Driving Germany’s Romantic Road

The Romantic Road was a term dreamed up by PR types trying to entice tourists back to post-war Germany. It’s a pretty enough route, but I failed to find any love interest on my week long journey around it.

After picking up a rental car in Munich, my friend Cathy and I drove to our first town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, replete with timber framed houses and an old town square fronted by the Town Hall:

It’s one of three walled towns still existing and wall walking is a common pastime, so we indulged:

A must-do is to take a walk with the Night Watchman, who regaled us with stories of life in medieval Germany. Then, the place stank due to lack of plumbing, plague and other diseases ran rampant and the church controlled every aspect of one’s life. Hardly a paradise;

The Night Watchman

For a change of scenery, we drove 35 miles to the second walled town of Dinkelsbuhl. It too had timber framed houses, ramparts and a town square. Rather than repeat our Rathenberg ob der Tauber experience, we started on our second quest, eating lots of good German food. Thus, we sat in a cafe near the Cathedral and ate a delicious piece of Apple Strudel:

The third of the trio of walled towns is Nordlingen, which has the usual medieval attractions but also the Ries Crater Museum, which as its name suggests, is about craters and more specifically about the 25 kilometre wide crater where Nordlingen rests, created when a meteor crashed into the earth about 15 million years ago. The museum was a welcome change from all things medieval, focusing on how the universe and earth were formed.

Another diversion from the 15th century was a detour to Stuttgart and the Mercedes Benz Museum. Housed in an elliptical building, the museum whisked us to the 8th floor in a pod like elevator. From there, we slowly walked down, with exhibits about Mercedes Benz intertwined with world events. Daimler patented the first motor car in 1885, but it wasn’t until the Paris World Fair in 1889 that his car really took off; it being one of the main attractions there after the Eiffel Tower:

The Museum was full of interesting tidbits. The name “Mercedes’” was adopted when one of Daimler’s engineers christened his race car after his daughter “Mercedes”. Benz and Daimler never met; financiers forced the two companies to merge in the wake of the financial crisis in Germany in the 1920’s. During WW2, Mercedes Benz used over 30,000 forced labourers, mostly prisoners of war and concentration camp victims. It has apologized for this but no mention was made of reparations.

In furtherance of our food hunts, I finally was able to enjoy white asparagus, loved in France and Germany every spring. It’s white because it is grown completely underground so it lacks chlorophyll but served with Hollandaise sauce and weiner schneitzal makes for a very hearty meal:

Part of the romance part of the Romantic Road is the plethora of pretty castles. We visited Hohenzollern Castle, an 18th century Gothic Revival castle built by Crown Prince Frederick William IV of Prussia on the remains of a much older castle:

Inside, it was as opulent as one would expect a palace to be. Unfortunately due to a mix up in castle names causing me to buy tickets for Hohenschwagua not Hohenzollern castle, the only tour available was in German and the only thing I understood was “stay on the carpet” so my information is a little thin.

On our way to our final castle, we passed through the Bavarian Alps, beautiful in their thick forests, lush green grass and glacier fed lakes:

If you look closely in the picture above, you’ll see Hohenschwagua castle on the right, which we did eventually find on route to Neuschwanstein Castle but having already shelled out 30€ to try and visit it earlier but went to the wrong castle, we didn’t try and visit it again. The tickets had very strict date and time entries and we’d missed both.

So on to the ultimate castle, Neuschwanstein Castle. Conceived by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century as his version of a medieval castle, its setting is spectacular:

We managed to buy the correct tickets for the English tour and were led through the castle by the guide who explained King Ludwig’s masterpiece. Frustrated by his limited constitutional powers, Neuschwanstein was built so King Ludwig could engage in his vision of a medieval king; omnipotent, a brave warrior, etc. To this end, he had a room that looked like a cave and another one pained with scenes of his favourite stories of Parzaval and Lohengrin. Alas, no pictures were allowed inside.

The castle is the subject of many rumours, most of which were ignored by the guide. It is said to have inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It was also said to have been built for the German composer Richard Wagner. King Ludwig was also supposed to be mad, which our guide did address, but his take was that King Ludwig just liked to visit an alternative reality, no different than today’s kids playing video games. So rather than being mad, the king was just ahead of his times.

Believe what you like, I found the castle enchanting, a monument to one man’s dreams. And thus ended our Romantic Road journey.

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