Rothenburg over the Tauber is a medieval city in Germany, southeast of Frankfurt, and west of Nuremberg. At one time, it was the third largest city in Germany and the largest completely walled city. It dates back over 1,000 years and today is one of Germany’s treasures. The name Rothenburg ob der Tauber means “Red fortress over the Tauber”. Rot is the German word for red, referring to the red tiles on the roofs while burg refers to a fortification. Ob der means “over the”, and of course Tauber is the name of the river that runs by.
This city is so well preserved because of two events. First, in 1631 the then Protestant Lutheran town was overrun by a Catholic army. They occupied it with 40,000 troops during the winter of 1631, leaving it poor and empty. Then in 1634 the town was again under siege, this time by the Black Plague. Rothenburg stopped growing and went stagnant after those two incidents. In the 1880s it was re-discovered by Bavarian artists and began to grow as a tourist destination. The town leaders quickly adopted laws controlling the kind of growth to preserve it.
In World War II the town was again in danger of destruction. German troops had been stationed here to defend it. Rothenburg had been recognized as the “ideal” representation of German life, and Hitler wanted to preserve it. Allied forces bombed the city briefly doing moderate damage, but then mounted a ground attack.
The then Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy knew about the historical significance of Rothenburg, so he handed down instructions not to shell the city when it was taken. Instead, the commander responsible for taking the city sent six soldiers to deliver a message to the commander of the German forces. It was an ultimatum: turn over the city and it would be preserved, or allied forces would shell and bomb it to the ground.
The German commander evidently understood Rothenburg’s significance too because he elected to give up the city without a fight, even though all commanders were under orders from Adolph Hitler at the time to fight to the end.
We had only one day to walk around this city, and it turned out to be a total wash out. It rained and drizzled all day. We were in full rain gear the entire day. In fact, our images were taken with our phones because we didn’t want to get our new cameras out in this weather. What we saw was enough to convince us to return another time. We could spend a couple of days here, especially in good weather. So we’ll put yet another destination on the list to return to. At this rate it might take awhile to see the whole country!