This morning, inspired by a brief entry in the Rick Steves guidebook titled “A Walk in the Countryside,” I’m going to hike through the Tauber Valley, past Toppler Castle and across a covered bridge to the tiny village of Detwang. It seems like a brilliant idea on a Sunday morning in late May, but midway there it occurs to me that I may have overlooked, or at least underestimated, the sentence that reads “The trail becomes really steep…” Heading down through the woods is fine, but with every step I take I become ever more acutely aware of the effort it will take to return.
In the end, the walk is a long and tedious one under a scorching sun, which somehow makes the destination less impressive. When I reach Detwang I find a sleepy little town with little to recommend it, aside from the charming country church of Saints Peter and Paul, which houses another of Riemenschneider’s carved altarpieces. I linger there in the cool of the interior, before trudging back down the road and up the hill and through the streets of Rothenburg, all the way back to my hotel, where I crash upon the bed for a much-needed one and a half hour nap.
By 2:00 pm, I’m refreshed and back out on the streets, determined to see a quartet of small museums before I leave for Munich in the morning. First, I browse the Christmas museum upstairs in the Käthe Wohlfahrt shop, where there are shelves of blown glass ornaments, feather trees, and Victorian diecuts. Then, I head to the Imperial City Museum, which is housed behind lush gardens in a former Dominican convent nearby. It’s a fascinating place to wander, well worth the extra fee they charge for photography. There are trade signs and tankards and pastry molds, an impressive series of panels painted by Martinus Schwartz in 1494 that depict the passion of Christ, and the original weatherbeaten statues from the façade of the Baumeisterhaus depicting seven vices and seven virtues. Yet my favorite, perhaps, are the romantic paintings of Rothenburg so similar to those that must have hung on the McCloy’s dining room wall, which their son remembered so fondly years later.
Finally, I trace my steps back towards my hotel to visit a small museum devoted to German dolls and toys, and another that preserves the home life of an average tradesman from Rothenburg’s prime 700 years ago.
By now I’m starved for dinner. I walk down Herrngasse and settle into a table at Burgerkeller, where the owner is playing an odd selection of music that sounds as if it came from an American jukebox in the 1970s. I order a hearty plate of Nürnberger Bratwurst, boiled potatoes, and white asparagus. It’s Spargelzeit season, after all, so the latter is practically unavoidable on local menus, but for the life of me, I can’t think why. The sausage is delicious, but the asparagus is sodden and tasteless, saved only by a generous portion of clarified butter on the side.
This is my last night in Rothenburg, and I’m loathe for it to end. I finish off a generous slice of apple streudel with vanilla ice cream for dessert and then head for the walls, as I have every night since coming here. Like so many others who have come before me along the Romantic Road, I have found what I was searching for and will remember it always.