Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rothenburg - Last Gasp of Vacation

Friday morning, we got up nice and early so we could have the RV returned by 8AM.

We had one last bottle of wine to give away.  We gave it to our neighbor's next door. In turn they gave us a bag of gummi candy. How nice, we put it in the suitcase to bring back home.  (Yeah, that's kind of a mundane detail for the 2nd paragraph, but it will make more sense when I write the next installment.)

All that is left is to fill up the camper water tanks and we'll be ready to go!

What happens next is another "European Vacation Movie" scene.   As we turn out of the campground on to the main street; it's different than it was yesterday.  Cars are parked all along one side of the street.  With 2 lanes of opposing traffic and a solid row of parked cars, there is just no room for the RV to fit.  We have turned on to and committed to this street and there is no way to turn back.  We couldn't see how narrow it was until we made the turn. I look ahead and cars keep coming towards us.  It's about 1/4 mile till we can turn off this street. I'm sure there were some Germans in their cars that morning dropping more Fbombs than Tony in Scarface.

When you are in impossible situations, it's amazing the guts you find. Frederick stayed put (having no where to go), I hopped out of the RV, walked down the street to the next intersection and stood in the middle of the road, stopping traffic, just like the cops do in front of my son's school. Really, I just stood there and prevented people from heading down the road.  Frederick then made his way in the RV up the path I'd cleared.  I ran and caught up with the camper and we were on our way.  Oh another scene we've caused! It's funny now!  On we go to return the camper.

I can tell you that this did not go smoothly.  I'm still hoping for a positive resolution to my the whole debacle, so I'm going to refrain from detailing how that went.  Suffice to say, they don't have much time before I use my tiny pulpit here to rationally explain the shenanigans.  Something is rotten in the city of Offenbach!

With the RV returned, and Lola and Lolo safely off in a cab to the airport for the next leg of their vacation, Frederick, Alex and I were now looking forward to experiencing Europe in our downsized mode. We had our "little" station wagon, still packed tightly with our bags for 3 weeks, but we were free to maneuver any street without concern.

About 2 hours southwest of Frankfurt, down the "Romantic Road" is a walled medieval city named Rothenburg.  The Romantic Road, isn't necessarily "romantic" in the Virginia is for Lovers way, it's the path the Romans used to spread their world view north.  Along the road are many picturesque towns and villages. Some time in the early 20th century the German's decided a bit of marketing would bring travelers to their corner of the world. So they hyped up how "romantic" it was, printed some maps and lured the tourists. It worked.

On the trek down to Rothenburg, we decided to check out the Autobahn with our new found freedom.  As we headed west, we were cruising along quite nicely.  We were doing about 90 and cars were zipping past us.  It's truly a treat for any driver. As fast as we were zipping along is as fast as we came to a halt.  No where else but Germany did we experience the madness of the "come to a dead stop" traffic jam.  What's the point of being able to drive 90MPH, if at some point you have to drive 2 MPH for 2 miles? The average really gets you. We were stuck in a traffic jam that delayed us for almost 2 hours.  It took everything we had to be in zen and vacationlike.

My Navigation Tools
The traffic jam behind us, we sped south to Rothenburg.  We had booked a hotel inside the city walls, right near the main square. The approach to Rothenburg from the autobahn was fairly standard, a mix of local houses, local shops and hotels.  Then we approached the actual walled city center.  Here the GPS and the directions diverged.  I couldn't find the landmarks that the directions said would lead us to the right gate. We ended up circling the city, looking for some way to get in.  We finally found a gate that looked like it might be big enough for our car to get through.  We are  now in the maze of cobblestone streets that is Rothenburg.  We thanked God we weren't trying to do this in the RV.  The GPS led us within 100 yards of our hotel, but it was down a pedestrian only street.  Thwarted, I tossed the GPS and worked our way round using the city map.  Ah the good ole days of navigation and the sheer joy of the moment when you say, "There it is, I found it!".  Columbus has nothing on me.

We pulled up in front of the Romantik Hotel Markusturm.  It's the number one hotel in Rothenburg on Trip Advisor for a reason. Instantly, someone was there to help lug all of our bags into the lobby and whisk our car away to private parking.  What a joy, as parking is truly at premium inside this walled city.  Of course, now we had to endure the obvious stares that come when you unload 4 hockey bags and 4 other bags and backpacks into the relatively small lobby.  Yes, we are just staying for the night, we explain, but we've been here for 3 weeks.  Yes, we are hording Texas Americans that can't travel without our "stuff".  It makes us happy, doesn't hurt anyone else, so leave us be!

The Berger family has been running this hotel for years and let me tell you they couldn't have been nicer. They helped us get our bags up to our third floor room.  Once we opened the door to our room we were gobsmacked. It was huge and beautiful! It had a balcony, a large sitting area, 2 huge wardrobes and a bathroom that blew away the Four Seasons and the Ritz back home.  All this for $200 a night. For the location, size of the room, large even in US scale and the service, it's quite a steal.

After spending the last 3 weeks in our "tiny" camper, we danced around the hotel room with abandon.  It was the most beautiful sight we had seen in weeks.  Of course there is no air conditioning, as it's hardly needed in this part of the world and of course was needed today.  The Berger's had already planned for that and had a stand fan in the room, circulating when we arrived. It was actually quite pleasant. We unpacked and reveled in our space for about an hour. Then it was time to take to the streets and experience the quaintness of this beautiful city.

If you ever go to Rothenburg, I can't recommend this hotel highly enough.

Our Beautiful Room
Frederick on the Balcony

What a historical and beautiful city. Everything you'd want in a weekend get away. Founded in 1170 Rothenburg grew over 400 years to a town of 600, a free imperial city. It was wealthy due to textiles and it's location at the crossroads of east/west and north/south trade routes.

It still stands today because for 400 more years it was a very poor city. Sacked and sieged in the Thirty Years War, it lost all of it's wealth.  Time stood still. Funny, like another city of the middle ages, Brugge, Belgium, it lives today as a  tourist attraction because it was poor for so long. So, 400 years from now, will Detroit be a tourist attraction?  If no money is invested to upgrade and change the landscape, at what point do you be come history?

Dinnertime and more schnitzel for Alex.  The boy has survived on pizza, pasta and schnitzel.  Did I tell you he carries his own ketchup bottle? He'd double the price of dinner if we had to pay for the all the ketchup packets he needs to finish schnitzel and frites. Just one packet of ketchup comes with your meal.  You have to buy the rest.

After dinner, we walked around exploring the town and the shops. It was very hot and very humid. Rain was in the air.

What I did next I'm not proud of, but when you are desperate, you do desperate things. As we walked around, the heat really got to me. My hair was sticking to my face and neck. The heat seemed unbearable. I needed to put my hair up, but I could find no hair band in my pockets or purse. We didn't have time to go back to the hotel to pick one up and the shops that might carry such a thing were now all closed.  Then my son pointed out there was a hair band on the ground.  I looked down and there it was, a bit dirty and wet, but a hair band none the less.  I thought of the man in the flood who curses God for not saving him...and God says I sent you a warning, a boat and helicopter, what more do you want?  In my moment of need, God sent me a hair band.  I picked it up...a nice dark brown fat one.  I dusted it off on my pants, took a deep breath and put it in my hair. Ok, I threw up in my mouth a bit, but damn it I was less hot. A lifesaver.  I kept it and now it's one of my most treasured souvenirs. (after I soaked it in hot soapy water over night)

It began to rain, but this only made our next adventure even more enjoyable.  Tonight we met the man with the 2nd best job in the world.  Our friends Jon and Tracy have the best job in the world. They travel the world on cruise ships giving historical talks to passengers about the ports they will be visiting next. If you want to know more about their fabulous life, read their blog here. Gee, I wonder where they got the name for the their blog?

The 2nd best job goes to Hans Georg Baumgartner.

The Night Watchman of Rothenburg.

Every night 8PM (in English and 9:30 in German), Hans dresses up as the nightwatchman and gives a 1 hour walking tour on the history of Rothenburg. It's interesting and hysterical. The man has "it" whatever it is. This was one of the highlights of our whole tour. For $6 euros ($4 for students) you get your euros worth. There must have been 100 people following him around like the pied piper. Not bad wages for 1 hours work.  6 days a week...7 months a year..hum!

Here's a bit of his story from the webpage.

"In the years before the dawn of the 20th century, the night watchman was one of many citizens of Rothenburg responsible for the safety of the inhabitants of this walled, fortified city. Even though the citizens who slept soundly at night in their beds trusted him to keep the streets inside the high stone walls safe, his status was less than honorable. His pay was low and his job was a dishonorable one. Only the gravedigger and the executioner were lower. His job was dangerous, because he had to guard the city at night like a policeman.

The good citizens went to bed early. The people that he met on the streets were the drunks and the thieves. To protect himself and to show his authority he carried an intimidating weapon called a hellebarde.

The Night Watchman gathers his followers in the Market Square in the heart of historic Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with the Councilor's Tavern in the background.
The night watchman made his rounds from nine in the evening until three in the morning, relying on the town hall clock to tell him when to sing his "Hour Song," which reminded the people who slumbered safe in their houses that he was still alive and taking care of them.

The night watchman's horn, carried on a chain around his neck, warned the citizens of fire--the worst possible disaster that could strike a city in the days before fire hydrants. Keeping watch over the streets of the inner city, lighting the lanterns and announcing the hours in the still of the night were the duties of Rothenburg's night watchman. There were six of these men patrolling the city up to the year 1920. "

If you ever get to Rothenburg, don't miss this tour.  We bought the DVD and have enjoyed the tour again after we were home. We learned that you can thank an American for saving Rothenburg.  In WWII, Nazi generals hid out in Rothenburg.  The US was about to demo the city, when one of the US undersecretaries of war remembered his Mom had a painting of Rothenburg in his house growing up. He asked that they offer the town the chance to surrender.  The German in charge ignored Hitler's orders to fight till the end and surrendered, thus saving the town.  Some of the town was damaged from the initial bombs.  After the war the town basically did a press release asking for money..selling the right to have your name on their city wall.  It worked and the town was rebuilt.  After the tour we headed back to our hotel for another yummy German beer and some Internet time. Alas, the Internet was not working in our room.  Normally hotel operators just shrug this off, like it's an unneeded extra service...sorry.  Not Frau Berger, she was on the phone and had IT staff over to make repairs. It turned out to be weather related and unfixable on a Friday night, but the effort was appreciated.  We could get signal in the lobby, so we sat at a booth, with 3 laptops, 2 beers and a sprite to catch up on the intraweb.

Later back in our room, we kicked back and watched some German TV.  It was the local version of "Househunters".  What made it so special is that the host was a forty something transvestite in a leather mini.  Hysterical!

So nice to be in a bed! Tomorrow morning it's souvenir shopping.  I look forward to waking up and lingering in the gorgeous bathroom.  No tokens for the shower, no pressing buttons, just white marble, silver fixtures and powerful unlimited hot water. I swear I could hear the hallelujah chorus.

We took advantage of the comfort and slept in. Breakfast had past us by.  Due to the late hour, we needed to check out and eat some lunch.  The Berger's were nice enough to bring our car around, load the bags up and then stash the car in their private parking till we were ready to go. When it was time to leave they even gave us a ride in their personal car to the lot and showed us the right way out of the walled city. Perfect hosts.
We headed out and got Alex his tshirt. He gets one from every city.  We multitask...vacation and school clothes shopping at the same time. I got my beer stein.  I'd been wanted to get another one since the 2004 earthquake in Northridge, CA broke mine. I'd had it since the 5th grade. My childhood friend Nancy Hewitt, (where the heck are you Nancy? I've seemingly found just about about every person I knew growing up, but you elude me!) (Update 2012, I found her!) Her Mom was from Germany and she went there over the summer and brought me back a beer stein from Stuttgart, along with some chocolate candy with liquor in them, very progressive for 5th grade. Since that time I always wanted to go the Germany, and now I have my replacement stein. They also had beautiful coo coo clocks, but they are so expensive! In my grandmother's hallway was a coo coo clock.  I would stare at the photos my great grandmothers as young women that hung on the wall and wait for the coo coo clock to chime. I always wanted that clock, but alas, it went missing in their move from Connecticut to Florida. Someday, I hope it turns up and makes it's way to me.

We had lunch at this great fresh pasta restaurant and drove back on the Romantic Road to Frankfurt.  We have one last night at the Frankfurt Hotel Sheraton. That went quite smooth, until we got to the airport, it was quite the feat to locate the hotel.

Next up...our final night in Germany.

Here's some photos of the city.

See the gate you have to get your car through!

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