Germany's Romantic Road was loaded with great sights, but a particular trio of towns stood out, so much so that they were introduced to me under the name 'the three great walled cities of Bavaria.' While we never saw that moniker used officially, we concurred that the villages of Rothenberg, Dinkelsbühl, and Nördlingen arguably earned it. The layout of each was kept remarkably well-preserved. Its stone city wall still formed the major outline, and the interior seemed undisturbed by time, although all three have been cleaned up and given a fresh paint job. And, all three were major tourist draws, although Rothenburg clearly was first among these equals.
But, Nördlingen deserved more attention than perhaps it had gotten from the casual tourist. Its original exterior wall was fully complete and, unlike the others, the old town was geographically separated from the modern surroundings (Rothenburg, for example, has modern structures built all the way up to its wall on most sides. Dinkelsbuehl did to a lesser extent.) It had some thirty original picturesque old structures dotted around the downtown. On the other hand, it clearly wasn't reserved just for tourists. It was first and foremost a town where people lived ordinary lives. While Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuehl were largely free of automotive traffic on the inside, Nördlingen paved some of its interior roads, so it was not a free zone for pedestrians. Consequently, Nördlingen behaved more like a normal town that just so happened to have a big wall around it and lots of tourists inside. Nördlingen also had a lot more everyday-style shopping in somewhat modernized storefronts, while the others were more oriented towards souvenirs and knickknacks. Nördlingen wasn't overrun with tourists, although there are definitely tourist groups about (this is, after all, a popular spot along the Romantische Strasse).
I traveled there by car, parking in the main lot outside the Baldinger Tor, shown in the first photograph. This was the city's main gate, originally, that had since become a driver's entrance. Cars driving through the city exited through a different gate, and most of the streets were one way. The gates were largely unique in shape and function. For example, the Berger Tor (mountaineer's gate) in the west looked like it was designed as a footbridge allowing pedestrians to cross a moat. The second photograph shows the next major gate clockwise, the Löpsinger Tor in the east. This gate tower shared its roundish shape with the Deininger Tor further clockwise. Each of these gates let out to a tourist parking lot, so one was not restricted to the huge lot (that handled the tour buses) in front of Baldinger Tor.
The main feature in the city's interior was the main market square with the Church of St. George church in the center. The subject of the third photograph, St. Georg was similar to other Catholic Churches along the Romantic Road -- the dominant feature with a massive tower on top and heavily decorated on the inside. Visitors were welcome to climb St. Georg's bell tower, all 366 steps of it, to get a beautiful view of the town and its surrounding area (I did not do the climb). Across from St. Georg was the city's town hall (Rathaus). This was built in a very common style for Germany, with a tall clock tower in the center of a long market-hall-like structure with a steep roof and a covered stairway in front. The tourist information bureau was also located on the market square.
As Nördlingen sat at the western border of Bavaria, close to the lands of the former kingdom of Swabia, there was evidence of Swabian influence. One example was the Gasthaus zum Fuchs (fox) and decorative fountain shown in the fourth photograph. However, the pastel facades shown alongside were clearly Bavarian, although I saw very little of the tell-tale exterior murals that were common in other Bavarian towns.
Although it was difficult to judge a location based on a single visit, I wasn't sold on Nördlingen as a destination unto itself, but I admittedly didn't do enough of the city to get a fair picture. A proper understanding of Nördlingen took visiting there when an event was taking place. I went too early in the year and the place was quiet. In any case, it was clear that while Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuehl drew massive crowds with ease, Nördlingen did not. Perhaps for some, that would not be such a bad thing.
Trip taken 13 April 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin. Fact checking done using the Noerdlingen home page.