This itinerary takes the A8 northwest towards Augsburg where it joins the Romantische Strasse north all the way to Rothenburg (125 miles). Unless you are in a great hurry it is rarely worthwhile to take the motorway route (A8 as far as Ulm and then A7 to Rothenburg). It is slightly longer in distance, half an hour quicker but much duller. The route described here lies entirely within Bavaria. Distances, given from Munich, are always approximate. It takes about three hours.
Augsburg (38 miles) You pass a mile or so to the north of this town and so have only the most glancing relationship with it. This is one of the oldest cities in Germany, founded in 15 BC by the Roman Emperor Augustus. Its heyday was in the Middle ages when it was a hugely important banking centre. The family synonymous with the city's wealth were the Fuggers who effectively financed the Holy Roman Empire. The playwright Berthold Brecht (Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle) was born here. The other best known residents were Willy Messerschmidt who designed the eponymous fighter planes and Rudolf Diesel who invented the diesel engine.
At this point, you pick up the Romantische Strasse. This name is little more than a travellers' conceit. There are many of these in Germany: the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, the Uhrenstrasse, the Bergstrasse, the Weinstrasse etc. The Romantische Strasse, though, is distinguished by being the oldest, the longest and the most popular of them all. It refers to the road from Würzburg in the Main valley in northern Bavaria to the Königschlösser in the Bavarian Alps. In this section it passes through pretty rolling countryside and specialises in gloriously preserved and evocative old medieval towns. There is a certain cloying tweeness and over-perfection about the likes of Rothenburg or Dinkelsbühl but they have an undeniable beauty and invariably delight the visitor. (The first few miles are not very romantic at all, just haphazard urban overflow from Augsburg. It gets better.)
Donauwörth (60 miles) presents an uninspiring face to the road. Here you cross the Danube. You are only about 150 miles from its source in the Black Forest so it's not a particularly impressive river. It has not yet been swollen by the Alpine streams which join it between here and Linz in Austria so it scarcely gives the impression of being central Europe's greatest river (1,794 miles long and bordering or flowing through 9 countries on its way to the Black Sea). Nor is it very blue. Nonetheless it is the Danube so if you have any waltz tapes, play them now.
As you reach the Danube, you cross the great spiritual divide known as the "Weisswurst Equator." This is the border between the southern Bavarian heartlands and the ancient region of Franconia.
Harburg (70 miles) is a dramatic sight. The village is mostly hidden from view but the Schloss is clearly visible above the road and the river Wornitz. This is the largest castle in southern Germany and dates back in part to the C12 (though it was largely remodelled in the C18). In 1295, the Emperor gave the castle to the Graf von Öttingen. It still belongs to the same family.
Around Harburg you should watch out for a change in the scenery. The sudden almost total absence of trees and a distant ridge betray that you are in the Ries crater. This was formed 15,000,000 years ago by a meteorite 1/2 a mile in diameter which is estimated to have hit the earth at a speed of 44,000 mph. The crater is 9 miles in diameter and was, on impact, 2.5 miles deep. It destroyed all life in a radius of 60 miles. The geology of the Rieskessel is in certain ways almost identical to the geology of the moon. For this reason, the NASA astronauts for Apollo 14 and 17 were trained here.
Nördlingen (80 miles) lies in the middle of the Ries. This is the first of the great medieval towns you pass on the Romantische Strasse. From the road, which runs right by the town, you can see the walls which began to be built in 1327 along with several of the gateways and towers. What really stands out though is the tower of the C15 St. Georgskirche. It is 292 feet high, ornately decorated and made of volcanic stone. You can climb to the top for a view over the whole of the Ries. (Nördlingen, incidentally, is the venue of the oldest steeplechase in Germany.)
A few miles beyond Nördlingen near Wallerstein, you leave the Ries crater.
Dinkelsbühl (100 miles) vies with Rothenburg as the jewel of the Romantische Strasse. The catalogue itineraries which pass this way stop here for a visit before continuing to Rothenburg. If the group insist, well then OK. Otherwise you are probably better off carrying on because the two towns are practically identical. You miss nothing. The only difference is that Dinkelsbühl is much smaller (5,000 inhabitants) and less overrun with tourists. A guided tour is not necessary. Just walk the group into the town centre and let them roam. Ideally you can just stop for a photo and carry on. The view on to the town is spectacular. Dinkelsbühl preserves 20 medieval towers as well as its ramparts giving some idea of its former importance. It is also, curiously, one of the few European towns to preserve the tradition of the nightwatchman. Every night (in the tourist season) at 9:30 p.m., he walks through the town in C18 costume shouting "Hört ihr Leut und lasst euch sagen" which means more or less "Listen everybody to what I have to say."
In mid-July, a famous children's festival called the Kinderzeche is celebrated here. This is in remembrance of a legendary episode in the Thirty Years' War. This was the war between Catholics and Protestants that devastated central Europe between 1618 and 1648 (see also Rothenburg, story of the Meistertrunk). Dinkelsbühl was Protestant. In 1632, it was taken by the Catholics under the command of the ubiquitous General Tilly. He intended to destroy the city but the plan was changed when, according to the story, the children of Dinkelsbühl carried flowers into the enemy camp as a token of peace and melted the commander's heart.
Feuchtwangen (106 miles) is a pretty little market town but it offers nothing to the road. Here you should leave the Romantische Strasse to join the A7 for the remaining 20 miles to Rothenburg. At Schillingfurst (among the trees to the right you might just be able to catch a glimpse of the baroque castle where Franz Liszt spent his last years) you reach the Frankenhohe watershed. South of here all waters make their way to the Danube and on to the Black Sea. North of here they join the Rhine and empty out into the North Sea.
There is nothing more of interest until you see the towers and ramparts of your destination.
passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.
51 Union Street Suite 106
Worcester, MA 01608