We nearly had a disaster the next day. Nearly, but not quite. The Hotel Muller obviously knew the routine. Eight o clock in the morning, sun shining, sky blue, scenery spectacular, and we were fully rested and replete with a magnificent Bavarian breakfast. A young hotel employee met us in the foyer and drove us by limo’ to the correct meeting place and dutifully put us on the bus. Except it was the wrong bus. Of course we didn’t know it was the wrong bus until it stopped at Füssen, the next town, and everyone else got off. The driver spoke no English, we spoke no German. We knew we were meant to stay on the same bus until Augsburg and felt very confused. Luckily I pulled the bright yellow itinerary out of my bag and the driver immediately nodded towards a bright yellow bus pulling out of the bus station on the opposite side of the road. He ran and flagged the vehicle down and we were duly invited on board. This was the right bus – the Romantic Road bus – and the driver was just coming to collect us (he had our names on his itinerary). He was furious with the hotel and rang them immediately (apparently driving while using your mobile phone isn’t frowned on in Germany). Well it could have been a disaster but it wasn’t. And as we were the only passengers that day to board the luxury, fifty-six seater coach we were treated to a personal tour.
After Germany became a FederalRepublic in 1950 the country sought many ways of reviving its tourist industry. The idea of a romantic road wasn’t new, but allied soldiers posted to Germany in the aftermath of the war began exploring the region’s ancient towns and cities, popularizing the notion. Nowadays the Romantic Road bus travels the whole 350 kilometres everyday, south to north and north to south. You can book to board the bus without taking any overnight stops, or you can take a bike and cycle some sections, or you can take your time and stop as long as you like at any of the many interesting places along the way. I’d specifically booked our tour to fill the four days and nights before the figure skating competition began in Oberstdorf. And after a morning drive through picturesque countryside and right into the heart of medieval towns like Schongau and Landsberg, we arrived at our next overnight stop at lunchtime.
Augsburg was once occupied by Romans, almost certainly due to its strategic position at the confluence of two rivers. By the middle ages it had developed into one of the richest, most powerful cities in Germany. And due to this prosperity it also became one of the most cultured in terms of art, philosophy and architecture. We visited a couple of the city’s museums, all very fascinating but particularly the Martin Luther exhibition. Because Augsburg was a FreeImperialCity it barely resisted the notion of reformation and many of Luther’s pamphlets and books were printed here. There are many other gems tucked away, including the oldest social housing in the world – the Fuggerei. Jacob Fugger, who became banker to the Pope, the Hapsburg Emperors and Henry VIII, founded the ‘village’ in the 1520’s and it is still occupied, although it currently provides affordable homes for pensioners. Residents are still obliged to pay one guilder a year rent (currently 0.88 Euros), following on the original concept to help artisan families down on their luck. One famous resident was Mozart’s great grandfather (a master mason) and his extensive family. Consider how different Amadeus’s life might have been if his forefathers hadn’t been rescued from poverty?
But this is really the kind of city where the best thing to do is find a place to relax and watch the world go by, preferably with a large cup of coffee. Next morning we boarded the bus in the forecourt of Augsburg’s art-deco railway station and began the most nostalgic phase of our journey.
When we first travelled the Romantic Road, in 1973, my husband and I were both studying at Art College and had little experience of foreign travel but my brother-in-law had just finished his first degree (Geography) at Cambridge and was about to begin his masters at Sheffield so we left all the planning (and driving) to him. Dave died suddenly last year (aged 61) so we felt this journey was a sort of tribute to the dreams we once dreamed with him. And Rothenberg ob der Tauber lived up to those enchantments. If you’ve seen the film Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang you will probably recognise it, because these are the streets where the evil child catcher searched out his prey. Nowadays every sturdy mercantile house is decked with flowers and lines of bunting and the cobbled city streets are packed with tourists. However, once you leave the main thorofares behind, you meet a quieter city, and it is both extraordinary and captivating.
A taxi collected us from the bus and took us through the labyrinth of narrow streets to our hotel. The front door being locked we rang the bell and after a couple of moments a lady dressed in traditional costume of red dirndl skirt and black tight-laced bodice wandered up the lane to greet us. After a brief introduction she handed us a key (which apparently opened every one of the hotel’s doors) and gave us our room number without even entering the building. Once inside we found our room, on the third floor, and although the winding staircase had warped dangerously after six hundred years of use we embraced the experience of staying in such an ancient building. It was charming and we couldn’t have been better entertained.
We did so much walking around the walls and streets of Rothenberg that afternoon the soles of my shoes wore out but it isn’t often I get the opportunity to experience a city locked in a virtual time warp and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
We didn’t meet the hotel’s octogenarian owner until next morning, when he was directing all his guests to eat a hearty breakfast. Bavarians take their food very seriously. After handing us a platter that contained enough cold meats and cheeses to last a week he told us that when we went home we would dream of this moment! And he was right.