Friday, June 19, 2015

Following the Romance Road to Rothenburg and Würzburg

Rothenburg from the Wall
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the ‘Red fortress above the Tauber’ is a small German town with many of its buildings preserved from medieval times. Rothenburg has long been valued as a prime example of a ‘German Home Town’. During Nazi rule followers were brought from all over the Reich to see the ‘the most German of German towns’. And during World War II, the U.S Assistant Secretary of War knew the historic importance and beauty of the town, thus ordering the army not to use artillery in capturing Rothenburg. A US military leader was sent to the local German military commander to negotiate the surrender and save the town, in spite of Hitler’s decree that all towns would fight until destroyed. After the war ended the residents, with the help of funds from around the world, rebuilt what had been damaged during the war. More lately, the traditional buildings of Rothenburg have appeared in several movies. In the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio it was the model for the village. The
Medieval Rothenburg
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) movie featured Rothenburg in the trailer with the camera flying over the town from the valley towards the Town Hall. It has also been used for location shots in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 in 2010 and Part 2 in 2011). Dave noted that pretty much every medieval community from Prague west could have been in the Harry Potter movies; he’s not nearly the fan I am.

Rothenburg came into being in the 10th century and the weir system can still be seen in the
Top L to R: Tower gate, Markus Tower
Bottom L to R: White Tower with Stork nest, Church
castle garden. Over several centuries the Comburg-Rothenburg family ruled the area, with the castle passing to a nephew, Konrad III, in the mid-1100s; he called himself the ‘King of the Romans’. The Rothenburg lineage has continued to the present time with Andrew Sandilands Graf von Rothberg, the 9th Count of Rothberg (born in 1972) residing in the United States. We were delighted that the town had been restored and that we could walk around the walls to see the city. The town still has remnants from towers and walls that were built in the 12th and 13th centuries; these are the ‘White Tower’ and the ‘Markus Tower with the Röder Arch’. It also has examples of renaissance and Gothic buildings dating from the 13th century through the 16th century. We enjoyed the architecture, but particularly liked the relative new construction a stork has made on top of the town hall. Another treat that is specific to Rothenburg is the Schneeballen. Its egg dough that’s been fried (sort of like a
Top Center: Schneeballen with confectioner's sugar
funnel cake) then covered in either confectioner's sugar or chocolate; of course we opted for the dark chocolate.

In the Rothenburg square is a wonderful fountain. Our guide, Gunter, told us that there was
Top: Faces to scare evil spirits
Bottom: Mean faces and pigeon drinking
a reason the faces are so fierce. When the early inhabitants dug a well and put in a fountain, they were concerned about evil spirits fouling the water. As they built the fountain, they sculpted these scary faces to drive away the evil spirits. I thought one of the faces looked a bit like Santa Clause. Evidently the dove wasn’t a harbinger of evil, because the faces didn’t scare it away when it came from a drink directly from one of the spigots.

Rothenburg from the Wall

Würzburg, once called Herbipolis because of the herbs grown in the town, is another
Fortress Marienberg
ancient city dating from the Bronze Age refuge castle that stood on the site of the present Fortress Marienberg. Charlemagne consecrated the first church in Würzburg in about 788; the present Romanesque style Cathedral was constructed on that site from the 11th through the 13th centuries. Church building was a major undertaking and sometimes took hundreds of years amid the politics and the wars. Between 1626 and 1631, 600 to 900 alleged witches were tried in Würzburg, with most dying while proving their innocence. One of the favorite tests was the dunking cage; if you were a witch you wouldn’t drown when held under
Witch dunking cage
water. Unfortunately, if you didn’t drown, you’d be burned alive; either way, the accused had no chance of survival once the trial began.

Construction of the Würzburg Residence, the palace for the Prince-Bishops, began in the
Würzburg Residence
early 1700s; it, and most of Würzburg, was destroyed in a World War II fire bombing. After the end of the war, ‘rubble women’ (Trümmerfrauen) began the rebuilding process. The task fell to these women because the men of the city were either still prisoners of war or dead. It took at least 20 more years for the important historical buildings to be accurately reconstructed. The Würzburg Residence reminded me a great deal of the Peterhof Palace and the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, both in St. Petersburg, Russia. All these palaces have gilt-lined rooms, fantastic sculpture and paintings, and amazing tapestries. The Residence, named a UNESCO World Center in 1981 and again in 2010, is called the greatest work of architect Balthasar Neumann. It holds more than 300 baroque and rococo decorated rooms with a
Neumünsterklein decorated with skeletons
massive staircase covered by a curved vault that was the largest of its time. The fresco on the vaulted ceiling above the staircase is the work of Italian artist G.B.Tiepolo and generally considered the largest fresco in the world. Our walk across Würzburg we did pass several churches and one building that I found very interesting. 
It appeared to be a church decorated with cherubs and skeletons. This is Neumünsterklein and it's got a split personality. Half the church was Romanesque, and quite plain,while the other half was Baroque and festooned with cherubs and skeletons. 

For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Review of the Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris’.
Lion on the bridge in Würzburg

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