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Rothenburg and the Night Watchman

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.

Our favorite stop on the drive north was the medieval city of Rothenburg

Our favorite stop on the drive north was the medieval city of Rothenburg

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.

Looking down from the top of the bell tower

Looking down from the top of the bell tower

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.

"It's not easy being a night watchman!"

"It's not easy being a night watchman!"

Wow, he looks exactly the same.  I can't say the same for the rest of us. (Dave, Austin, the NW, Jacob, and Taylor- Chad is taking the photo. June 2002)

Wow, he looks exactly the same. I can't say the same for the rest of us. (Dave, Austin, the NW, Jacob, and Taylor- Chad is taking the photo. June 2002)

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.

 

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Neuschwanstein

Well, the fun of Oktoberfest was over, and some of us had to go back to work… luckily it wasn’t us!  Jake and Jackie drew the short stick on this one, and flew home to London on Monday morning.  It wasn’t a sad goodbye though, we would see them again very soon.  The plan was to meet back up in Copenhagen the very next weekend- which left Kacey and I exactly five days to mess around in Germany before arriving ourselves in the Danish capital.

The fairytale Castle of Neuschwanstein

The fairytale Castle of Neuschwanstein

We didn’t really have a concrete plan, but we wanted to see a few special sites in Germany that I had visited 10 years previously, not only to rekindle my own esteem for them, but also to share their marvels with Kacey.  We find that the most rewarding way to travel is to strike a good balance between seeking out new places and experiences, and revisiting old ones that you know are golden.  So it was that we marked the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein and the medieval village of Rothenburg on our map.  Looking at the distances and our available time, we decided that a good ol’ road trip was in order.

First we would drive southwest from Munich to hit the castle, and then head north along the Romantastrauss (Romantic Road) towards Rothenburg- and consequently through a plethora of other small medieval towns along the way.  After that, we’d jump on the autobahn, put the pedal to the floor, and zip up to Hamburg, where we would turn in the car for a pair of train tickets, which would carry us the rest of the way to Denmark by Friday afternoon just in time to meet J and J.

I reserved the cheapest rental car I could find online, and as is usually the case, they were out of them when we arrived to the agency’s office.   But, what is also usually the case, they gave us a free upgrade to whatever they had in stock, which happened to be a Mercedes Benz!

So, off we went to Neuschwanstein, the real world manifestation of the fantastical dreams of Ludwig II, King of Baveria.  It is a true fairytale castle in a fairytale setting- indeed, it was the inspiration for the iconic Disney Castle.  Built in the 1860’s, Ludwig spared no expense, desiring the castle to imitate in every way the scenes of his favorite opera by Wagner.  But in the end it cost him dearly- based on the eccentricities of his construction, and himself, his cabinet was convinced he was crazy, and plotted to depose him with his uncle.  He ended up drowning in a lake near Munich, under mysterious circumstances, only days after the overthrow.

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More Sausage, More Pretzels, and More Beer

Oktoberfest day two… we got up early and rushed to the festival grounds to get in line at one of the beer tents (there are a certain number of tables inside each tent for which you don’t need tickets and that are first come first serve).  Sadly, about 10,000 other slightly hungover Bavarians had the same idea as us, and not surprisingly, again, we were going to be spending the day outside.

We tried to get to the beer tents a bit earlier, at 8am, on our second day in hopes of securing a table inside

We tried to get to the beer tents a bit earlier, at 8am, on our second day in hopes of securing a table inside

At one point though, thanks to a generous monetary tip that convinced our waitress to sneak us through the kitchen, Kacey and I did manage to infiltrate the confines of the Tent.  Once we were in, the real dilemma unfolded… it turns out that you can only be served if you have a designated seat at one of the thousands of crowded tables.  Luckily for us, my million dollar wink persuaded a group of young dirndls to give us temporary asylum on their bench- and when the next beer wench came around, we were victoriously served two bubbling steins of Munich’s best!  There really is no substitute for drinking a giant mug of cold pilsner in the Oktoberfest tent of the namesake brewery.

Success!

Success!

Well, you can only eat and drink for so long, and come 5pm, after over nine hours of indulgence, we were about spent.  Providentially we were presented with a second wind, in the form of… amusement park rides.  That’s right, the classic any-town-USA county fair comes to Munich every September and sets up dozens of rides in the acres of land surrounding the beer tents- bumper cars, roller coasters, farris wheels- in a bold attempt to family-ify the riot that is Oktoberfest.  In general this works pretty well, until at least the thousands of inebriated beer tent patrons abandon their liquid domain, and spill out into the twilight ready for a new form of entertainment.  At this point the wholesome family units wisely hit the Ubahn, and the rest of us hit the whirlybird.

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