After checking out of our Ibis Budget hotel and eating another cheapfully delicious McDonald's breakfast (hey, gotta save money somewhere!), we launched into our day of the -Burgs/Bergs. Our first stop was central Würzburg to the Residenz, our reason for arriving here the previous night. The Residenz is a huge palace built by the prince-bishops of Würzberg in 1720-1744 as their personal accommodations and offices, after they got sick of living in the gigantic Marienberg fortress on the hilltop that had been their home since the 1200s. I know, life can be so hard sometimes. They were determined to make it grand, rivaling Versailles, and so they built it exactly two meters wider than that storied palace. All this even though they were only the rulers of their little town, and the King of France was, well, a king. It must be nice to have unlimited money to fulfill your slightest whims, a sentiment that was borne out by the rooms within.
Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we turn again to Wikipedia. The Residenz is known most for the gigantic fresco over the ceiling of the main staircase, painted by the Italian Tiepolo in 1753. It is 32 by 18 meters, which was described by our very drily funny (i.e. German) guide as the largest single scene painted in one fresco, because after all the Vatican has larger frescos, but they are all broken up, making them less impressive.
We proceeded through a series of more impressive rooms, including one with extravagant white stucco decorations (a "palate-cleanser," if you will, after the riotousness of the fresco), and the Imperial apartments that became progressively more dramatic as we walked through, culminating in the famed mirror room with delicate paintings behind mirrored glass.
Unfortunately, this room, like many, is a complete restoration. Würzburg was bombed in World War II, destroying the majority of the town and large parts of the Residenz, including the ceiling above the fresco (but thankfully not the fresco itself), large swaths of rooms, and all of the glass in the mirror room. It was a sobering reminder of the multifaceted devastation from just 80 years ago, a theme that was to repeat itself throughout the day.
Fortunately, much of the exterior was salvaged, and we spent a lovely hour wandering through the gardens, the sun breaking through the steady drizzle just for us.
We moved on from Würzburg to the town of Bamberg, where not just one building but indeed the entire town center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it was untouched by war bombs. Unfortunately it was raining and parking was scarce, so we did our worst impression of American tourists and took photos from our car windows as we drove through what we can only hope is not a pedestrian-only zone.
We carried on to Nuremberg, whose name is quite familiar to most Americans, and the reason we went there ourselves. There is a top-notch Nazi documentation museum that describes, fairly objectively and impassively, the history and rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. With our busy day, we could only spend an hour and a half there; Hirsh the museum aficionado estimated it would take three hours to do it justice. The museum was filled with artifacts, photos, and videos of the Nazis history, and explanations of how such a thing was even possible in a seemingly sane society. Hitler glorified himself alone and built a cult of personality and myth as he designated swathes of society as outsiders and ultimately crossed boundaries thought to be unbreathable. (Although we differed on the degree to which this was history repeating itself, we at least thought that the words and actions of a major presidential candidate shouldn't even generate the thought of comparing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis). It was thought-provoking and chilling, and it was quite striking to see the museum visitors, most of whom appeared to be Germans, taking in a depiction of their very recent history.
The museum is actually built into the former Nazi Congress Hall, which is essentially a large open air stadium. Since it wasn't destroyed in the war, the Germans didn't tear it down after. You can't really use it for its intended purpose, so the town of Nuremberg today uses it as a parking lot and junk storage, which seems appropriate. We were even able to drive right into the middle of the arena, which is quite an odd feeling.
Our last stop of the day was our resting place for the night, the medieval fortified town and world-renowned tourist attraction Rothenburg ob der Tauber (or "Red fort on the River Tauber"). Well-loved for its preserved and rebuilt medieval charm reminiscent of so much we saw in Alsace, this town is the heart of the Romantic Road of Bavaria. And we fell in love with it too.
It is nowadays especially prominent because our good friend Rick Steves raves about it, which has brought this town tourists by the busload and Rick a plaque of his very own.
We thus chose, as we often do, to avoid the 10 AM - 5 PM rush and arrive late in the day, which worked out beautifully for arriving to our well-located hotel, the Pension Gästezimmer Michelangelo, just inside the city walls (Raleigh denizens are familiar with ITB, or Inside the Beltline. Our hotel was ITW, which made us very happy indeed). We headed into the town center to enjoy the sights by dusk and ran into the Night Watchman, a famed tour given nightly by a costumed resident of the town who took us through the town's ancient history with humor and a quite-distinctive vocal inflection.
We heard about the impact of the Black Death, the attempted invasions of the town (and the unlucky defender who blew himself up trying to check on the gunpowder stores by torchlight), and the World War II bombing of the town that destroyed 40% of the buildings. Even the bombing had a neat story: the American officer in charge of operations in the region knew about Rothenburg from a painting his mother had bought of the town when she had visited in the 1910s. His mother adored the town, so once he learned Rothenburg had been targeted he ordered the bombing to stop. Clearly, Rothenburg was as loved then as it is today, and after the war the citizens of Rothenburg appealed to the world for funds to rebuild the city, promising them their name carved on the city walls in thanks. The money came, and Rothenburg was rebuilt.
We then walked back to our hotel, which conveniently also hosted a lively and well-rated Italian restaurant (our attempts to continue avoiding German food still in full effect), where we relived some of our finest memories of our July in Italy with caprese salad, pasta, wine, and gelato. And then, a well-deserved rest!