Friday, May 12, 2023

Rothenburg – Saved by a Tankard of Wine

By Kathy Kovach

The Plönlein, the most photographed street in Rothenburg
and featured in Walt Disney's Pinnochio, 1940. 
Whether you love a good Bordeaux at dinner or you’re a teetotaler and prefer a smooth Earl Grey in a delicate teacup, this Bavarian legend should catch your interest.
Map of Rothenburg showing how the walls contain the entire city.
Today, let’s travel to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, (over the Tauber River,) a 13th Century hamlet and one of the oldest completely walled cities in Europe. Within the confines one finds architecture reminiscent of the artwork in children’s books, including white buildings with dark timber crossbeams and red roofs. In fact, Rothenburg means “red fortress.” In the middle of the village is the Marktplatz (Market Place) where history is reenacted every hour on the hour from 10am to 10pm. Here, in the Ratstrinkstube, or Councilor’s Tavern, is where the fate of the town came down to two men.
The red roofs.

Tauber doppelbrücke, or double bridge, early 14th century
But first, one must understand the importance of Rothenburg.

The town actually began in the mid-10th century but wasn’t established until 1120 with the building of Staufer Castle. However, the walls and fortifications were built in the 13th century. In May 1274, Rothenburg was declared to be a Free Imperial City, which granted considerable political power and economic success. It had its own currency and the right to self-government. By the end of the 14th century, 6,000 people lived there.
The document that kicked off the Protestant Reformation.
By the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation took hold in Europe, a movement set in motion when Martin Luther challenged the Catholic church. Religious turmoil ensued, and in 1631, during the Thirty Years War, the Catholic imperial general Count Tilly set his sites on the fortress, which had previously embraced the Lutheran Protestant Reformation. He moved his troops in and nearly decimated the town’s resources.

Here is where fact and fiction get muddied. Some historical accounts claim that Tilly was successful, but one legend remains. You can decide which is true.

Back to the Councilor’s Tavern. The establishment, built two centuries earlier, was exclusively for the councilors of Rothenburg. Here, they met and many a town decision, I’m sure, was made over a stout mug of ale. It is said that it was here in 1631 that Count Tilly decided to toy with the residents and made a bizarre oath.
Portrait of Johann t'Serclaes von Tilly.
I can imagine him boasting. “My army is set to pillage, destroy, and bring Rothenburg to her knees. But, if you wish to save your village, bring me an alderman. I have a challenge for him.”

Former Mayor Georg Nusch stepped forward.

Tilly then ordered a Master Draught of wine, which consisted of 3.25 liters, or just under a gallon. “Drink this in one swig and I’ll spare your city.”

Nusch did, indeed, guzzle the entire thing in one gulp.

True to his word, Tilly pulled out, leaving Rothenburg to lick her wounds and reestablish her presence as the medieval jewel of Bavaria.
Ratstrinkstube in the Marktplatz

Tilly and Nusch
On the façade of the tavern, is a clock tower with two windows, one on either side. Every hour between 10 am and 10 pm, the windows open revealing two animatronic men, Tilly on the left, Nusch on the right. They raise their tankards, and Nusch drains his dry. Then, the windows close, only to repeat the reenactment again in an hour. Click this LINK to see the clock in action.

On a personal note, when I was there with my family in the early eighties, it was a delight to see the tourists scramble to get a good spot to watch the clock tower at the top of the hour. Cars even stopped. A ten-passenger van screeched to a halt in front of us and men in business suits spilled out, every one of them with a camera. They snapped away furiously, then, as the windows closed, they sped away to the next item on their agenda.

A play had been written in 1881 about the legend, as well, and is performed every Pentecost during their festival.

So, fact or fiction? Perhaps a bit of both? Wherever the truth lies, it seems to me there is more excitement in imagining a grown man swigging a gallon of wine than sipping a nice cup of Earl Grey.


A secret. A key. Much was buried on the Titanic, but now it's time for resurrection.

Follow two intertwining stories a century apart. 1912 - Matriarch Olive Stanford protects a secret after boarding the Titanic that must go to her grave. 2012 - Portland real estate agent Ember Keaton-Jones receives the key that will unlock the mystery of her past... and her distrusting heart.
To buy: Amazon

Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother—and soon-to-be great-grandmother—though much too young for that. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.


  1. Thank you for the post today. That's quite a legend! That town sounds so interesting.

  2. There is so much more to this town. I could write a book! lol