our germany adventures: rothenburg

We spent three nights and four days in Rothenburg. It was Matt’s first time and my third time, but it still felt new to me. Because of the length of our stay, we were able to go beyond the usual sites (although we saw those, too) and do a few things I hadn’t done before.

Our first night we stayed in a nice little apartment (Frau Liebler) down a little side road. They only had one night available so we hunted around and rented a room for two nights at Hotel Kloster-Struble near St. Jakob’s Church. Upsides? It had an excellent restaurant and was close to the town center. Downsides? Our room/amenities did not equal the price and the restaurant made everything smell like snitzel.

One awesome aspect to our stay was the weather – in the 60’s most of the time, some rain, some sun. Hence the reason for my gigantic sweater in most of these pictures. It was lovely.

We walked the old wall (Rothenburg is the best preserved medieval walled town in Germany), visited the Reichsstadt Museum, went through the palace gardens a few times, explored the side streets, ate German, Italian and Rothenburg’s Schneeballen. We went to an organ concert at St. Jakob’s church, went through the Kathe Wohlfarte Christmas stores, climbed the tower in the city hall building, drank fresh apple juice in the marketplatz and had a wonderful time.

Our last evening we went for a light dinner at Altfrankische Weinstube am Klosterhof. We found a place in the corner at the end of a long table and settled in for a quiet evening. We hadn’t been there long when an older gentleman came up to our table and sat down. But I’ll let Matt tell you the rest…

Hey, Matt here… So we listened to this random old guy ramble for a few minutes. He seemed friendly, but he couldn’t hear very well. I had to repeat myself several times and couldn’t help but think, “why is he talking to us?” As it turns out, we had stumbled onto the weekly meeting location of the “English Conversation Club” or ECC. It took me a few minutes to figure out, but the ECC met every Wednesday at this pub and was mentioned in the Rick Steves’ Germany book.

Talking more to our new elderly friend, we found out his name: Robert. Well, Robert was very friendly and we began to discuss each other’s family. Robert’s grandfather had immigrated to New York in the 1880s. He lived there for about 30 years, working as a lithographer for cigarette cartons. Robert at one point pulled out a picture album showing some of his grandfather’s work. He had an album of excellent likenesses of Civil War generals and leaders of various nations around the world. Robert’s father was born in New York City. During the early 1920s, Robert’s father moved back to Germany where Robert was born in 1923. Robert told us about how he witnessed the booming 20s, the stock market crash and the hyperinflation in Germany, the fall of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Robert was still a young boy, but like so many other families who were members of state-sponsored programs, he joined the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth was an extreme version of the Boy Scouts, where kids got to participate in activities they could only dream about: gun marksmanship, camping, flying in gliders, and practicing military squad tactics. As soon as Robert was old enough (17) he joined the Wehrmacht (the German army) in 1940.

We were joined by two other gentlemen who introduced themselves and began telling war stories. One of them was named Alex. Alex was about Robert’s age and he was quiet at first. Alex also served in the Wehrmacht and was captured by the British and spent most of the war in England. Robert joked that while he and his buddies were suffering in Germany, Alex was drinking tea with his newly found British friends. The other fellow that joined us was a large red-headed man who introduced himself as “Herman the German”. Herman was younger, probably in his 50s and he had a great sense of humor. Herman had married a woman from Wisconsin who came to Rothenburg to visit years ago. The three men joked that 4 women came to Rothenburg, and 3 went back…

Robert was a walking history book. He ended up serving as a radio operator in a mountain division attached to the German 6th Army. For the history buffs out there, the 6th Army was famous for fighting in the battle of Stalingrad. They found themselves overextended and due to Hitler’s orders could not fall back. As a result, a Soviet counter-offensive cut off and annihilated the entire 6th Army. 100,000 Germans were taken captive and only about 10% ever made it back out of the Soviet gulag and back to Germany alive.  Herman the German said he had an uncle that fought in Stalingrad, but his family never heard anything from him again and he was presumed to have died there. As awesome as it would have been if Robert was one of those survivors, he was fortunate enough to detach from the 6th Army just before the battle of Stalingrad. Robert showed us pictures of his mountain division with him hanging out with his buddies in uniform. There was one of him in a foxhole with a friend of his that also survived the war. He even showed us his Wehrmacht passport.

Robert ended up fighting in Finland during the rest of the war. He fought exclusively against the Soviets. As the war was ending, Robert’s unit found itself in Germany. Rather than face capture by the Soviets, they surrendered to the Americans. He ended up spending some time in a French prisoner of war camp which he said was horrible. It was an amazing story, especially since I’m hugely interested in WWII. I was a little surprised that Robert, Alex, and Herman the German were so open about talking about the war. WWII is a huge taboo subject in Germany, and most people would just as soon forget what happened. I was glad to have heard this little piece of history from the other side. As Herman said, one day we won’t have these guys around to hear their war stories anymore…

And that was the grand finale to our Rothenburg trip. We jumped on a train the next day and headed back to Stuttgart.

Next up: Berlin.