One of the larger towns on the Romantic Road, Nordlingen is surrounded by an almost perfectly circular defensive wall and it is possible to walk all 2.7 kms of it undercover, perfect for the grey, damp day on which I visit.
In the centre of the town is a small market place. On one side is the 13th century town hall with a beautiful renaissance staircase and underneath is a former prison cell. Next to the locked door is a stone carving of a jester and beneath which is written the words ‘Now there are two of us’, a reference to the fool within the cell and the fool who looks in upon him.
On the other side of the square is St George’s Church which boasts not one, but two fabulous organs and a 90m tall tower called the ‘Daniel’, offering wonderful views over the town for anyone willing to climb the 350 steps! Each night, between 10pm and midnight, the watchman calls out ‘All’s well’ from the top of the tower.
The town seems to have an obsession with pigs and I find out from the Tourist Office that this is related to a legend from 1440 when a clever pig indicated that the town gate had been left open. The guards had been bribed by Count Hans of Oettingen so he could attack the town during the night. Official records show that two gate guards were charged with treason and executed in 1440 but no one really knows if it was actually a pig that saved the town.
At the Reis Crater Museum I learn about how the geography and geology of the region was the result of a 1km wide meteorite striking the earth about 15 million years ago. The impact would have been 250,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb and life would have been wiped out in the surrounding 100kms. The museum shows how in 1961 American scientists Shoemaker and Chao proved that the Reis structure was caused by a meteorite impact. It also has examples of meteorite fragments from all over the world and a piece of meteorite which was brought back from the moon.
I complete my day with a coffee and a rather large piece of Reiser Bauerntorte, a thin pastry pie filled with applesauce and flavoured with vanilla, lemon and rum.
Perched on a cliff above the small village of Harburg and the River Wornitz sits a well preserved Castle dating from the 12th century, though the majority of buildings within it were built in the 16th or 17th centuries. Access is through a fortified gate with an iron portcullis with openings above for pouring hot oil onto attackers. This leads into a large open courtyard surrounded by walls, towers and buildings of various styles.
To find out more about the castle and see the interiors, I have to take an organised tour. The guide gives the information in German but an additional leaflet in English is provided which covers a lot of the same points. We start in a beautiful white church with stucco decoration, pretty ceiling frescos and tombs of the Counts of Oettingen. Then we climb up to the defensive walls to get a closer look at the loopholes which include spherical wooden balls with holes through them to assist the snipers with their aim and offer them better protection from attacking fire. In the prison tower we find a model of a sad looking peasant guarded by a mean looking soldier and further on, in the keep, is a 10m deep dungeon and torture chambers.
More pleasant is the former granary building which in the 19th century was used as courtrooms. The floor is tiled which seems a bit out of place but presumably much harder wearing than the wooden floors and easier to clean. The wooden ceiling is beautifully painted with figures of women and there are huge treasure chests with complex locking mechanisms and a dog motif on the base, indicating bankruptcy when the chest is empty.
The final rooms, in the Princes Building, are decorated like a hunting lodge with armoury and animal skins. After the tour I take a walk around the base of the castle walls along the top of the cliff and come across a local hunter – a white cat!
There is a large market setting up in the back streets of Donauworth when I arrive in the town. Stalls of clothes, spices, kitchen equipment and colourful plants line the route from the car park to the high street. Unlike most of the medieval bastides on the Romantic Road, Donauworth is focused on one long main street running from the monastery complex to the Town Hall, which is hosting a Fairtrade exhibition.
What I’m really interested in are the bells hanging above the door of the Town Hall which at 11am and 4pm each day sound out a tune from the opera ‘The Magic Fiddle’ by Werner Egk. I wait in the warmth of an adjacent café until the time comes and find myself joined by a couple of hiking groups who curiously decide to leave shortly after the bells begin their melody.
Halfway along the high street I pop into the 15th century minster which boasts the biggest bell in Swabia, weighing in at 6.5 tons and called ‘Pummerin’. Unfortunately, the tower is closed so I am unable to climb up and see it but the interior frescos are enough to keep me happy. In the monastery complex at the top of the high street is the Church of the Holy Cross. So called, because it houses a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified attracting pilgrims from around the world.
I end my day in Friedberg at an aire in the car park of the Hergottsruh Church. The church is quite beautiful with wonderful stucco work and delicate ceiling frescos. There is an unusual montage called the ‘Picture of Grace’ illustrating Christ resting during his ordeal of carrying the cross, and outside is a lovely cave shrine filled with candles and a series of pictures representing the way of the cross. Unfortunately, the bells are rather loud and ring every ¼ hour throughout the night.