Germany's Romantic Road wanders 220 miles, from thefoothills of the Alps in Bavaria, north to Wurzburg. Thismedieval passage is a treasury of riches.
If you begin at the south end, atthe River Main, the finishing linesare the Hohenlohe Castle, built in1156, and Bad Mergentheim's 1525Renaissance Palace. Still furthernorth, you'll reach the university cityof Wurzburg (www.germany-tourism.de/e/2959), established in 1402,home of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgenand the acclaimed 16th-centurywoodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider.In the south, you start with thethroat-catching castles of Mad KingLudwig, one of which, Neuschwanstein,was the model for Disneyland'spalace. After Ludwig's extravagantappetizers, you can breakthe journey with the main meal: astay at the Hotel Eisenhut inRothenburg ob der Tauber.
MYSTICAL LEGENDS UNFOLD
The German word doesn't mean romantic, but mysticalor legendary. Legends unfold beforeyou in those fantastic towns, somefounded before the birth of Christ.
Romantic Road rolls down fromthe white-crusted Alps, to the green,shimmering meadows, through thick-walledvillages with worn cobblestonestreets, and past odd squares full ofcanting, half-timbered houses withsteep gables and overhanging balconiedwindows. It beckons you onthrough towns pealed from the illustrationsof a Mother Goose tale.
Wander beneath towers fromwhich arrows once flashed and boilingoil was hurled on rioters below.Continue over bent bridges spanningmoats containing the detritus of eternity;past medieval churches alreadycenturies old before they saw aGutenberg Bible; and past fountains,statues, flower gardens, milestones,ancient oak trees, village stocks,woodcarvings, horses, street musicians,and the very ghosts of time.
Nowhere is the road more mysticthan where the River Lech leaves theBavarian Alps, tumbling to form acurtain behind Neuschwanstein. Weasked in Munich if Mad KingLudwig really was mad. "Perhaps,"the guide said, "but if his eccentricbehavior had occurred in British royalty,it would've gone unnoticed."
Looking at his castle, we knowthat he was mad as a hatter. But inhis madness, he fashioned a palacethat was a tribute to composerRichard Wagner, a glorification of hisknight Lohengrin, a paean to St.George the dragon-killer, an acclaimto chivalry, and a eulogy to Ludwig'smother, who, in love with swans, waseccentric herself. Every inch of thiscastle is decorated in breathtakinglybad taste. Still, Neuschwanstein isworth the visit.
ALPINE TREATS BLOSSOM
Next, head for Augsburg and its11th-century bronze doors and 12thcenturystained glass. Farther north,Dinkelsbuhl comes into view with its6th-century walled moat and a touchingtale. It was saved in the ThirtyYears' War when its children pleadedwith the Swedish army for clemency.
Nothing prepares the visitor forRothenburg on the River Tauber.Founded in the 9th century, Rothenburgis a kind of German Brigadoon,still relatively unvisited bytourists. Perhaps its unpopularity isdue to the original dungeons belowthe town hall and a medieval museumwith exhibits of legal antiquitiesand torture devices. It also has adrugstore built in 1488, where theEmperor Maximilian I stayed in1513, and a marvelous medieval hospitalkitchen dated 1591.
Rothenburg has 12th-centurygates, 13th-century cloisters, a 14thcenturyGothic town hall, a 15th-centurychurch, and, on the Herrngasse,a row of 16th-century patrician housesthat comprise the Hotel Eisenhut(www.eisenhut-rothenburg.com),one of the most unusual hotels in theworld. It's a captivating blend of theoriginal architecture of 4 medievaltownhouses and the exquisite antiquesof the original owner, FrauGeorg Pirner. From the great Gothiciron door of the 12th-century Chapelof St. Nicholas, to the largest privatecollection of Anton Hoffman's paintings,and its own flamboyant décor,this is a hotel that entrances its guestswith memories of the past.
For more information:
German National Tourist Office
122 East 42nd Street, 52nd Floor
New York, NY 10168-0072