The great walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber gets plenty of notoriety as a fabulous medieval attraction. But in fact, there was a better-preserved old walled town not too far away from it that didn't share Rothenburg's notoriety. It was just as colorful and artistic, yet it attracted fewer international tourists. That town was Dinkelsbühl, tucked away among the hills of western Bavaria on the Wörnitz River.
It may have been "tucked away" in modern times, but in Holy Roman times Dinkelsbühl was a central spot. It sat at the crossroads of two major medieval trading routes -- a north-south route running from the North Sea to Italy, and an east-west route from the Rhein valley to Prague. Because of its strategic importance, Dinkelsbühl was heavily fortified in the Middle Ages with a complete city wall and series of over a dozen towers. But unlike many other such walled cities, Dinkelsbühl was spared destruction on several occasions -- in part by luck, and in part by decree (In 1832, King Ludwig I of Bavaria declared the walls were not to be pulled down, according to the city's tour guide).
The wall was only part of the charm, however, as we would learn over the course of several visits, most recently in the Fall of 2003. For the old city, or "Altstadt", housed a whole rainbow of gabled houses and structures, such as those seen in the first photograph. The Altstadt was a clear product of careful city planning and preservation as many of the buildings have a uniform appearance -- single-colored, calligraphed business name in earth-tone letters in front, and flower boxes aplenty. Some of them, including the red Tourist Information Bureau in the first photo, also had decorated roof tiles, but most had simple traditional red roofs.
The main roads had a number quaint guesthouses and restaurants, mostly serving traditional Bavarian cuisine. We had lunch in the basement of one old guesthouse on the main square not far from the Tourist bureau. The restaurant was a converted wine cellar (complete with low ceiling), and a number of Franconian wines were available. Franconian wine was also widely available among the Altstadt's many wine shops.
There were also shops selling Franconian wares, especially pottery. We entered one of the shops on Segringer Road, in the upper part of downtown. The showroom made up two rooms in the shop, while the pottery makers worked in an adjacent room downtown. Visitors were welcome to watch the craftsmen at work. The wares were very high quality and hand-made, hence they were also more expensive.
Walking down the storefronts of Segringer Strasse, we were also fortunate to witness the end of a civil wedding ceremony at the New Town Hall (Rathaus), shown in the second picture. The crowd held a sheet with a red heart painted on it that the happy couple had to cut through before entering their limousine -- a decorated horse-drawn carriage.
Dinkelsbühl had horse-drawn carriages available for city tours, and they were busy each time we visited, even in unfavorable weather. It was amazing that they were still used, because the cobblestone roads in the Altstadt were incredibly tight as it was, and cars were allowed to drive through (both directions in most places). Watching the carriages negotiating passage with cars was something to watch.
We spent quite a bit of time surveying the wall, from both the inside and out. As the city's major landmark, it had clearly undergone significant renovation, but that in no way detracted from its beauty. The third photograph showed a portion of the western wall with its spread of a half-dozen watch towers guarding the landed side. The area before the wall was occupied by a number of private gardens (you can see the cabbages in the foreground).
A walking circuit surrounded the outer wall, and we did most of it. From the west to the northwest, the path goes uphill to the "Alt Promenade", a long field separated from the Altstadt by a very deep and wide moat. The Promenade was marked with a very large and artistic WWII memorial made of red sandstone. What we found interesting was that the watchtowers on the wall had been mostly converted to residences. We thought that would make an interesting house. The Wörnitz River and a series of canals and ponds made up the moat on the lower north and east sides, as shown in the fourth photograph.
The wall contained four main gates (tor), each named after the town or landmark they pointed toward. Each gate was decorated differently, from the simple white Nördlinger Tor in the south to the very elaborate and colorful Segringer Tor in the north, with its large clock face. The Wörnitz Tor in the southeast towered over the Old Town Hall Square, or Altrathausplatz, while the main market street ended with the Rothenburger Tor, shown in the distance in the fifth photo. The photo also shows the town's huge Historische Museum, which we did not visit due to limited time.
Like Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl was a very festive location, but we'd not yet had the opportunity to visit a festival. For those wanting to visit, the best time to go would be for the Kinderzeche, a children's festival that re-enacted a real (although perhaps embellished) historical event. During the Thirty Years War, the city was under siege by Swedish forces, but was spared destruction supposedly because of the pleas of a group of the town's children. The festival was celebrated annually. Otherwise, Dinkelsbühl shared some of the region's other festivals -- such as White Monday in early spring and Bavaria's famed Christmas Markets.
Perhaps because it lived in Rothenburg's shadow, Dinkelsbühl was able to avoid some of the pitfalls of the big-name tourist industry and maintain its small-town character. But it was still a major enough attraction that it, and not Rothenburg, was the home of the Romantic Road headquarters! As for us, we're glad that we made multiple trips there, giving sufficient time for a full exploration of the city. It was absolutely worth it.
Trips taken 27 August 2000, 4 June 2001, and 25 October 2003 -- Page Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin