About 30 minutes north of Dinkelsbuhl is the oddly named city Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“on the river Tauber”). This jewel of the Romantic Road features stately half-timber architecture, a big central market square, huge churches and busloads of tourists.
It’s so pretty that scenes from the first Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was filmed here. The medieval-walled town dates back 1,000 years and gives off a jolly air, as if Santa might park his sleigh to grab a schneeballen powdered sugar pastry down at the bakery.
Unfortunately for little Rothenburg, it was singled out by the Nazis as the ideal German town. The town’s Jews were wiped out. With German troops stationed there, it was targeted by Allied bombs in 1945, which destroyed about 40 percent of the town. It rebuilt.
Today, you cannot tell what fell down and what did not. You see only a place that has reinvented itself many times, that survived, is still here and has a storybook charm — and a little Jewish memorial garden near the White Tower.
At the northern end of the Romantic Road is the carefully constructed city of Wurzburg.
My favorite part is the Alte Mainbrucke (old main bridge), a 15th century walking bridge lined with gigantic stone statues, much like the Charles Bridge in Prague. But the most famous attraction is the Residenz, a massive palace built by the prince archbishops in the 1700s. You can visit 40 rooms and realize that, hey, these archbishops never went broke, just baroque.
Founded as a religious center in the eighth century, Wurzburg was ruled by prince-bishops for hundreds of years, later prospering as part of Bavaria.
But here’s what else to know: In 1945, 90 percent of the town was bombed and burned to bits by the Allies, killing an estimated 5,000. The U.S. military kept a presence here until Jan. 14, 2009. That accounts for a slight American feel to the wide streets, the fast food, the good English that sales clerks speak.
Wurzburg rebuilt. It rebuilt its glorious medieval churches and royal residences and bridges and towers. Now it is a huge tourist draw. Visited by 3 million day visitors and 650,000 overnight visitors a year, people come to see the old architecture, which truly is stunning, all the more so because it is actually a recreation of what was there before, a whole town that sprang back to life, in a romantic burst of hope.