After Neushwantein, with its towering walls and gilded galleries, our appetite for the medieval was set- but where the fairytale castle of Ludwig II was only a masquerade of antiquity, being built in the late 19th century, our upcoming drive down the Romantische Straße, or Romantic Road, would be a tour of true relics, a journey into quintessential, medieval Germany.
The Romantische Straße follows the course of an ancient trade route through the heartland of Bavaria, weaving its way through no less than 28 distinctly ancient and picturesque towns and villages, most with their own prominent castle or domineering fortress. The absolute cream of the crop though, in our admittedly biased opinion, is the improbable walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Have you ever been somewhere where time seems to have stopped cold- say your grandmother’s attic, where rotary phones and mechanical typewriters sit on dusty shelves and speak of an earlier age, that may as well be reality, were it not for the cell phone in your pocket? Well, Rothenberg is like that, except it is a whole city, not just an attic. Every coble stone in the street, every iron latch on the inn’s door, every tallowed wick burning on the café tables spread around the plaza of the thousand year old bell tower- it all adds up to effectively transport you back in time to the days of knights and kings. As a case in point- the small BnB we took as residence was built in the early 1400’s- that’s right, before Columbus had stumbled upon America- can you imagine staying in a place older than any building on the “new” side of the Atlantic? We just tried not to think about how old the mattress was.
To complete our foray into the past (on more levels than one), we eagerly sought out and signed up for the Night Watchman’s tour. The Night Watchman is a rather eccentric tour guide, with curly hair, a pretty authentic black velvet costume, and a very distinctive voice. He also happens to give the best and most memorable tour of any place I have ever been. By some happy circumstance, ten years ago, our puerile group of five stumbled upon the reserved Night Watchman in the center of town shyly trying to drum up followers for his tour. We were usually pretty tight pocketed back then, but in this instance we took the bait. And how glad I am that we did. For some reason I can still remember the whole tour, the route through the town, the historical details he pointed out, and more than anything, the tone and cadence of his voice- as I am sure my compadres do as well.
So now here is the craziest part… in no way did I ever imagine that some random guy who we took an impromptu tour with during our sophomore backpacking trip through Europe, would still be killing it over a decade later! And not only was it the same exact guy doing the same exact tour, but he looked and sounded exactly the same too! I swear he hadn’t aged a day. There must be something in the water of Rothenburg that halts the whole process. I don’t know, but I’ll just say that if I could find something to pay the bills as fulfilling and obviously enjoyable as this guy has for the past 10 years, I would be a very satisfied man. And ps- the tour was just as great the second time round.