Rothenburg City Wall Walking Tour:
Walking Tour Location: Rothenburg City Wall
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Museum and funicular/lift costs below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Old Town Square (Marktplatz)
End: Saint Wolfgang Church (St. Wolfgangskirche)
Walking Distance: 2.1 miles ( +0.9 for Old Mills; +0.3 for Toppler Palace)
Time: 90 Minutes for Walk (+45 minutes for Toppler’s Water Palace and 90 minutes For the Old Mills Hike)
Fun Scale: 10 out of 10
Overview Of The City Wall:
If the colorful half-timber houses and cobblestone alleys of Rothenburg weren’t magical enough on their own, the village is also encircled by a timeless Medieval wall. As early as 1100AD, sections of the fortified stone wall were protecting the young trading center and its royal castle. After being named a Free Imperial City in 1274, the fortifications were strengthened, the watch towers were enhanced, and wall was expanded as the city grew. Rothenburg grew to be the 2nd largest city in Germany by 1400 thanks to the markets that prospered behind the protection of the 2 mile long city wall. While the castle is long gone, the wall, its covered ramparts walkways, and many of its towers have been well preserved for your enjoyment. This preservation is because the city never expanded and modernized due to financial hardships after the 30 Years War in the 1600s and because citizens came together after WW2 to sponsor restoration from damage caused by bombings. We hope you enjoy our Rothenburg city wall walking tour as taking even a brief stroll along it shows you a side of the beautiful village that many tourists miss.
Rothenburg City Wall Walking Tour:
10. Vine Mansion: One of our favorite homes in Rothenburg is the huge vine covered mansion on the corner of Burggasse and Heringbronnengasschen. The vines not only cover most of the property’s large inner courtyard, but also spill out over the outer wall.
11. Castle Alley (Burggasse): As you hit Castle Alley you get your first view of the Tauber River Valley over the city wall. While we are turning right to check out the former castle grounds you’ll see the other end of Castle Alley later in this tour. A large part of the alley in the Middle Ages was part of the Saint John’s Monastery which was established in 1200. Because the monks wanted to be separated from general public to avoid temptation, a large part of the alley were covered with a wooden roof and closed to non-monks. The roof made the alley very dark so it gains the nickname Hell Alley. Playing off the nickname, our favorite restaurant in Rothenburg is To Hell Tavern (Zur Höll). The restaurant is one of the oldest in town, and while small, has an authentic Medieval feel. Restaurant Hours: Daily after 6pm.
12. Castle Hohenstaufen Ruins (Burggarten): Because the land in Rothenburg was fertile and cheap, King Conrad III decided to build Castle Hohenstaufen here in 1142 sparking the true beginning of Rothenburg. Conard had already been the King of Italy when before becoming the King of Germany. King Conrad was headed toward the title Holy Roman Emperor, but unfortunately died before he could be crowned. After the death of Castle Hohenstaufen next resident , Friedrich the Duke of Rothenburg, it sat vacant in disrepair, but the village around the castle continued to grow. Rothenburg sat on the crossroads of two major trade was further elevated to a Free Imperial City in 1274 by King Rudolf of the Habsburg Dynasty.
In 1356, Castle Hohenstaufen was ruined by by a large earthquake which also damaged sections of the city wall. Much of the stone from the castle was used as a quarry to repair and bolster Rothenburg’s fortifications. With the city at its peak of 6,000 residents in 1400AD, Mayor Toppler decided to rebuild the castle’s Upper Ducal House into what is now the Chapel of St. Blaise. Originally the castle didn’t have chapel and the Ducal House was actually where the king received his guests. At the time of Toppler’s work, Rothenburg was the 2nd largest city in Germany and one of the 10 largest in the Holy Roman Empire. In more recent time a has memorial was added inside the chapel for German soldiers who died in WW1 & WW2. As you leave the chapel keep and eye out of sections of the castles original foundation and for the Jewish Memorial. The memorial stone is for the half of Rothenburgs 500 Jews killed in 1298 for religious reasons. The Jews were often forced to live outside of the city walls and were official banned in 1520.
Roaming further down the the rest of the castle grounds you will see the Castle Garden (Burggarten) which were added in the 1700s and were not originally part of the complex. The garden has beautiful geometric flower beds with 8 sandstone statues representing the 4 seasons and 4 elements. It is one of the best places in Rotheburg to relax offering great views of the Tauber River Valley below.
13. Castle Gate & Tower (Burgtor & Turm): After Castle Hohenstaufen was destroyed in the earth quake of 1356, needed to enhance their defense on the West side of town. They decided to super-size the Castle Gate, adding a tower and other protective measures. Two small gate houses where built in front of the Castle Gate to help funnel in traffic in. Just inside the gate houses you’ll see a decorative mask which has a mouth hole the guards would use to pour hot tar on attackers. On the sides of the mask you’ll see two large slots where chains were fastened to raise the gate’s drawbridge. In Medieval times, all of the city gates were locked at sundown so you would have to pay a fine at the gate house to get in after dark. You would also have to enter a special side door with a small opening only big enough for one person at a time known as the man hole. The current wooden man hole door dates back to 1555.
14. Former Dominican Convent Garden (Klostergarten): The Imperial Kitchen Master, Lupold von Nordenberg, funded a move to bring the order of Dominican nuns here from the nearby village of Neusitz in 1258. The Convent had a large garden, a modest church, and dormitories. The convent gained wealth through donations and from received the wedding dowry money for women who joined. Although the Convent was dissolved in 1544 and the church was tore down in 1813, the rest of the grounds are now part of the Imperial City Museum. The gardens are free to visit, have 50 types of herbs and a section of well marked poisonous plants. Hours: April-October Daily 8am-7pm.
15. Imperial City Museum (Reichsstadtmuseum): Opened in 1936 inside the of the former Dominican Convent dormitory is an impressive museum covering the history of Rothenburg. A lot centers around the Convent, started in 1258 and dissolved in 1544, but covers much more. Other sections include City History, Medieval weapons, Paintings, Jewish History, and the kitchen. The kitchen, dating back to the late-1200s is considered the oldest kitchen in Germany. One of the coolest parts of the kitchen is the Lazy Susan the nuns would use to give food to the poor outside the convent without being seen. Museum Hours: April-October Daily 9:30am-5.30pm; November-March Daily 1-4pm. Museum Website: (HERE). Museum Cost: Adults 4.50€; Kids Free.
20. Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum): Sitting in the former monastery complex of the Monks of Saint John, is the only law museum in Europe! The Medieval Crime Museum covers over 1000 years Medieval law history, sensational criminal cases, including the persecution of witches and witchcraft in Bavaria. Our favorite items are the the instruments used for torture, shaming, and punishment. The devices were use for everything from stealing, people who cheated on their spouses and even those who gossiped too much. It is by far one of the coolest things to do in Rothenburg and helps get you into the Medieval spirit. Museum Website: (HERE).
21. Saint John’s Church (St. Johannis Kirche): Built from 1390-1410 as part of Saint John’s Monastery, replacing the monks’ former headquarters built here in 1200. The church changed denominations a couple times over the centuries and is Rothenburg’s only Catholic church. The interior is one of the more bland in town, but it is still an important place to take note of.
22. Saint John’s Fountain & Fish Pond (Johannisbrunnen): The large fountain well next to the church is the biggest in town, able to hold over 25,000 gallons of water. It was built in 1608, remodeled in 1716, and is decorated with a beautiful column capped with Aquarius, the water bearing zodiac sign. Sitting right behind the fountain is a large stone fish pond that we find to be really cool, but is often overlooked. The tank was the holding pond was the perfect way to make sure they always had plenty of fish on hand at the monastery. The ponds were remodeled in 1856 and have held up great since then.
23. Baroque Garden & Vineyard: Sitting right below the former Saint John’s Monastery, is a small baroque garden. If you are popping down to the garden, it is also a nice place to stop and check out the vineyard that covers most of the neighboring slope.
24. Plönlein Corner: The postcard perfect shot you were looking for, Plönlein Corner is the most iconic image of Rothenburg. The bright yellow half-timbered house is almost jaw dropping. Get there before or after the the tour buses roll in to get great photos with the square free of tourists. Also make sure to check out the cool flower bed made out of a former well fountain in front of the home. Plönlein means small level area,but its the change in elevation in the split of the road that makes it cool.
Down the hill to the right of Plönlein Corner is Kobolzeller Tower & Gate. Leading up from the Tauber River Valley, thid checkpoint was a series of 4 gates built to kennel visitors in for extra layers of protection. Following the 1356 earthquake the tower near the gate was built. If you take the steep path down to the River you can get an excellent photo back up the hill of the Kobolzeller Tower through the trees. Up the hill to the left of Plönlein Corner Sieve Maker’s Tower (Siebersturm) which was added in 1385 as part of the new fortifications. The tower was originally called the Inner Gebsattler Tower but was renamed for the Association of Flour Sieve Makers.
25. Infirmary Quarter: While originally centered on the Parish of Detwang on the Tauber River, in 1080 the village of Rothenburg started to move up the hill. One of the first buildings up the hill was a small fortress for the Counts of Komburg on the so-called “Vinegar Jug” near the Infirmary. When the first city walls were built in the early-1200s, the neighborhood was left outside of the walls. In 1280, a religious order called the Knights of the Hinterland established a hospital to help the sick and poor called the Holy Ghost Infirmary. The Infirmary was eventually enclosed by the city wall in 1370, but a large fire in the 1500s required most of the hospital complex except the Holy Ghost Church be rebuilt.
26. Old Ross Corn Mill (Rossmühle): Built in 1516 as a corn mill the Rossmuhle was powered by 16 horses instead of with water power like other area mills. The large mill is one of the best buildings in Rothenburg to photograph and we love the curved port windows in the roof. The mill now serves as a youth hostel and is one of the most reasonably priced hotels in town. Hotel Website: (HERE).
27. Little Flushing Tower & Outdoor Theater: (Stöberleinsturm): Originally outside the city walls the tower and building served as a hospital and center for the poor. The section of multilevel wall behind the theater bowl is our favorite section to go walking on in the city.
28. Hegereiter House: This funky looking building is the former Infirmary hospital kitchen and the uniquely shaped wooden roof follows the curves of the original tent roof. Built in 1591, the loft area of the Hegereiter House doubled as the home of the manager who was in charge of multiple Infirmary properties.
29. Hospital Tower & Bastion (Spitalturm): When the Infirmary was incorporated by the city wall in 1370, a gate to be built here to serve as the new Southern entrance into Rothenburg. The defenses of the gate were greatly enhanced in 1586 when the tall gate tower and figure 8 shaped bastion were added on. The Bastion has 2 inner courtyards, has 7 gates, an upper walkway, and is surrounded by a dry moat you can walk in. We could spend a solid hour wondering through the figure 8 just admiring the exposed beams and covered bridge. The Latin inscription over the outside of the gate says: “Peace to those who enter; Farewell to those who leave.”
30. City Wall Walk: With roughly 2.5 miles of Medieval ramparts and 70 towers surrounding Rothenburg, a stroll on top of the 20 foot tall wall is one of the joys of any visit. While we do have a complete walking tour available for anyone wanting to to the complete circuit, the shorter version from Ruckesser Tower to Röder Tower will at least give you a taste. Working your way up the steps and into the covered walkway on top of the wall is magical. The ceiling only about 6 feet tall, and the path is single file, but you’ll really get the Medieval feel. Slits in the wall provided lookouts and bowmen vantage points for incoming attacks.
During WW2 Allied planes dropped bombs on the North side of Rothenburg, killing 37 people, destroying 306 houses, 6 public buildings, 9 watchtowers, and damaging over 2000 feet of the wall. Luckily trough generous donations the damage was able to be restored close to its original state. Many of the donations came from people sponsoring 1 meter long sections of wall by buying plaques with their family names on them. When is started in 1950, each sponsorship cost $40 per meter and are now over $2000 a meter. As you walk the wall make note of the various plaques from sponsors by local and foreign. Full City Wall Walking Tour: Available HERE.
31. Blacksmith Shop (Gerlachschmiede): The uniquely shaped half-timber Blacksmith Shop was built on a triangle corner lot in 1469 sitting on a triangle. The colorful home has an excellent coat of arms made up of blacksmith tools. In was burned in 1945 but repaired. The property remained an active blacksmith shop until to was bought as a private home in 1967. It is cool to admire the shop from the wall, but make a mental note of its location if you want to see it up close.
32. Röder Tower & Gate (Röderturm & Tor): Known locally as the Red Tower, this is the only true observation tower on the City walls. It was built in the 1100s and later worked into the outer ring wall. Every night a city watchman in the tower would signal back to the city center letting everyone know that either all was well or that danger was on the way. This is the only tower along the wall that you can still go to the top of and if you are making good time, is well worth the climb required. Sitting in front of the tower is the Röder Gate, also known as the Red Gate. The gate is awesome as it perfectly frames up the mighty tower as you enter the Rotheburg from the Train Station. It is made up of two twin huts with pointed roofs which were used as a tool booth and customs house along with an elevated gatekeepers cottage. Observation Room Hours: Daily March-November 10am-5pm; weather permitting; Closed December-February. Observation Room Cost: 1.50 Euros.
33. Röder’s Arch Gate (Röderbogentor): With beautiful half-timber homes lining the way to an elegant archway, the Röder’s Arch Gate is one of the most picturesque spots in Rothenburg. The gateway and clock tower was built in the late-1100s as part of the city’s first wall. In 1204, Marcus Tower (Markusturm) was built directly behind the gate to add extra protection. It was part of a large project that also brought the White Tower, Blue Tower, and Red Tower as the cities original fortified towers. Later the wall was expanded all the way to the Red Tower and Rothenburg grew to have 70 towers. Maybe the best vantage point is near the flower laden Röder’s Well (Röderbrunnen). Because of how wide the well is, it once served as a birthing fountain (Tränkbrunnen) in Medieval times.