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Rothenburg, Criminals, and Stairs

December 23

Written January 1

Dear Friends and Families,



Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a tourist-filled town about an hour from our home. Despite its touristy kitsch, we enjoy taking visitors there, especially during Christmas. The crowds are a bit smaller and nothing could be more traditional than a hot spiced-wine sipped in the narrow streets of this most picturesque of Bavarian towns.




We started our visit at the square in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) and ordered hot wine from the Gl├╝wein kiosk. The Rothenburg Christmas Market rambled from square to square and, even though this was our seventh or eighth Market of the season, we all enjoyed the Christmas spirits.


A little wine made us hungry, so we set out on narrow back streets, away from the "big" restaurants around the town square. Trotter-tourist-tip: even in a touristy town, avoid the most convenient restaurants. You will see more and eat better.

We were headed for "Hell" (Höll in German), a small pub in the oldest building in Rothenburg - over a 1100 years old! The light fare was good and, as the website says, the welcome was "warm".



Criminal Museum


Rothenburg has a Crime Museum. We've never visited because we assumed it was just to provide tourist kids a distraction from the candy and baked goods that fill half the shop windows. This trip, however, we had a "kid" and she thought it sounded interesting so, like all tourist families, we followed the direction of youth. It was a great idea.



First, the museum was educational, with plenty of gory expiations of medieval justice. The placards included English so that helped, although illustrations may have been enough. The text books on display were also filled with detail, illustrating that torture had been a taught and learned skill.


Much of the punishment was intended to shame. A cheating gambler would be made to wear a necklace with out-sized dice and cards. This would work in Las Vegas.

In addition, several iron masks were used to identify particular crimes and criminals. This one, with the stylish moustache and clinking bells, would be attached to a philandering man, probably enough to get women to keep their distance. By the way, there were masks with long iron tongues, specific to the crime of talking too much.


More than shame was used for medieval justice. Elaborate handcuffs were constructed, following detailed how-to instructions.


Some "irons" were even worse and this neck-arms-legs contraption seemed to be among the worst of the non-lethal punishments.


More serious punishments included this dunking cage. According to the museum guide placard, the goal here was to prolong death by letting the criminal up to breath "just enough", before lowering him again into the river.

The most serious punishment, used only for murderers, was "the wheel". Here the executioner reportedly drove the knife-edged wheel over the criminal and then, as a message to other would-be murderers, "wove the body parts through the spokes of the wheel" and mounted the wheel on a pole in the town center.


A final display contained not punishment tools but "crime prevention" implements. I'll let you guess the crime.



Rathaus Tower



We'd never gone up in the Rathaus tower before. Normally, the tourist line is too long and, besides, climbing isn't really something I like to do. Today, there were no lines and the tower trip sounded like a good idea. Gabby and I thought it was a good idea anyway.



The first part of the climb is a simple spiral staircase leading up to the attic of the main building, five stories, but nothing challenging. From here, we could see the city below, spread out in a winter haze. We had no idea how much farther the climb was.

The next half of the trip was trickier. There was a series of wooden staircases, each one getting more and more steep and narrow. By the time we reached the last stairs, they were more ladder than stairs and the passage was just barely big enough for me to squeeze through.


Despite the haze, the view from the top was impressive. Rothenburg looked bigger from up here.


Way below us, Marianne was waving. I have to admit that, at the time, I was praying too hard to recognize her greeting. This narrow ledge is definitely NOT my idea of fun.

Of course Gabby was perfectly comfortable -- NOT.


We were both ready to scurry down the narrow wooden tower stairs. In my case, "scurry" turned to "slide". Right after I took this picture, my foot missed a step and I slid down the next several steps until I hit the stone wall with my camera and my feet. No serious harm, but a clear reminder of why I don't really like doing these things!



So, take your visitors to the local tourist attraction and do what they want to do. (Except narrow climbs.)


John and Marianne.


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