When you picture Bavaria, what do you imagine? Medieval castles, beautiful scenery, charming burgs? Me, too. Traveling by train, it is virtually impossible to experience this side of Germany, so we signed up for a bus tour that would take us along the Romantic Road.
The Romantic Road is a made up name for what used to be a trade route. After WWII, American soldiers brought their families here because they liked the scenery. The road stretches 400 km, from Fussen to Rothenberg. During the summer, there are bike tours that you can take to experience the area; there are bus tours here year-round.
We signed up for this tour through Viator. Because of the distances being traveled, it was a long, long day. But, without renting a car, there really aren’t any other options for getting to Rothenberg. The bus left Munich at 8:30 am and returned at 7:15 pm.
Our first stop was Harburg castle, which was built in the 1100’s. It was quite different from Neuschwanstein, but its purpose was completely different as well. This castle is the oldest, largest, and best preserved in southern Germany. Despite being attacked several times, it was never destroyed.
We climbed the steps to the first level of the castle. Battlements surround the castle; their purpose was to protect the inner courtyard if the outer courtyard had been breached. One unique feature was the holes that had a rotating ball, used to aim guns. Of course, there were places to drop boiling oil and hot tar on hour enemies as well! There were places to attach the larger guns; the guns could throw the gunmen over the edge, so had to be secured in place.
Shields were decorated with family crests so you would know who was friend or foe – in armor, everyone looks the same!
One of the two keeps in the castle had been converted into living quarters, but we were unable to take pictures inside. Our guide showed us a chest with a dog painted on the bottom. This was a war chest. When it emptied, you were “down to the dog”, and needed to refill it by raising taxes!
The castle keeps originally could only be entered from the small opening 5 meters above the ground. The purpose of the keep was to keep people safe if the castle was breached. A ladder was used to reach the entry opening. After everyone was safely inside, the ladder was pulled up. Food and water were stored in a hole in the ground. Later, the keep was used as a dungeon and the prisoners were kept down there.
In the 1600’s, a couple of new levels were added to one of the keeps. Now there is a ballroom that is rented for weddings and other special events. The statues at each end represent war and peace. And, the paintings on the ceiling are “illusion” paintings – they look different depending on where you are standing in the room. The reclining lady looks like she is laying down from one end of the room; from the other, she looks to be sitting up. I guess these paintings were quite common during that era.
So far, the Romantic Road was mainly the autobahn; not too romantic. After we left Harburg, the road narrowed and became much more picturesque. We passed by several villages; each protected by a wall and towers. The larger the town, the more towers needed for protection. Most of the land was farmland. Because of the excessive heat during the summer, crops ripened early and had already been harvested.
An hour and a half later, we arrived in Rothenberg, the largest and most popular of the towns on the Romantic Road. Rothenberg’s walls have 42 towers; the current population is around 11,000. It seemed to be quite popular with the river cruise set; the streets were flooded with tour groups from Viking, Avalon, and several other companies. I had to take a picture of this guide – he had the most fabulous outfit! If his personality matched his clothing, he would’ve been an extremely fun tour guide!
We had three hours in the town. We did our usual walking around and taking pictures, then settled in by the Rathaus (town hall) to people watch. It is possible to climb the stairs of the tower to get a good view of the surrounding area, but one guy we talked to said the stairs were difficult to climb (and he was much younger and more fit than we!), so we chose not to do that.
I hope you enjoy my pictures of the town! It was certainly charming and everything you would expect a town on the Romantic Road to be. The town specialty is called schneeballen (snowballs). We didn’t try them, but you can see a picture of them below.