Nice and empty: Rothenburg’s market square with the Renaissance town hall on the left and the Ratstrinkstube on the right.
Picture: Verena Müller

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the ideal image of picturesque Germany for many foreigners. But in times of Corona there is no tourist rush. This is a disaster for the city – and an opportunity at the same time.

GRuscheln is part of the business. The night watchman from Rothenburg ob der Tauber knows this and makes his audience shudder when he tells him about Black Death, which killed a third of the European population in the Middle Ages, about the rat hordes with their plague fleas, who lived in the dirt of the alleys as a constant danger to life, of the marauding mercenaries, who brought the plague to Rothenburg in the Thirty Years’ War and sealed the decline of the proud imperial city.

“The Nightwatchman of Rothenburg” has been giving all these stories of death and devil for three decades on his evening tours in German and English, dressed in tricorn and a night-black coat, armed with halberd, lantern and buffalo horn – and would have been a few weeks ago do not dream that one day his stories will become a reality and that he himself will be the victim of a plague. Now Hans Georg Baumgartner no longer travels through Rothenburg with hundreds in tow, but only with three dozen people. Now he makes his rounds almost as lonely as the real night watchmen once did and finds the emptiness terribly depressing because nobody laughs anymore in the Rothenburg of these epidemic days.