XII. The City of Dreams.
Last of all came a small, wizen figure in a low, round, black peasant's hat, abbreviated pantaloons of buff, and a short jacket trimmed with a double row of large stone buttons. He was simple, genial, very ancient, and in his thin white locks and kindly wrinkles he would have made Diirer surpass his portrait of Holzschuher. More than once afterward I met him within his native walls, and his well-preserved beauty came to be for me a living symbol of the place itself.
The Rothenburger still keeps his conservative resentment toward such a crass new invention as the railway. It was characteristic of him that when the hateful thing had to come, he hid the station half a mile from his walls.
After a discouraging walk between modern buildings, I came finally to a round arch flanked by squat towers, passed over a water-filled moat, the very scum of which was more beautiful than ordinary scum, through a humpy gate-house, over another bridge, under a lofty, square tower inlaid with coats of arms, and found myself at length in the City of Dreams, so complicated is the approach to that enchanted spot.
Nichts gleicht an deutschem Zauber
Dir Stadt im Tal der Tauber
sang the poet —
(No other German magic may avail
To match thine own, town of the Tauber-dale) —
and once inside the Roder Gate it is evident that he sang true.
Right and left run the old city walls, and at a glance one knows that he is in the presence of a German Carcassonne. These walls are of gray stone, tinged with brown, and covered with a sloping roof of crumbling, orange-red tiles. Along the inside, supported by rude corbels and engaged buttresses, and raftered with low, worm-eaten beams, runs a gallery where one may walk (stooping a little, if one is so unfortunate as to be tall) nearly around the entire city.
A few steps toward the center of things, and down the curve of a fascinating street, just beyond an old fountain and some particularly rustic-looking, vine-clad, half-timbered dwellings, I caught a glimpse of another arch spanning the way, crowned with a clock-steeple, and marking the course of the original ring-wall.
Behind it rose the wonderful, saddle-backed Markus Tower, bearing that most intimate symbol of Old- World Germany, a wheel for a stork's nest. And, like so many more of Rothenburg's choicest pictures, this one was closed by the lofty, distant tower of the Rathaus.
To one who has never known Nuremberg, such a scene strongly recalls what he has imagined Nuremberg must be like. But, as a matter of fact, this is a purer bit of Germany's most precious past than any that remains to us in the metropolis of Middle Franconia; although it is true that in the Renaissance Nuremberg surpassed Rothenburg in the matter of beauty as much as Rothenburg surpasses Nuremberg to-day. As I lingered here in the Roder-Gasse, unconsciously humming fragments of „Die Meistersinger“ and dreaming of the vanished days when all men were artists and all artists were men, a charming adventure came my way. For I happened suddenly upon a brother german of Hans Sachs cobbling away under a gable inscribed thus:
Im Hause meiner Väter
Klopf ich allhier das Leder,
Und mache meinen Reim dazu,
Ich sorge nicht wer's nach mir thu'.
(Here in the house of my paters
I hammer and hammer on leather,
And thread my rhymes together.
Careless of imitators.)
A few steps farther, and the market-place glided into view.
I shall always remember the first glimpse of that forum where the different architectural styles harmonize as perfectly as the fusion of the Old Rathaus and the New, a combination in which the romantic Gothic has tried to smooth itself out and compass an approach to austerity, while the classical Renaissance has bedizened itself into romance with pinnacles and little dormer windows, with a decorative corner oriel, a stair-tower, and a perfectly proportioned, flowering colonnade.
In the center is the Herterich Fountain, a tenderly wrought, poetic thing, as fit to be the center of the City of Dreams as the imposing fountains of Augsburg are fit to adorn the monumental street wherein stands the palace of the Fuggers. From the stone basin, carved with splendid grotesques, rises a pillar in gray and gold, bearing a figure of St. George lancing a dragon — the dragon Thirst, no doubt, for in the museum hard by is still to be seen the huge tankard which Burgomaster Nusch drained at a draught to save the lives of the town councilors from the infuriated Tilly. But I am not rehearsing the famous story of the Meistertrunk, for two reasons. In the first place, it has already been told a thousand times. In the second place, it was probably manufactured out of whole cloth in the eighteenth century.
Next door to the museum, on the Apotheke, a charming oriel window with a green-and-red-tiled roof serves as background for the fountain and as baldachin for an old saint.
Happy is he who is allowed to visit the courtyard behind this Apotheke, where the Rathaus tower peers down upon its riot of roofs, its ivied walls, and its latticed gallery, reminiscent of the best courtyard galleries in Nuremberg.
From all sides of the market-place run alluring streets and alleys which, taking a line from the bogus instruments of torture in the Straf Tower, pull one in seven different directions at once.
The Herren-Gasse pulled me the hardest, a street running to the site of the red castle that gave Rothenburg its name and was destroyed by a fourteenth- century earthquake. Here the patricians lived, and the way is lined with courtly houses, many of them Gothic. In the Herren-Gasse I found a number of well-preserved interiors, with good old paneled ceilings and stucco-work. In front were interesting portals with sculptured coats of arms, and in the rear, idyllic little courts or wooded gardens. Number 2 proved to be a medieval bake-shop, and near by was a time-honored wine-house with separate rooms for patrician and plebeian.
Behind a lofty „stepped“ gable some one was playing a rondo by Mozart on a spinet-like piano, and the eighteenth-century music sounded as radical in that older atmosphere as would a Debussy tonepoem heard in the baroque quarter of Leipsic.
Beneath the Castle Gate, over a bridge, and between friendly, dunce-capped gate-houses, the way led into a small paradise of a park on a spur jutting into the valley; and here I first began to feel the fascination of Rothenburg as a whole. Northward there was a splendid view of the western wall, brought out the more strikingly, with its towers and bastions, by the foliage of the hillside below. Eastward Rothenburg built itself massively up about the Rathaus and the Church of St. James. From where I stood the wall swept inward in a magnificent semicircle toward a southern pendant of the town, sown full of idyllic towers, and called the Kappenzipfel, or Cap-Tassel. This curious name was invented by Emperor Albrecht. The citizens had long teased him for permission to include the rich Hospital of the Holy Ghost within the walls. „Well,“ he cried at last, „since your town looks already so much like a night- cap, you may as well make this the tassel.“
Deep in the valley below, the Tauber wound under its double bridge, which showed up in the distance like a fragment of Roman aqueduct. I thought of the company of crusaders who once rode down the zigzag hillside path and across that bridge, bound to redeem the Holy Sepulcher; and of the innumerable bands of pilgrims the olden times had seen winding up that hill toward the city that more than all others resembled, and still resembles, Jerusalem, to adore the drop of the Saviour's blood treasured in St. James's.
The Tauber sparkled on, past the tiny castle of the celebrated Burgomaster Toppler, with its moat and two-arched bridge; past the delightful old mill, creaking and groaning among its poplars; toward the Romanesque church and the wonderful lime-tree of Detwang, that gem of a hamlet which Vernon Lee selfishly wished to conceal from the world.
An old woman sat down on a bench near by, and, as a matter of course, gave me a hearty salutation. She had lived in Rothenburg for seventy years, and it had hardly changed, except that more strangers came all the while to enjoy it.
Frau Weller invited me into her home, a minute, vine-smothered affair in the Herren-Gasse, quite overpowered by its aristocratic neighbors. I had begun to hope that she would bring out my old man of the train and present him as her husband. But, alas! it developed that she was a widow and alone in the world.
„Ja, da lebt man halt bis man stirbt“ („Yes, one just lives here till one dies“) , she said simply.
The tiny rooms had timbered ceilings and furniture of the Biedermeyer period. Frau Weller's greatest pride and joy was a porcelain clock with weights, and she brought out all the pathetic bright handkerchiefs of her youth to show me. Up doubtful stairs, almost too narrow for any but very frail humanity, I caught a glimpse of her fascinating attic full of fagots and rich gloom, with holes in the tiled roof through which soft white clouds were visible, sailing in the bluest of heavens.
Old Frau Weller and I plighted our friendship on the spot, and I shall never again see the neighborly nose and chin of Judy without remembering mine hostess of Rothenburg and her sweet simplicity.
With much pride she introduced her cat.
„She is a direct descendant of the famous Kätzchen of Vorbach. What! Hast never heard tell of her? Well, it was this way: many years before I was born there was a plague of rats and mice in this neighborhood, and never a cat to be found. Finally the two hamlets of Vorbach and Detwang clubbed together and bought a cat from a peddler for two pounds of coppers. She was rented out by the day all over this neighborhood. That cat had so many opportunities that she knew not which way to turn. And to this day, if any one seems especially hurried and flurried, we tell him, ‘You ’re as busy as the Kätzchen of Vorbach.’”
Past the Church of the Franciscans, with its delicate Gothic spire and its wealth of interesting sculptures and inscriptions, I returned to visit the courtyard between the Old Rathaus and the New. There are great round arches upholding a goodly half-timbered façade. But its principal treasure is the celebrated Renaissance portal. With its carvings in stone and mellow wood, and the old Putzenscheiben lantern still hanging over the steps, the portal seems to offer such promise of wonders within as no German Rathaus could fulfil, not even this one, with its fine Kaisersaal, where the Meistertrunk play is performed every year, and with its ghastly underground torture-chamber and dungeons where Burgomaster Topler met his death.
Near by, in the sleepy Kapellen-Platz, I found a fountain — a sort of step-brother to the one in the market-place — flashing away in front of a façade full of half-timber work as gracefully patterned as the choicest lattice-galleries of the courtyards. And it was a peculiar pleasure to discover an inscription facing this fountain that told of the time when Rothenburg awoke to the conscious enjoyment of her own beauty:
Der alten Kunst gar lang versteckt,
Hab' ich hier wieder aufgedeckt,
Dass sie nun lacht in neuer Pracht
Und mir und andern Freude macht.
(The art of old, so long concealed,
I 've in such wise again revealed
That splendors new smile into view
To gladden me and others too. )
The White Tower, a souvenir like the Roder Arch of the original ring-wall, is happily framed from the town side by the Georgen-Gasse; and the low archway, with the tower stairs creeping above it, reveals the distant Würzburg Gate, with its background of foliage.
Outside, near the Crown Tavern's curious relief of a girl feeding a stag with a spoon, one may best see how perfectly the venerable fortification melts into the street picture. The „White“ Tower is slate-colored, brown, blue, gray, dusky red, and a roof falls sheer away from it with bright patches of red down to a captivating corner oriel. This building, with its bit of walled garden, was once the Jewish dance-house. Old Jewish baths are still to be seen in the cellars.
From the Würzburg Gate, as from so many of the others, there looks down a stone face, probably the portrait of a would-be traitor; and inside of the archway a mysterious profile is roughly chiseled — a profile about which one hears all sorts of contradictory reports.
This northern part of the town wall is the best preserved, for it was built according to the theories of Vitruvius, and is the foremost example of its kind. On its broad top the maidens dance after the festival play. Here my friends, two young American painters, once gave their memorable Fourth of July celebration, and, after the fireworks, were carried home on the shoulders of the delighted inhabitants, an event that will doubtless be talked of in Rothenburg for generations.
I walked to the Klingen Gate along the gallery. This passage has never been much used except for defense, but its deeply worn pavement is eloquent of the town's martial history. I found it the haunt of rope-makers, with hemp flying from their girdles and lodged in their flaxen whiskers. Many of the loopholes were walled up, but through the open ones I caught rare little vignettes of flowering moat and a pleasant countryside in bloom.
The Klingen Gate, with its side turrets, rivals the Stöberlein Tower, with its corner ones, for the distinction of being Rothenburg's most beautiful tower. From the wall here a dark stairway winds down into the little Church of the Shepherds.
Some centuries ago the local Jews were believed to have conspired to poison the fountains, murder the watch, and make Rothenburg in very deed into a new Jerusalem. But the shepherds of the neighborhood discovered and published the plot. As a reward, they were allowed, until late in the eighteenth century, to hold an annual festival in honor of this event. It began with a service in the little church, was continued, crescendo, at the Lamb Tavern, and ended in a hilarious dance about the Herterich Fountain, in which any burgher who joined the dance was incontinently doused.
I found a delicate oriel with Putzenscheiben at the corner of the Klingen-Gasse and the Cloister Court. The venerable cloister building had been turned into public offices, but an obliging official showed me that rare sight, a genuine medieval kitchen, and the finely vaulted refectory above, from the window of which could be seen, on a distant hill, the ruins of a robber castle beyond the border in Württemberg.
The Klingen-Gasse leads through a gloomy archway under the Church of St. James. It is a fit setting for the legend of The Poor Soul of Rothenburg. In olden days the burghers did not believe much in the devil, which angered that personage. Once upon a time when a peasant was passing under this archway the devil caught him suddenly and hurled him against the vaulting with great force. The poor body fell down again at once, but the poor soul remained sticking to the stones. You may see it there to-day. „It is sort of brown,“ writes the chronicler, „with black spots.“
On the southern roof of the church is a reclining figure which recalls another legend. In building the two towers the architect let his pupil try his hand at one of them. And when he saw how much his pupil's tower outshone his, he leaped to his death from the scaffolding. The pupil then carved his master's portrait on the roof.
The architecture of the interior is rather more cold and austere than one would expect of Rothenburg's principal church; but there is a compensatory richness of imagination in the altars by Herlin and Riemenschneider and in the blaze of color that pours through the fifteenth-century windows. Here also is a touch of that naivete which is so enjoyable in the local house inscriptions. For the eastern windows represent the Fall of the Manna as a rain of South-German rolls and pretzels.
Of all the alluring ways beckoning out of the market-place, one of the most alluring to me was the Schmied-Gasse, with its view of that notable Renaissance dwelling, the Architect's House. The caryatids between the windows with their reminiscence of the Erechtheimi, and the stately portal and gable, bring out vividly the classical dignity and poise of the period, while the courtyard is teeming with Rothenburg's unique charm. There you may loll at tables made of old millstones, with moss and flowers growing from the hole in the center, and sip your coffee from earthenware cups of the quaint local pattern. That is the place to loaf and invite your soul while vaguely enjoying the carved shields and window-frames, the iridescent window-panes, the colons and patterns of the halftimber work, and the red galleries smothered in flowers. As you sip and dream, you begin to wonder whether it is not all too good to be true; whether the curtain will not suddenly clatter down on this astonishing stage and the orchestra begin to scrape and toot, for your sins, the popular ragtime of the moment.
A few steps southward, between the upper and lower Schmied-Gassen, I stumbled on a curious fountain, a mossy shaft capped by a hybrid figure with the head of a Gothic Christus and the tail of a merman.
The lower Schmied-Gasse ends Am Plönlein, where the road hesitates and grows charmingly confused between the rival seductions of two gate-towers. It finally compromises by forking down crookedly on the one hand to the Cobolzeller Gate, and running up on the other hand to the Siebers Tower, which bears above a Romanesque arch just the proper touch of color in a sky-blue clock. Above the Gothic arch on the other side I made out a stone traitor staring blindly down the Cap-Tassel; and, in delightful contrast to him, the bright face of a young girl with a halo of flying flaxen hair peeping out of the embrasure above.
The Cobolzeller archway framed a scene of the purest beauty, which came to typify romantic Germany to me as much as any one scene could. On the left rose the town wall, clothed with vines in all the colors of early autumn. On the right an arm of wall swept around, with the rich, deep tones of its wooden gallery, into the ruddy roof of a porter's lodge that nestled at the foot of a mighty, square tower. Above its roof was visible the onward sweeping rhythm of wall and tower, and, through the porter's archway, a glimpse of hillside foliage.
Mounted on corbels in the courtyard was a half-effaced stone relief equally suggestive of a Roman sacrificial procession and of an early Gothic procession to Calvary, so much can Nature do toward leveling religious differences. It came to me how Cobel, the neighboring hermit for whom the gate was named, would have been scandalized at such an ambiguity.
I walked outside the wall to look through the arch of the Lime Tower and see how majestically the city composed itself from there; then went within for a few moments beside the huge mill where two-and- thirty horses used to grind Rothenburg's grain in time of siege.
Then on to the hospital inclosure, with its crowd of quaint buildings and its rustic atmosphere. Near a fragment of pond the pointed Hegereiter House squatted like some mysterious but kindly gnome, as though caricaturing the beautiful Stöberlein Tower hard by.
The Spital Gate with its involved complex of courts and towers and bastions seemed the most elaborate of the outworks of Rothenburg. Antiquated cannon still looked through the loopholes, as though to confirai the legend on the keystone of the outermost arch:
(Peace to the entering,
Safety to the departing.)
I had long heard of the glories of the „red city“ seen toward dusk from the heights across the Tauber, when the flaming west made the roofs and tile-capped towers glow like a sunlit beaker of ruby wine. And each afternoon I had taken my way across the double bridge and past the old heathen place of sacrifice to the hillside opposite, hoping for perfect weather. But though the sky, during my stay, steadfastly refused to „blossom in purple and red,“ I had the chance to see how well Rothenburg could endure the ordeal of a colorless sunset.
The distant city made exactly the setting one would desire as the background for the most romantic story in the world. And I recalled with pleasure a passage from the memoirs of Ludwig Richter, that pioneer of romanticism: „Touring through Bavaria, I discovered a town which made one exclaim: 'This looks as if it had been designed by Ludwig Richter.' „ Here, for once, reality had equaled the most radiant work of the imagination. The dozens of distant towers stood out in Hvely contrast to one another over the mellow, ruddy city that sat its hill with a gracious, genial air far removed from the frightened way that little Italian towns cling to their heights — towns which Carducci once compared to flocks of mountain goats terrified by wolves. Against the light background of the western wall a line of regularly shaped trees gave the effect of a Gothic colonnade.
All about me was peace. It was the season of the hay harvest. I could not see the laborers beyond the western ridge — only the forks of green grass that came tossing rhythmically up over the sky-line. A sickle of moon stood over the wain, and I could hear the harvest song.
One after one the far-away steeples rang out the hour of eight. And, as the sounds came floating across the valley, mingled with the low, delicate color-harmony of Rothenburg, I was glad that Nature had not seen fit to paint the rose.
Rothenburg — The Markus Tower. Etched by O. F. Probst.
Rothenburg —The Rathaus (City Hall), the older part having the Tower. Etched by O. F. Probst.
Rothenburg — Court of the Apotheke. Etched by O F. Probst.
Rothenburg — Portal of the Old Rathaus. Etched by O. F. Probst.
Rothenburg — Fountain in the Kapellen-Platz. Etched by O. F. Probst.
Rothenburg — The Klingen-Gate Tower. Etched by O. F. Probst.
Rothenburg — Am Plönlein — Siebers Gate at the left and Cobolzeller Gate at the right. Etched by O. F. Probst.alle Kapitel sehen