Notes on the Geography of Germany: Rothenberg ob der Tauber: Photo 4
Nobody thought of Rothenberg as a tourist magnet during the first half of the 19th century, when the town lost a tenth of its population. Why the loss? After 1802 the town was in Bavaria but near its edge, and it faced tariff walls when selling into its traditional market area, after 1802 largely in Württemberg. That's why the journalist Friedrich Lampert could write in 1858 that "few of the former free imperial towns have fallen so far down since the collapse of the old Empire as Rothenburg. Its present is cut off from its past by a chasm just as deep as the valley that separates the town from the opposing landscape..." Rothenburg, he continued, had "unfortunately lost all of its meaning.... There are towns, as well as entire countries, which, having played out their roles, can no longer be helped up" (2006, p. 43).
Just as Bruges was rediscovered at about this time, however, so outsiders found Rothenburg. In 1865 Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl called the place "the most purely medieval, of all the old German cities I know" (Hagen, 2006, p. 96). By 1876 Baedeker called Rothenburg a place "where the visitor feels transported back to past centuries as if by a magic wand" (2006, p. 88). Soon, people who had never been to Rothenburg began dreaming about it. Hagen quotes a letter written in 1874 by no less than Nietzche, who Hagen says probably never set foot in the place yet wrote, "...I am once again seriously making plans, in order to make myself completely independent and withdraw from all official connections to the state and university into the most imprudent solitary existence, miserable and simple, but dignified. For now, I have selected Rothenburg ob der Tauber as my private castle and heritage.... Everything there still continues in an entirely old German manner; and I hate the characterless mixed cities that are no longer whole" (2006, p. 143).
Rothenburg's engine of preservation was a historical society, the Verein Alt-Rothenburg or Old Rothenburg Union, which first met in 1898. Among its tactics: preserving half-timbering and even stripping away plaster to reveal timbering that had always been covered. Here's an example: old photographs show the facade of the corner building entirely plastered (2006, p. 169).
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