Rothenburg may feel touristy, but in its day, it was a major artistic and economic force. You see that by the amazing carved altarpiece in its main church.
In St. Jacob’s Church is the artistic highlight of Rothenburg, and perhaps the most wonderful woodcarving in all of Germany: the glorious 500-year-old, 35-foot-high Altar of the Holy Blood. Tilman Riemenschneider, the Michelangelo of German woodcarvers, carved this from 1499 to 1504 to hold a precious rock-crystal capsule that contains a scrap of tablecloth miraculously stained in the shape of a cross by a drop of communion wine.
I was capturing my thoughts in front of Rothenburg’s altarpiece and taking notes in my little book. The passage I was working on: “Before continuing on, take a moment to simply linger over the lovingly executed details: the curly locks of the apostles’ hair and beards, and the folds of their garments; the delicate vines intertwining above their heads; Jesus’ expression, at once tender and accusing.” A man next to me caught my eye. It felt like we were old friends, but I couldn’t place him. He said something like, “Good old-fashioned journalism — in the field with a pencil and notepad…I like that.” He told me that he and his wife were fans of my books and TV shows, and I still couldn’t place him. Finally he said, “I’m Doyle McManus.” Turns out he’s one of my favorite political commentators — a regular on PBS’s Washington Week and columnist for the Los Angeles Times — and he was having a great trip.
I wish every town offered an opportunity to connect with real locals, as Rothenburg does. For over 20 years, whenever I’m in town on a Wednesday evening, I drop by Rothenburg’s English Conversation Club. It’s a rare chance to mix it up with locals who aren’t selling anything. Just bring your favorite slang and tongue twisters to Mario’s Altfränkische Weinstube am Klosterhof (Wednesdays after 6 p.m.). This group of intrepid linguists has met more than 1,000 times. Hermann the German and his sidekick Wolfgang are regulars. When the beer starts to sink in, the crowd grows, and everyone seems to speak that second language a bit more easily. Do you know any other club like this in Europe where an American would be so welcome?