Romantic Road Germany: My Tour Through Darling Dinkelsbühl
Imagine a stone wall with turrets climbing to the sky every few hundred yards, medieval slant-roofed buildings in pastel hues and flowering fruit trees reflected in a shimmering pond. I debark the Romantic Road tour bus in the middle of Bavaria and drag my 40-pound suitcase over cobblestones towards the Goldenes Lamme (Golden Lamb) guest house.
I stop to laugh at a word painted on a pumpkin-colored building; Gesundheit is one of three or four German words in my vocabulary. As I fumble for my camera to record this hilarious find, a gentleman in the doorway behind me explains. Germans never use this phrase to comfort a sneezer; that’s long out of fashion, but since it means “good health,” it’s a fitting moniker for a health care company. He points me towards the hotel, and I’m off again.
I spend the afternoon walking the circumference of the town, inside the wall. Founded as early as 730, Dinkelsbühl has miraculously been spared from bombing, leaving intact most of its 15th- and 16th-century buildings. I delight in the 16 towers and photograph each notable building…
The Goldenes Lamme, a family run hotel-restaurant, is an ancient building with a bright red facade. My room is up the stairs—no elevator—and surveying the tiny space and the slanting timbers over the bed, I make a mental note to avoid getting up in the middle of the night without turning on a light.
Back outside in search of refreshment, I stop at a bustling sidewalk café. A family beckons me to join them for a glass of beer. They are locals who have grown up and raised their children here. They tell me the houses, which were built in the 1500s, are modern on the inside. The upkeep has been proudly done, at great expense, by many generations of townsfolk. They love their life, are proud of Dinkelsbühl, and treasure their foreign visitors.
I spend the afternoon walking the circumference of the town, inside the wall. Founded as early as 730, Dinkelsbühl has miraculously been spared from bombing, leaving intact most of its 15th- and 16th-century buildings. I delight in the 16 towers and photograph each notable building on the map. My favorite shot: the camera looks down on red-tiled roofs and St. George’s Minster, the central church in the distance, against a lapis sky; in the foreground, just steps from my path, a flaxen-haired woman shakes a comforter out the window while chatting with her neighbor relaxing in a chair on his terrace. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, I’ve found your fairytale town!
A stroll outside the wall takes me to a pond with a tiny island holding a miniature house for ducks. There are two resident white swans and of course the female is sitting on eggs. At every gate, stone arches allow modern vehicles to pass through on cobblestones. From the outside, the arches frame half-timbered dwellings.
Back at the hotel and hungry for a Bavarian dinner, I remember that online reviewers gave the in-house restaurant high marks. The floral-scented garden is nearly empty, but I ask for a table. The waitress hands me two different German menus; she speaks no English. One menu features the word spargel, which I soon know means asparagus. The server summons a family member who can communicate with me; she educates me on the current white asparagus festival and helps me to select a plate which includes tender white spears, local sausages, boiled potatoes, and hollandaise. I enjoy the fading light while cleaning my plate.
Exhaustion spreads through my limbs, but the brochure recommends a nine o’clock walk with the night watchman. Every night one of the locals dons a costume, picks up a tusk horn and lantern, and leads anyone who shows up on a tour of the town, just like long ago. The night watchman of history was nearly an officer of the law, throwing drunks out of bars and making sure the town was locked up tight.
The watchman leads us to a café, kicks open the door and gives three long blasts on his horn. He sings a silly German song. I know it’s silly because the crowd laughs after each verse. The proprietor of the cafe appears with a glass of wine. The watchman passes it amongst the crowd and then finishes it off himself. Although I understand not one word, it is charming.
The proprietor of the cafe appears with a glass of wine. The watchman passes it amongst the crowd and then finishes it off himself. Although I understand not one word, it is charming.
We move on to the next restaurant, but not before the watchman walks over to me, and leaning in, says, “I bet you didn’t understand one word of that.” Surprised, I ask how he knows. He answers, “I’m the fellow who told you about gesundheit this afternoon!” The rest of the hour and a half walk becomes My Giddy Flirtation with the Night Watchman of Dinkelsbühl. At one point, he speaks to the crowd in English.
“I will ask our American visitor if she knows Broadway in New York.”
“Yes,” I answer. “I lived there for a while.”
“And Broadway is a wide, long street that many smaller streets cross, right?”
“Yes.” A dizzy embarrassment warms me.
“Now I will take you through the Broadway of Dinkelsbühl.”
He lifts the lantern high on his halberd and we follow him, single-file, down a narrow passageway between two buildings. The passage has something to do with providing water in the middle ages, and the analogy to Broadway doesn’t make sense, but I am thrilled to have his attention. We consume many glasses of wine and beer before the walk ends. The crowd disperses, but I hang back to continue the flirtation. This fellow is an artisan who moved from Munich 20 years earlier and loves living here. It is late and we say good night, but the smile that has been plastered on my face all evening remains.
In the morning, I visit the local historical museum and trade my passport for an audio guide. Soon it is time to check out of the hotel and return to the Romantic Road bus stop. As I’m boarding, the driver takes a call on his cell phone. He tells me my passport is at the museum. There is time to retrieve it, but I’m curious to know how the museum worker has found me. Anywhere else, I’d be hundreds of miles away before missing the document, but remember, this is Dinkelsbühl. The gal at the museum, feeling guilty for her error, has phoned all of the guest houses in town to discover where I slept, and the folks at the hotel miraculously know how I am traveling.
My subsequent journey includes crazy King Ludwig’s castle in Füssen, the historic charms of Salzburg, and the artistic glories of Vienna, but nowhere fulfills my romantic notions of old Europe like Dinkelsbühl: the cutest town I’ve ever seen.