Rothenburg ob der Tauber in south-central German changes at dusk. Soft floodlights bathe the fortress and timber-framed building walls. Clatter from carts on the cobblestones is the only disruption in the silence. Couples walk, hand-in-hand, looking over the menus beneath lanterns on the many restaurants and cafes. The clock tower strikes eight times. A dark figure emerges from the shadows brandishing a huge axe.
Two million visitors enter Rothenburg’s gates each year, but only fractions remain overnight. The city transforms as the last of the day trippers race out the gate for their train, bus, or car. Walled cities at night are cozy. Retail windows glow. Those, like the Käthe Wohlfahrt toy store, are magical. Music seeps out of the local taverns: a little Mozart night music for the romantics; and a more robust accordion for others.
The tall steeples of the historic St. Jakob Church beam, like lighthouses, as you stroll back to your hotel. I stayed at the Hotel Kloster-Stueble, a charming inn tucked into the wall. There are plenty of beautiful inns throughout Rothenburg. Select one near the main square.
Rothenburg is the gem of Germany’s Romantic Road, a 261 mile old trade route that begins in nearby Würzburg and snakes southeast to the Alps. The name is misnomer in that it is the destinations, not the highway that offers romance. I recommend you plan a spring or autumn visit when the temperature is warm, but there are fewer tourists.
Following the Night Watchman is fun, but you don’t need him to remind you that all is well at night in Rothenburg.