After Nuremberg, with seven suits cases between five people, we hopped the rails to Rothenberg. Since the last hotel had only been a few blocks from the train station, we decided to walk, as opposed to bothering one of the station cab drivers. This resulted in us getting slightly lost as we made our way to the old area of town.
We eventually found it though, and being right on the border of Rothenberg’s Christmas Market, we couldn’t have picked a better location.
Rothenberg is one of Germany’s medieval towns, and it shows in the architecture and overall set up of the city. Though there are modern conveniences within the buildings, the area where we stayed showed none of the old-new building combinations we had seen in the cities. It’s a picturesque place, and when we had a light snow one night, the whole place looked like something out of a Christmas card.
There were no day trips from Rothenberg. Since we were nearing the end of the trip, we decided to just relax and enjoy the small town. We were able to entertain ourselves well enough between tours, the market, and shopping, which was good because everything closed by seven.
Outside of shopping and architecture, we went on a tour of the local torture museum. A much more extensive exhibit, it had all the sorts of thing we’d seen at similar establishments and then some. There was a grand selection of shame-masks: pig-faced, long tongued, rooster-like and more. My mom, sisters, and I had a good laughing pointing out which masks we’d have to wear for being loud, gossipy, for swearing etc. We saw a cage they would use to dunk bakers in the water when they shorted their customers on bread. Up to this point, most of the implements we’d seen were horrendous. These seemed almost comical from a modern standpoint.
Now, of all the stores we went into, the biggest by far was Käthe Wohlfahrt. Calling Rothenberg home, this company sells Christmas decorations year round. When you walk into one of the store—I believe there were at least three in Rothenberg alone—you’re greeted by walls upon walls of ornaments. Further in, you get traditional Christmas carasouls of all shapes and sizes. Specially crafted incense burners large and small. Colourful figurines, on their own or as part of a little set. You’re going through mazes of these things, and the themes don’t end at Christmas. Yes, there are Santas and snowmen, and Gingerbread people, but there’s pipe smoking ravens and cats and all sorts of things.
It’s also a fairly expensive store. And it’s the place my Godmother wanted a Christmas gift from. We were searching for something amidst all the possibilities, and eventually my mom declared that my Godmother didn’t want anything from that store, she just wanted to drive us crazy trying to find her something.
While our stay was mostly quiet, there was one thing we did that was a lot of fun. We went on an after-dark Executioner’s Tour.
Except my sisters, who were lame and wanted to stay in the room.
Also my mom tried to set me up on a date.
On our last night, once everything had closed down, we waited at the town square for the tour guide, dressed in full executioner’s costume and wielding an axe, to arrive. He presented himself not as a guide, but as an actual executioner, telling us how he got the job because his grandfather was a thief who was given the choice between becoming an executioner or being executed. Because his grandfather chose the former, his sons and their sons and so forth were all to become executioners.
They would also automatically go to hell because of this. This included the executioner’s wife, a female criminal given the choice between marriage and damnation or execution.
This was the exchange that followed this fact:
Guide: Sadly, I am still single.
Mom: Hey! So is she! [Pointing at me]
Guide: Really? And you are over the marriageable age of twelve?!
Through bouts of dark humour, he taught us things about executions that I’d never known before. For example, if a criminal accepted the execution and prayed, being executed absolved them of their sins. Those that resisted were damned. He also told us that bits and pieces from the executed could be considered lucky (demonstrating with a rope of dismembered body parts from the local Halloween store).
At the end of the tour, he dropped character and told us the reasoning behind executions. The beliefs all stemmed from a number of things, though he mainly pointed out three factors. One, their food was not well-kept, so it would often be bad by the time people were eating it, resulting in some effects of their mentality (or as he put it “They were stoned all the time”). Two, general ignorance. Most people were not well-educated back then. Lastly, the church was law. The ignorant masses sought an explanation for the terrible things in the world, and the answer was, of course, Satan!
At the end of the tour, he took us to a spot in town for pictures. It was a specific stone where we could rest our heads while he pretended to take a whack at us. When we arrived, there was a Japanese couple standing there.
And how they jumped when the tour guide—a tall, hooded man carrying an axe, I’ll remind you—snuck up behind them in the dark. After nearly giving the gentleman of the couple a heart attack, he explained to them that we were doing photos and they were welcome to join in. They got right into it, and we all got some funny shots.
We leave Rothenberg with this story. Next week things get sketchy with the Axe Murderer Hotel and the Case of the Missing Suitcase!
P.S. My mom pestered me a few times about not accepting her attempts to set me up on a date. You really just don’t flirt with the tour guide, mom.