Short Town History

Time standing still

The appearance of the medieval town of Rothenburg is a permanent result of the Thirty Years’ War

The history of Rothenburg began with the founding of the parish Detwang in the Tauber Valley, by the East Frankish nobles Reinger in 970. Their church of St. Peter and Paul is the parent church of the future town‘s St. Jacob’s Church. Rothenburg started to appear in its present site around 1080. The counts from Komburg built a castle on the so-called ” jug of vinegar ” near the present hospital. Thus, the later world-famous medieval city found its final position. In 1116 the Count funded the Komburg Convent (Schwäbisch Hall) and the Neumünster Monastery in Würzburg. 26 years later King Conrad III, The first Hohenstaufen king, acquired the site of the very slowly evolving city and on a mountain spur above the Tauber built the “Red Castle “, which was used in 1167 for the first time as ” Castrum Imperial ” (Imperial Castle).  It goes together with a castle settlement from the late 12th Century, by 1241 it was for the first time called ” Civitas ” – 271 years after the very first works in this area. It already had a simple fastening ring and a marketplace, a city church and the offices of the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, the Dominican Sisters and the Franciscan Monastery.

The Staufer city was first passed by royal officials. It was gradually formed from the ranks of a patrician class bourgeois self-government into the form of a council constitution, which was supported by numerous royal privileges. The culmination of this development was the great privilege of the freedom of King Rudolf by 1274. By the end of the 14th Century Rothenburg in fact was an almost autonomous city, which recognized only the emperor and empire as the authority: an imperial city. The oldest political body in Rothenburg is the so-called Inner Council. It emerged in the first half of the 13th Century, and initially consisted of twelve members and was first referred to simply as the Council. It was joined from the second half of the14th century by an other council, the so-called Outer advice. Rothenburg also had two mayors, one each of which came from the two councils. They formed the executive body. The mayor from the interior Council took the interests of the patrician families, where he came from. His counterpart from the exterior Council took the interests of the craftsmen. The former was therefore a representative of the “upper” city , the other the representative of the ” lower “. The term of office of the mayor began on 1 May and lasted one year, and re-election was possible.

With the increase in rights and freedom the city grew spatially. It formed suburbs, which rapidly integrated into a fortified mounting ring. From 1383 it expanded the walls out into the wider environment. Extensive goods, lands and rights were acquired and formed after a few decades, a stately urban territory of about 400 square kilometers, the so-called ” militia “, which was protected by a “country Hege” since about 1430.

This expansive era coincided with the life and actions of the power-conscious and highly successful mayor Heinrich Toppler, but finally in 1408  he fell victim  to the anti-power political circumstances and a rival patrician opposition. The reign of the leading urban upper class with an aristocratic dominated council constitution remained until the end of the “Old Empire ” at the beginning of the 16th Century, and apart from a small-scale middle class uprising had an almost continual existence.

But at the beginning of the modern age the events piled up that changed public life and the legal, social and religious structure of the city in their drastic aftermath. By 1521, the members of the once numerous and influential Jewish community were expelled from the city. In 1525 there was social unrest and an amalgamation with the Peasants’ War weakened the city. In 1544 Rothenburg left the Catholic church and was included in the Lutheran Reformation. The two monasteries were dissolved. The city lost its political importance , but remained – mainly because of its rich agricultural hinterland – an economically important factor in the region.

This changed with the Thirty Years’ War. As a Protestant town Rothenburg suffered not only from a permanent loyalty conflict with the Catholic city of the Lords, the Habsburg emperors – it was economically ruined also because of through trains, billeting, extortionate contributions and forays. Many times they were targets of military conquests. In addition, their population was decimated by epidemics.

After this Rothenburg sunk into a more than 200 -year-old ” Sleeping Beauty “. During this time, the city played only a very minor role in the region. It did not even have enough funds to renovate its homes, or modernize and adapt to the cityscape‘s technical developments. From today’s perspective, it was a very fortunate circumstance – it was thus preserved as the only German city with close to its original appearance, from which it benefits today as a “medieval Disneyland ‘ tourist city and this has made ​​it famous around the world.

Rothenburg retained, after the end of the Thirty Years War, another one and a half centuries of its imperial credentials. However, at this time, the city could not regain its former influence. The privilege finally ended in the years 1802 and 1803, when as part of the Central European ” land consolidation ” of Napoleon’s the city was consolidated to the Kingdom of Bavaria. Moreover, even the western part of its former land area of Wuerttemberg was assigned in1810.

Rothenburg recovered only gradually from the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War, when the city was  connected to the intra-German railway network in1873.  But even before that the city was rediscovered” by artists, writers and scientists,and a broad national, and increasingly international public as the epitome of ” old German ” urban architecture. Tourism began to play a crucial role in urban economic life. Industrialization, albeit at a modest level, arrived. The population grew significantly for the first time, and the city prospered.

From 1871 a small Jewish community even  began to settle back down after centuries in Rothenburg. With their shameful expulsion in 1938 the city became known as Anytown in the cultural scene of the Third Reich. Another disaster was an American airstrike in the last weeks of the Second World War. Through it, around 45 percent of the old city area town walls were destroyed. The destruction mainly affected the eastern part of the old town and was later rebuilt by generous donations on the part of the Americans. This successful reconstruction in the post-war years, is the most significant achievement in Rothenburg‘s latest story.

The recent history of Rothenburg has so far proved relatively unspectacular. It served several times as a film set and is today primarily an international tourist attraction. By the year 1972 the city was the headquarters of the district of Rothenburg and therefore had its own license plate: RED. With the Bavarian municipal reform, the city and the former district were  assigned to the district of Ansbach with effect from 1January 1972. However, the city retained the status of a district town. This makes it the smallest district town in Bavaria. Since the 10th July 2013, the RED mark is available again for registrations officially.

We offer individual and group tours for all interesting sights in Rothenburg. Contact for further information.