triple nave church was consecrated in 1485, having taken more than 150 years to build, and it contains some beautifully ornate fixtures and fittings which lend themselves more to a Roman Catholic church than an Evangelical Lutheran church. Of course, St Jakob’s once was a Catholic church.

Outside Saint Jakob’s Church. Saint Jakob’s is a major stop on the Jakobsweg to Santiago de Compostela.

Inside Saint Jakob’s looking towards the central nave (and the Hauptaltar and large stained glass windows) and looking towards the rear of the church at the 1968 organ. There are organs at both ends of the church.

Another view towards the Hauptaltar from under one of the arches at the rear of the church. Just inside the main entrance is an unusual African wood carving of the Nativity…

… and at the back of the church is the Holy Blood Altarpiece, a beautifully carved depiction of the Last Supper crafted by Tilman Riemenschneider in 1505. Unusually, Judas Iscariot takes centre stage in this work of art but this figure can be (and is) removed between Good Friday and Easter Monday.

I mentioned previously that Rothenburg boasts 4 kilometres of some of the best preserved medieval walls in Germany. Those stretching along the northern and eastern sides of the town are covered sentry walls and they make for a great 2.5 kilometre walk from the Klingentor, through the Galgentor (Gallows Gate) and Rotertor, all the way to the Spitalbastel.

There are still 42 towers in the town that can still be seen but not all of them are to be found along the town walls. The fact is, some of the town walls (but not the towers) were dismantled and moved as the town continued to expand through the Middle Ages. Hence there being a fair few isolated towers all across the town.

I confess to not making a note of the names of all the towers I passed through, by or along during my walkabout but; here are some photos anyway…

From Spitalbastel I made my way back to the Van, stopping for a beer and to telephone Vanya on the way. She wasn’t feeling any better and we decided therefore to move on the next morning. That would give the painkillers a little more time to work and, anyway, we would be returning to Rothenburg ob der Tauber some time in the not too distant future.

And next time? On the must do list is, first and foremost, an overnight stay. It is an absolute must to see and photograph the town at night (when all the day trippers have left) and to join the “Night Watchman’s Tour”. I should explain, there’s a guy called Hans Georg Baumgartner who, most nights (full details from the Tourist Office), dresses as a Medieval Night Watchman and in the best Monty Python style guides small parties around the town, all the time regaling them with facts and ribald stories of life as it used to be in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

It is the above image of the Plomlein (not my photo) that demands Vanya and I stay overnight in Rothenburg

Forchheim (Upper Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

Apologies. Once again I have fallen behind with this blog. The fact is that good as they are the campsites we stayed at in Franconia had little 4G or 5G and the local wifi was generally awful. I was, therefore, unable to access my website as often as I would have liked and I simply fell out of the habit of updating the blog. I’ll endeavour to catch up over the next couple of weeks.

Okay, so let me write a little about Forchheim. It is a former royal city, now a town of some 30,000+ people, and the gateway to an area known historically as Franconian Switzerland (although it is nowhere near Switzerland). I love it and for me, it is a must-see place in Germany if ever there is one. It is one of the most picturesque towns in Franconia and has just about everything to make a short stay great:- a rich medieval history (with plenty of cobbled streets and timber framed buildings), several beautiful Baroque style churches (St Martin’s is my favourite), the River Wiesent (with it’s many canals and a “Bachla” too – more about “Bachla” later), plenty of good dining options (for any time of the day – breakfast was something else); some beautiful city parks (one housing no less than 23 traditional beer cellars); the list goes on and on and; so few tourists here (we saw none!). Yes, Forchheim is worth more than a short visit.

It’s perfect for a stroll and Vanya and I started our tour of the town on the Hauptstrasse which is wholly pedestrianised and full of small shops and cafes. We took a late breakfast in the sunshine outside a small cafe (absolutely perfect for people watching) with me going for the healthy option and Vanya going for, wait for it,”Spaghettieis”. I kid you not – spaghetti ice cream for breakfast! I described this dessert in the recent blog on Saarburg and reported then that Vanya was already hooked on the stuff.

While enjoying our food in the sunshine we couldn’t help but notice a small waterway which runs the length of the Hauptstrasse. It’s a “Bachla” and in olden days it served to help keep the town clean inasmuch that residents would simply brush their refuge into the water and watch it being washed away. Quite a few of the more discerning towns in Franconia have them. The downside of the “Bachla” is that visitors to the town can easily forget about them and fall in. Indeed, it happened while we were sitting having our food. I shouldn’t laugh but nobody was hurt.

Another interesting and very unusual feature on the Hauptstrasse is a statue of… an open door. I’m not sure of the significance of this door (which was donated by the local Rotary Club), unless it be a form of welcome to visitors, but; it is covered in carvings which I believe reflects the city’s history.

The city’s rich medieval history is reflected in the many half timbered listed buildings which are everywhere. One of the most striking is the Rathaus (the town hall) which was put together between the 14th and 16th centuries. Another is the 13th century St Katharina’s Hospital and Chapel. The oddest is a small bar, down near where the old synagogue once stood, which ‘lists’ just a little too much .

Just in front of the listing bar is the Synagogue Memorial. The synagogue itself is long gone. It was desecrated and damaged by Nazis on Kristallnacht (the 9th and 10th November 1938) and then blown up the next day. Again, you will find stolpersteine in Forchheim.

For me, the most prominent building in the town is the Catholic Church of Saint Martin. It is as beautiful inside as it is impressive from the outside. Indeed all of the churches I visited in Forchheim can be listed among the prettiest I have seen in Germany – St Martin’s; the previously mentioned Hospital Church of Saint Katharina and; last but not least, the plain looking white Marienkapelle with it’s elaborately gilded high altar.

The River Wiesent is another very obvious and very pretty feature of the town, whether it be the river itself or the “Bachla” or one of the town’s canals which are fed by the Wiesent. A peculiarity on the river are the many fish boxes scattered along it’s length through the town. At first glance I thought they were small boathouses but no; they are fish boxes in which the town’s fishmongers would keep captured carp alive and fresh until sold.

Forchheim is blessed with breweries. Four breweries currently produce beer in Forchheim but the town’s affinity towards beer doesn’t end with those four breweries. There is the Kellerwald (or ‘cellar forest’ in English). It is a forest come local park on the edge of Forchheim with numerous beer cellars built into the side of a hill. These cellars, the oldest of which dates back to the early 17th century, are where beer was once brewed but they are now used to preserve and serve finished beers at a constant cool temperature. There are no less than 23 bars selling beer from these cellars which makes for possibly the largest beer garden in the world!

Some of the beer cellars operate all year round while others only open during the beer cellar season which runs from April to October. Each cellar offers something unique; whether it be it’s beer, food, entertainment or setting. We stopped at the Hebendanz Keller (which belongs to one of the four breweries operating in the town and number 5 of the 23 on the above list). Hebendanz is an old brewery, founded in 1579, and they offer 6 beers including a rather nice wheat beer. Moreover, they serve that local pork dish “Schaufele” which I wrote about in my previous blog.

One final comment about Forchheim’s Kellerwald before we move on. Every year, towards the end of July, the town combines to hold the Annafest – A 10 day drinking and music festival which attracts more than 500,000 visitors. I could fancy that.

Zeil Am Main (Lower Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

After a third night in Triefenstein we headed off towards a campsite to the south of Bamberg, stopping on the way at the small town of Zeil am Main for a “look-see” and a spot of lunch. Zeil am Main is a town of almost six thousand inhabitants located on the right bank of the Main some 15 miles northwest of Bamberg. The town is known for it’s castle ruins (Schmachtenburg Castle) and for being the home of the long established Goller Brewery.

Motor homes are popular in Germany and most German towns have a decent stellplatz close to the town centre and so it is in Zeil am Main. We parked the Van on a virtually empty stellplatz in a pretty residential part of the town close to a large fishing pond and set off into the town. The first building of any note that we came across after entering the town proper was the Hexenturm or ‘Witches Tower’. During the 17th century Zeil am Main along with many other towns in the area, particularly Bamberg, was the scene of numerous witch hunts. Some 400 people from Bamberg and the surrounding area were burned at the stake after ‘confessing’ to witchcraft. Suspected witches were held and tortured in the Hexenturm in Zeil or in the Drudenhaus in Bamberg until they confessed.

The second building of any note that we encountered was the Parish Church of Saint Michael which proved to be considerably more interesting than the Hexenturm. It’s a beautiful baroque style church with some impressive 14th century frescoes and an absolutely splendid ceiling. Outside the church is a remarkable little chapel, the Anna Chapel. Not many people know this but Anna was Mary’s mother (i.e. Jesus’s grandmother).

Leaving aside St Michael’s and the Hexenturm, there is not a great deal to Zeil am Main and I think it is somewhat overrated as a place to visit unless of course you are into beer.

Franconia is as much a beer producing region as it is a wine producer and I was keen to see and perhaps enjoy lunch at one of the large local breweries. They are famous in this area for organising large rowdy parties on a daily basis where a wide range of craft beers and good local food is served in the brewery beer gardens. Almost immediately after arrival in Zeil am Main we were lucky to stumble upon one of the town’s more famous breweries, the Brauereigaststatte Goller (which dates back to 1514) and events in their beer garden were in full swing with countless large steins of beer and great plates of the local dish (i.e. “Schaufele”) in evidence everywhere. Even Vanya whom I have never seen drink beer was keen to try the place out but unfortunately, Goller’s tables are available on a first come-first served basis only and we lucked out. The place was already heaving with people as we arrived.

We had to settle on a nearby Greek Restaurant which was a poor substitute and to cap it all their food was rubbish. Instead of “Schaufele” I had to settle for a tasteless pork schnitzel and Vanya’s dish looked and tasted even worse.

In case you are wondering, “Schaufele” translates to “shovel” and what you get when you order this dish is a small shovel of pork (with potato dumplings). It looks so tasty…

After lunch we made time to walk more around the town but as has been mentioned above there is not a great deal else to see.

I considered walking up to the ruins of the 14th century Schmachtenburg Castle (Vanya didn’t want to know) but I’d seen some photos (see below) and decided, rather wisely I thought, to give it a miss.

And so we moved on to ‘Camping Island Bamberg’ in neighbouring Upper Franconia for a couple of nights. We had it in mind to visit another small town famous for it’s beer – Forchheim.

Burgstadt (Lower Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

Just two kilometres from Miltenberg is the smaller town of Burgstadt. There’s a large stellplatz at the edge of the town and I left Vanya and the dogs in the Van on this stellplatz while I went off for a quick look around Burgstadt.

The most interesting features of this relatively plain town (most places will appear plain after Miltenberg) are; the old and once fortified Parish Church of Saint Margareta (the nave and tower of which date back to the 13th century); the 16th century Rathaus (the town hall building); the celebrated Rudolf Furst Winery (closed while we were in the town) and; foremost amongst all of these, the 1oth century Martinskapelle (St Martin’s Chapel). Certainly, it was the chapel which drew me to Burgstadt.

St Martin’s was built as a chapel in the 10th century and is now recognised as one of the oldest churches in Franconia. It is most remarkable for it’s 16th century wall and ceiling paintings which include 40 medallions depicting scenes from the bible (both Old and New Testaments). Unusual and beautiful.

There was one other feature I was drawn to while in Burgstadt and that was the small rose garden behind the parish church. I spent a pleasant half hour in the garden before heading back to the Van and then on to Triefenstein.

That’s the tiny rose garden with the parish church in the background.

Miltenberg (Lower Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

That first day, after overnighting in Triefenstein, we thought to visit two towns in the Lower Franconian area of Bayern: Miltenberg on the River Main and then, if time permitted, nearby Burgstadt.

Miltenberg is a small town of just under 10,000 inhabitants. It is a beautiful place which straddles a curve in the River Main and is often referred to as the “Pearl of the Main”. It has a particularly attractive old town covering a narrow 2km stretch of land on the south side of the river between the two medieval tower gates Mainzer Tor and Wurzburger Tor. Being sandwiched between the river and the Odenwald Forest it is just 150 metres wide. You couldn‘t get lost there if you tried.

Given it’s proximity to Frankfurt and because it is a regular stopping place for many cruise boats which travel the Main, Miltenberg’s tiny old town is more often than not crowded with tourists during the summer months. We arrived at the end of summer and considered ourselves lucky as just one cruise boat was docked in the town.

We parked the Van in the local stellplatz and walked across the Main Bridge into the old town via the Brueckenturm or Zwillingstor, to use the tower’s proper name. There’s a lovely promenade along this part of the river bank and we walked that later in the day but our first priority was to head along Hauptstrasse (the high street) towards the town’s triangular Marktplatz (the market place), known as Schnatterloch, and plan our day from there over a local wine or beer (and a late breakfast).

Schnatterloch is to all intents and purposes the centre of the old town and easy to reach. Simply follow the mostly pedestrianised Hauptstrasse, which runs parallel to the river for almost the whole length of the old town, and you’ll reach it.

It’s a picture perfect cobbled medieval market place comprising an ornate 16th century renaissance fountain (the Marketbrunnen Fountain) almost completely surrounded by a series of pastel coloured half timbered buildings, a beautiful red sandstone church (Saint Jacobus) and a small town gate which leads up to Miltenberg Castle. I went up to the castle for the views but didn’t go inside as I had left Vanya outside a cafe on Schnatterloch with the dogs and wasn’t sure if she had sufficient Euros with her to cover our brunch.

There’s a second more controversial fountain in the 0ld town of three men peeing into a pond (the Schaffelbrunserbrunnen Fountain) which I had read about but didn’t bother searching out. No more need be said about that.

In case you’re interested, the red timbered building which features in all three of the above photos is known as the Schmuckkastchen or Little Jewellery Box. It’s a hotel now and very pretty too. I understand that the town has at least 150 of the half timbered buildings and a good two thirds of them are to be found on Hauptstrasse. It’s a fascinating street with some wonderful cafes and shops. I read that it takes about 30 minutes to walk the Hauptstrasse. It took Vanya and I over 50 minutes to walk it’s length; the place was so interesting. Sadly, I couldn’t help but notice more stolpersteine along the route but credit to the local authorities for supporting this initiative.

Most of the half timbered houses in Miltenberg, and especially those on the Hauptstrasse, date from the 17th and 18th centuries but; the oldest, the “Zum Riessen Hotel’, dates back to the 16th century. The building has been renovated many times since then but the basic architecture is as it was in 1590. Previous guests of the hotel include two Holy Roman Emperors (Frederick I and Charles IV), a couple of European Kings, Martin Luther, Richard Strauss, Napoleon Bonaparte, Elvis Presley and now us (although unlike the others we didn’t stay over).

I’ll end this entry with a few photographs of the Parish Church of Saint Jacobus which, as I mentioned before, is on the Schnatterloch. The first photo was taken from the Hauptstrasse in an area known as Schwarzviertel or Black Quarter (so named because the high buildings surrounding the little lanes in this part of the town admit very little daylight) and the second photo is from a lane off of the Schnatterloch which leads up to the town’s castle. The first Church of Saint Jacobus was erected on the Schnatterloch in the 13th century but the current church is a late 18th century rebuild. Just outside the church is a small plinth with a statue of a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, 2577 kilometres away.

All in all, we were both very pleased to be able to while away a few hours in Miltenberg. There are a great many well preserved medieval towns and villages all across Europe. This must rank amongst the most striking in Germany because, unlike many, it was barely touched during World War II. It‘s a really beautiful little town to spend a few hours.

That’s it for now. There’s just enough time to stop off in Burgstadt before we head back to Triefenstein.

Triefenstein (Lower Franconia), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

Our next overnight stop was Camping Main Spessart Park in the small town of Triefenstein in the Lower Franconia area of Bayern Region. Following the model in Saarburg we intended using Triefenstein as a base from which to visit a couple of places in the Lower Franconia area namely Miltenberg and Burgstadt.

Starting with Triefenstein itself, there’s not a great deal to see in the immediate area. Yes, there’s the 12th century Kloster Triefenstein Monastery just outside the town but it is not generally open to the public and I wasn’t going to walk up there from the campsite just to wander it’s grounds (always assuming the public are allowed entrance into the grounds). There is also a small market square containing an obelisk dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Dreifaltigkeutssaule, (which was inspired by similar monuments in Austria at Wien and Bayern) and; there is the Parish Church of Sankt Jacobus to see. Perhaps most interesting, there is a fresco on a nearby house commemorating Napoleon’s crossing of the Main on his way to Russia in 1812. It seems Napoleon’s army built a pontoon bridge nearby and he stayed overnight in the town.

Except for it’s impressive little Edeka supermarket, that is about it so far as Triefenstein is concerned but we didn’t expect a great deal and, as I said earlier, we intended using the town as a base from which to explore other parts of Lower Franconia. We would start the next day with Miltenberg and possibly Burgstadt.