Biking Germany The Italian Job Uncategorized

Finding Romance on the Romantic Road

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The approach to Rothenburg suggests a magical place

For the first few days, I didn’t get the romance of Germany‘s romantic road. The towns were pretty, but no more than any other European tourist destination. The roads were great for cycling; shady, tree lined, quiet and traffic free. But I didn’t fall in love. Until I entered Rothenburg Ob Tauber. Getting into the place was a knight’s quest in itself. The walled medieval settlement stands high on a hill, a Rapunzel tower providing a beacon in the hot afternoon sun. Then, once we’d achieved the height, pedalling furiously in the heat, it was still a push around the walls to find a way in. Penetrating the walled grounds was like entering an old but well preserved picture book; every street a new page of muted pastel colour and antique sculptured design. The terracotta shell shaped tiles on the sloping roofs caught the afternoon sun, dappled light falling onto the wooden beams and colourfully painted houses and shops, with their stepped or rounded edges.

The children quickly picked up on the magic of the place

The children pointed out the tiny wooden doors built high into the houses which were used to store grain in medieval times. We admired the ornate gold and brass clocks and intricately forged metal signs, clinging onto buildings adorned with aqua blue sundials, and window boxes filled with bright flowers. We breathed in the sights and smells of mass tourism; hot dogs, fresh coffee, tour guides carrying umbrellas, and Japanese people pointing cameras at the horse and carriages clip clopping through the town.

Dusk brings a fairy tale quality to Rothenburg

At dusk, the streets became lit up by old fashioned lanterns, fairy lights and the glow of restaurants and expensive shops. The stained glass windows of the churches darkening for a few brief hours before being flooded with morning light. Princess towers and domed masts drew the eye up cobbled streets, past the ornate Rathaus in the central square. And the shops! Windows filled with the ‘snowball’ treats this region is famous for; egg whites shaped into balls and sprinkled with icing sugar or dipped in chocolate or liquor, or filled with caramel or vanilla custard. Displays of ornate toys, shoes, table cloths or Lladro china figurines, and huge market place that just sold Christmas baubles and lights. Hannah and I went for a walk and she was transfixed by the window displays, but not over fond of the ever present smell of horse urine, a reminder that in medieval times the party atmosphere might have been diminished by the supplement of human waste, tumbling down from chamber pots being chucked out of high windows.

The night watchman brings history to life

We took a tour with the enigmatic Night Watchman, and he explained how tourism had been the salvation of this town many times. Once after the Thirty Years War, when the town was plundered and left to rot in poverty for over two hundred and fifty years, visitors came and injected their cash into the place. Then, an American General saved the town from being destroyed in the aftermath of the second world war, when he realised it was a place his Mum had been fond of in her youth. In the depression that followed it was rescued again when the tourism officials wrote to friends of Rothenburg around the world asking for cash in exchange for their names being written into the town wall.  And now, tourists were still keeping it alive. There are few other businesses in the main town apart from the shops, museums and restaurants. “It took the tourists forever to come,” said George, the Nighwatchman. “But then they came and they came and they came. Thank you for coming!” He flashed a cheeky smile, pushing his cloak and spear behind him and set off up the square, with a hundred people scuttling after him.

Beautiful but spoiled by tourism?

In the morning, the town was even busier, though no less pretty. But for us it had lost some of its glitter overnight. The baubles, snowballs and fairy lights had no purpose. The cafes were too expensive, we couldn’t find a supermarket to restock, and everywhere the groups of tourists made us wobble on our bikes. If we’d had more time we’d have visited the museums, gone up the towers, absorbed the history and found the quiet places and backstreets this stunning picturebook place had to offer. We’d have hunted out life beyond the tourist and their euro. But we were on a schedule and a budget. It was time to move on, and find more of the romance of the Romantic Road.

Magical snowballs, but too expensive to enjoy?


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The Family Adventure Project. Ideas and inspiration for an active and adventurous family lifestyle. From everyday adventures to once in a lifetime experiences. Stories, images and media produced and published by Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling.

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