While the entirety of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was worth visiting, there was a main district that attracted the overwhelming majority of tourists. This was the combination of two streets, the Obere Schmiedegasse and Herrgasse, that connected like a 'L' with the main market square at the corner. These streets contained a huge number of great specialty stores, superb restaurants, and terrific scenes. This first chapter of the Rothenburg travelogue explores these two streets in detail, starting from the south end of Obere Schmiedgasse to the Rathaus and west on Herrgasse. This would be the route that those parking in lots P1 and P2 would most likely follow.
P1 and P2 were located at the base of Untere Schmiedgasse, the lower part of Obere Schmiedgasse. That stretch of road was straight and flat and lined with pastel-colored row houses and small restaurants and ice cream cafes. Among the eateries in Rothenburg, these were among the least expensive, but as we never ate in them, we could not vouch for their quality. The shopping didn't really start until we reached the southern towers, shown in the first photograph.
This picture was taken from inside the city, and was probably one of Rothenburg's best 'postcard shots'. This was the Ploenlein, or 'little place', with the Siebers Tower (Sieberturm) at left. The Sieberturm divided Obere from Untere Schmiedgasse, while the other road led to a separate gate tower and a path to the Tauber River way down below. The buildings at right were the first of the great row of shopping on this street as it rose on a sharp incline toward the market square.
Without sounding too commercial, here was a sampling of the available wares along that street. One store specialized in medieval wares, including just about every possible style of sword (from traditional to modernized and fashionable), armor, and other weapons. Several stores specialized in imported crystal and ceramic ware from the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary. Another store was heavily devoted to Frankish (not French) wines and liqueurs. Frankish wines tended to be predominantly white and light, designed for consumption with a meal. Frankish liqueurs were much like flavored vodkas or "Korns" or very strong fruit brandies like "Kirschwasser" or 'cherry water.' Laminated inlaid wood items were the subject of a couple other stores, but I did not know whether those were German-made or imported from Italy.
Obere Schmiedgasse had a large number of cafes and bakeries scattered throughout the downtown. The one confection that could be described as Rothenburg's own was a pastry called the Schneebaellchen... the 'small snowball'. It was formed by taking long thin strips of pastry and rolling it into a ball. It looked like a roll of yarm. They were most often found plain, covered with confectionary sugar, or dipped in chocolate. But there were plenty of other flavors, lemon-dipped, cherry-dipped, crusted with almonds, etc. We found these pastries a bit dry, but lots of other people loved them.
Awaiting at the top of Obere Schmiedgasse was the Rathaus (town hall), shown in the second photo. This had to be one of the most photographed buildings in all of Germany. The huge square always had something going on, and when the city had a festival underway, the Rathaus typically had flags, flowers, or some other decoration in front. This photo showed the Rathaus ready to host a traditional dance performance for its summer celebration. Accompanying the Rathaus on the market square was the Councillor's Tavern, a clock-tower structure that housed the city's Tourist Information Bureau.
Across from the Rathaus were the best of Rothenburg's restaurants (our opinion). These restaurants were terrific because they served good food and reasonable prices, and they were well-suited for rapid turnover. They were busiest during the lunch period, because at night the bulk of the tourists departed (especially those arriving by bus). We weren't certain, but it seemed like the locals avoided these places and went elsewhere -- there were plenty of other restaurants hidden among Rothenburg's other streets.
The third photograph was taken only a couple doors down on Herrngasse, facing back to the market. The eastern part of Herrngasse had a number of landmarks. For example, the brown building at the very right edge was a city museum and covered market strip that was in full use during festivals. Across Herrngasse, off the right of the photo, was a huge fountain and the Jagstheimer House which was an old dance hall. It was yellow and brown half-timber, similar to the hotel shown in the photograph's left. Finally, the white structure had an observation tower that one could climb for only a couple Euro.
It was absolutely worth climbing, and we've done it a couple times. The fourth photograph was taken from this vantage point, showing Rothenburg's major church, Jakobkirche. This church was rebuilt after massive damage, probably from World War II, so it was very simple and undecorated on the inside. There were two small market squares, the Kirchplatz and Gruenermarkt or 'Green Market', adjacent to the church leading back to the main market square. It was these small squares that hosted the city's Christmas Market while Herrngasse usually hosted other festivals.
Herrngasse also hosted two very popular shops -- the so-called Teddy Bear Museum and Kaethe Wohlfahrt's Christmas Museum. The former was a toy store that specialized in teddy bears and other stuffed animals. Posted at the entrance was a six-foot tall teddy bear, shown with Veronica in the fifth photograph. The Kaethe Wohlfahrt was across the street, and shown in the sixth photograph. This was a chain department store that specialized in German Christmas-related goods. One could find one of these stores in a number of tourist destination in Germany, but Rothenburg's was the original. This particular store included a Christmas Museum that displayed a number of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century vintage toys. The store also had its own horse carriage that it brought out for special occasions such as the Christmas Market, and the Christmas wagon that is shown in the photo with Veronica.
Herrngasse declined toward the Burgtor. Along the way, there were additional knickknack stores that sold ceramics, crystals, and other specialty housewares. At the end of the street was a puppet theater that offered shows in mid-afternoon on certain days of the week. There was also a clothing shop that sold traditional Bavarian outfits similar to those worn by re-enactors during Rothenburg's festivals. So, folks impressed during those events could buy their own pair of lederhosen and kick it up back home!
In this site, very few streets were worth devoting a whole page. This summary only offered a sampling of the types of shops, sights, and activities available on Obere Schmiedgasse and Herrngasse. That's why another whole chapter was devoted to Rothenburg's Festivals (which is next).
Seven trips between 1999 and 2006 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin. Fact checking done using the Rothenburg City Home Page.