October 03, 2011


ROTHENBURG: postcard-perfect street scene
David Ellis

WHERE would we be without the ubiquitous marketing men and women of this world?

To say you've surfed Ehukai Beach on the north shore of Hawaii's Oahu island doesn't sound nearly as exciting as boasting you've survived a tube on the Banzai Pipeline – even though Ehukai (it means 'sea spray') and Banzai are one and the same.

And what about Vanuatu? When the iconic cruise-liner Fairstar started visiting out-of-the way destinations in the 1970s, one of her stop-over's was a tiny, unoccupied island called Inyeug in the far south

The name Inyeug had little appeal to cruise lovers, so the ship's PR man at the time, Ron Connelly "renamed it" Mystery Island. Now its one of the best-known "mysteries" in the South Pacific.

So it was when travel wholesalers started selling guided tours of Europe in the 1950s and wanted a catchy phrase to describe a 350km stretch of road that wound its way through the centre of Germany.

THE town's famous Christmas stores are open year-round
It stretched from Würtzburg on the River Main down to Füssen on the Swiss border. Füssen is where Mad King Leopold's Neuschwanstein castle is located, the one that inspired Sleeping Beauty Castle in California's Disneyland in Anaheim.

Drawing on the beauty of the towns and villages through which it passed, the travel experts dubbed the road the Romantischer Strasse (Romantic Road).

It caught on instantly and tourism quickly boomed, especially in what is arguably the most beautiful of all the settlements, Rothenburg ob der Tauber ('Red town overlooking the Tauber River'.)

Before the coining of the name Romantic Road, Rothenburg still had a country air about it, with the occasional cow or sheep wandering along its cobbled alleyways.

Not today. Although the buildings in the walled township still look like something out of a mediaeval fairytale, the majority of them have been turned into mini-museums, hotels and gift shops.
And it's probably one of the few places in the world boasting stores that sell nothing but Christmas decorations the whole year round, and which follows-on from the fame of the town's December Christmas market (Christkindelmarkt).

INYEUG Island in Vanuatu no longer a
mystery now that it's called Mystery Island
People who couldn't make it to Rothenburg in December to wander through the market while sipping gluhwein, the hot spiced red wine that the Germans drink in the lead-up to Christmas, felt cheated. So the Käthe Wohlfahrt company stepped into the breach and opened two specialty stores that sold Yuletide decorations 52 weeks of the year, shipping them to whatever part of the globe tourists came from.

Today many smaller shops also sell similar Christmas decorations year-round in Rothenburg.

One of the best ways to get the feel for the town is to take a walk around the top of its perimeter walls and climb some of its massive towers. The tourist authorities offer local historians as guides. And after dark there is an especially entertaining walking tour led by Rothenburg's so-called mediaeval 'night watchman'.

There are several festivals, the most famous in September when the town stages its Master's Draught Festival. This commemorates an incident in 1631 when the townsfolk were saved from death by the mayor who accepted a challenge from invading troops to drink more than 3-litres of wine in one gulp. Straight down the hatch! And yes, it can be done – in fact every day of the festival the locals will show you how.

HAWAII'S Banzai Pipeline: conjures up
more thrills than saying you've surfed Ehukai Beach.
There's also a crime and punishment museum with displays of such torture instruments as the iron maiden, finger-screws, the rack, and a steel cage complete with the metal gag that was once clamped onto a hapless victim's tongue.

There is also St Jakob's church with an ornate altar, the work of Tilman Riemenschneider, a famous sculptor and woodcarver. It is known as the Heilige Blut Altar (Holy Blood Altar) and allegedly houses a drop of the blood of Jesus Christ. No one can explain how it hasn't evaporated during the intervening 2000+ years…..
And make sure you try out a local delicacy – Schneeball. As its name (snowball) suggests, it is a round, doughnut-like cake. In mediaeval times it was a made with left-over dough and powdered with sugar to make it palatable. These days it is a dainty tidbit, often covered with chocolate or caramel.

As the locals would say, Mahlzeit!

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