Inspired by the Romantic Road
German travel specialist Russell Hafter recalls a journey that pioneered a business.
In September 1971 I spent a couple of weeks walking with friends in Switzerland. I then had three days to get to Leuven University in Belgium for a chemistry congress. Some of us found ourselves in the Bavarian town of Füssen, which I had heard of, though I was familiar with neither Neuschwanstein nor King Ludwig II, that famous castle’s eccentric creator.
We were penniless students staying in the town’s youth hostel and that evening, over a few beers in the local kneipe, one friend said that he aimed to hitch north along the Romantic Road, which also meant nothing to me. He showed me the map, where nothing caught my eye until I saw Nördlingen.
I knew the name from my interest in German history, because it was at Nördlingen that two battles had taken place during the 30 Years War. So next day we set off separately, hitching north along the B17, aiming to meet again at the youth hostel in Nördlingen.
I really did not know what to expect, but when I got there I was totally stunned. The town might have stepped right out of the pages of a history book, being still completely surrounded by an almost perfectly circular wall, a wall punctuated by massive, strangely shaped city gates with peculiar names. Meanwhile the town centre was dominated by a huge church tower belonging to the first Gothic church I had seen in southern Germany: a complete contrast to the Baroque I’d got used to.
The next day I had to get to Würzburg, so I set off early, having been advised to make sure I stopped in the celebrated Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which I was told would be even more impressive than Nördlingen. However, the driver who picked me up asked if I knew Dinkelsbühl, the next town north of Nördlingen. He assured me that it was very well worth a visit, too, and dropped me just outside yet another ancient city gateway. (Later I discovered the story of how the town was saved from the besieging Swedish Army back in 1632 by a young woman and a group of children who begged the Swedish colonel for mercy, an incident commemorated today by the Kinderzeche festival.)
Soon though, I had to continue north to Rothenburg, widely considered to be the jewel of the Romantic Road. For me though, Rothenburg was merely the third (almost) perfectly preserved medieval town, and today Nördlingen is still the place that stands out in my mind.
Some 14 years later, when I first went into business offering holidays in Germany, a walking route connecting these three towns was where I started. And although I myself am now retiring, that holiday is still available today.
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