Romantic Rothenburg and the de facto Capital of the European Union (Strasbourg)

Before coming to Germany, Annaleise, a friend of ours in high school who had heard about our travels through Europe reached out to us. She and her husband Kyle are doing a very similar tour of Europe and she asked us if we had time to meet them for lunch one day. Kyle is stationed at the US Army base in Nuremberg, Germany and they were free the first weekend in which we were in Heidelberg so we agreed to meet them about halfway between Nuremberg and Heidelberg in the charming little town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

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Rothenburg is a 12th-century town which sits atop a hill overlooking the Tauber river. The entire town is enveloped by an undamaged 14th-century town wall, and the majority of the roofs of the buildings in town are made of beautiful red-colored terracotta roof tiles. Combined, this is what gives the town its name, which translated into English means “red fortress above the Tauber River.” Besides being halfway between Nuremberg and Heidelburg, Rothenburg also lies halfway between Frankfurt and Munich, making it a wonderful little stop and change of pace from the two relatively large cities.

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The town itself is straight out of a fairy tale with its classic timber-framed houses and brightly colored buildings.  Every street or lane in the charming medieval town is picture-worthy, especially as its layout makes driving cars through it completely unnecessary. It is incredibly easy when walking through the town to transport yourself out of the 21st century and into medieval Germany which makes it a truly must-see attraction in Germany.

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We met Annaleise and Kyle for lunch in a highly-rated restaurant in town where we hit it off instantly over some delicious German food and even more delicious German beer. It felt like we had all been friends forever. After our meal, we took to the streets of the picturesque little town together searching for the spot of the iconic Rothenburg picture which usually accompanies any mention of the town. While we did so, we also kept our eye out for a brewery to try some more amazing German bier. We were not quite successful at either since the building we were looking for is being repaired and the local brewery was closed. However, this did not stop us at all from having a really wonderful time hanging out and talking with Annaleise and Kyle. It was really great to be able to hang out with people who are in the same boat as we are and have a normal conversation that doesn’t involve locals questioning why the hell two Americans are hanging out in their city!

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First German beer in way too long
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The iconic Rothenburg picture complete with construction tent

Unfortunately for Lauren and I, we did not get a chance to do much in Rothenburg other than hanging out with Annaleise and Kyle, but I would highly recommend staying in town for at least a full day to see everything it has to offer. One of the highlights of our visit during high school was the Night Watchman’s Tour where a man dressed as a medieval guard takes you on his “rounds” through the dimly lit town telling you stories about how the citizens of Rothenburg lived in the Middle Ages. I distinctly remember this tour being one of the more interesting and fun tours we have ever taken and is a great way to cap off an evening in town.

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Other than that, for the darkly curious there is also the highly-rated Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum filled with old torture devices and interesting but less gruesome than you might think information about crime and how it was dealt with in the Middle Ages. Those filled with a round-the-year love Christmas cheer might also enjoy the German Christmas Museum which contains Christmas tree decorations through the ages, old-time Christmas cards, historical Christman tree stands, and more, which actually sounds much more interesting than I originally gave it credit for.

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Rothenburg has so much to offer for such a little town, from beautiful views of the Tauber River to its colorful, classically Germanic buildings and interesting attractions. Both times I have been to Rothenburg I left with a new appreciation of the town and Germany in general. I’m really glad we decided to go and meet up with Annaleise and Kyle and I definitely hope to see them again before we come back home.

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Tips:

  1. Rothenburg is a small town, but a huge tourist attraction. Huge buses of tourists often drop off in the middle of the day so go in the morning or evening if visiting in the summer to get a more authentic feel of the city.

Strasbourg

With our proximity to the French-German border, we knew as soon as we got accepted for our Heidelberg housesitting assignment that we would be taking a little day trip to France. Of all the countries we have been to in Europe, this was actually our first time in France which may come as a bit of a surprise. To be completely honest, we hadn’t yet visited France because of the many reviews of the country warning against the rude French. Luckily for us, our worries were unfounded and we ended up having an amazing time in the beautiful city of Strasbourg.

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Strasbourg lies directly on the west bank of the Rhine River which serves as the border between France and Germany.  The city’s location means that throughout time, the city has been violently disputed throughout history and often changed between French and German rule, giving it a mix of both cultures that is unique to the city and the Alsace region. The city is also home to a large number of important European institutions which marks it, along with Brussels and Luxembourg, as one of the de facto capitals of the European Union. The city’s historic city center is called the Grande Île which translates in English to the Grand Island and in 1988 was the first city center to be classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

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War memorial representing a mother holding two dead sons alluding to the conflicts between Germany and France over the Alsace region

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Strasbourg’s finest architectural highlight is without question the Cathédrale Notre-Dame which completely dominates the cityscape. It is easily one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in Europe and was built during a 300-year span stretching from the 12th to 15th centuries. The cathedral’s 142-meter tower held the title of worlds tallest building for over 200 years and it is still the highest cathedral tower in France. Lauren and I had a breathtaking moment when we had no idea we were right next to it and we both turned the corner to see this behemoth of a cathedral towering above us.

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The cathedral is far from being the only beautiful sight in Strasbourg. Everywhere you turn in the city are more of the classic Germanic half-timber buildings complete with steeped facades that give this part of the world a unique charm. On the opposite side of the city (and spectrum!) is the modern Neustadt district of the city with its enormous boulevards, broad streets, and eclectic mix of architecture which are distinctly different from the narrow winding roads of the older part of town but just as beautiful. The magic of these two different styles of architecture is that they somehow fit together perfectly to make Strasbourg a truly magical and unique city.

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Palace of the Rhine, Neustadt
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National and University Library, Neustadt

Our first stop in the city was to get lunch at a place called La Brasseur which was recommended to us by Will, an Englishman we met on a train the week before. He lived in Strasbourg for a year and told us we absolutely had to have an Alsatian specialty called Tarte Flambee in French or Flammeküche in German. A Tarte Flambee is quite similar to a wafer-thin pizza but it is made with a creamy onion sauce rather than a tomato-based sauce and does not usually have cheese. Lauren got a traditional Flammeküche with Bacon and onion while I had one smothered in cheddar, blue, and munster cheeses. The dish was right up my alley as a savory food lover, the sweetness of the onions paired with the saltiness of the bacon making a wonderful and delicious combination. The sharp overall flavor created by the combination of ingredients also paired perfectly with the refreshing and delicious wheat beer that is brewed in-house. I can’t wait to try to replicate this simple dish at home and I would highly recommend a stop at La Brasseur while in Strasbourg.

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With only a few more short hours to see the city, we took a free walking tour with an Alsatian tour guide who took us around the city and gave us the incredible history of the city, the region, and the citizens of the city throughout time as Strasbourg changed hands between the French and Germans. The tour began and ended in the Grande Île where our guide focused on the unique history of the cathedral. The rest of the tour focused largely on the many unique squares that litter the city, the districts that formed around them, and the legends that make each district different from every other district in the city.

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Strasbourg is one of those special cities that I never expected to love as much as I did. I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn about the city’s truly interesting past, see some of its beautiful architecture, and taste some of its wonderful cuisine which included not only Tarte Flambee, but also some stereotypical French favorites like French Fries (we had to) and crepes. The city definitely opened my eyes to hopefully seeing more of France and enjoying more of what it has to offer. For anybody who didn’t enjoy Paris or its people, I would definitely recommend branching out and heading to Strasbourg for a few days. It was a truly magical experience for us and visiting both Strasbourg and Rothenburg was a great way to start off our Heidelberg housesit perfectly.

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Tips:

  1. If looking for a place to spend your holidays, Strasbourg is home to a world-famous Christmas Market.
  2. There are high-speed train tracks leading to and from Strasbourg and every other major French city so it can easily be used as a travel hub between cities in France. The train to Paris takes less than 2 hours (vs. 5 for driving).
  3.  The inside of the cathedral is very beautiful and free to go in so do not miss it on your trip to Strasbourg.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Stydnicki says:

    That cathedral! Wow!

    Like

  2. Ruth says:

    I have really been enjoying reading your blog. My husband and I were in Rothenberg last October with my cousins and we loved it. We also got to visit with Annaleise and Kyle while in Germany, they are lots of fun. Tell Lauren that Ruth from Bon Cher says “Hello”

    Like

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