When is being told to go to Hell a good thing? Whenever you’re in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.
The medieval city is one of Germany’s best sights, and despite being one of the most-frequented stops on the Romantic Road, the tourists don’t detract from the experience of visiting.
Once a free imperial city, Rothenburg was ravaged by the Thirty Years’ War in the 1630s, and the ensuing poverty ironically preserved the city’s charm, as there was never any money to knock down the old structures and rebuild new ones. So now the walls encircling the city, the half-timbered buildings and cobblestoned streets make nearly any iPhone shot worthy of a postcard.
How does that relate to going to Hell?
Hell, it turns out, is a restaurant and bar in the city, and an anomaly among the original buildings. Most were built in the 1500s and 1600s, but the foundations of Hell were laid in 980 – more than a century before the First Crusade. The date of the walls is “nothing impressive” according to the resident night watchman, who makes the old building a stop on his tour, since they were only erected in the 1500s.
Aside from just being the oldest building in one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world, a metal sign with a cut-out of Satan hangs near the door – thus the name Hell.
It’s unclear how the name and sign came about, but the restaurant and bar is a well-established business now, and a popular stop for both locals and tourists alike.
When I went to Hell, I was accompanied by my sister and another traveler we’d met earlier in the day.
It was a cold night, and we hustled over the cobblestone streets to reach Hell. It was warm inside, and we grabbed a table in one corner. The building’s age was immediately apparent. The floor was on several different levels, and a small spiral staircase led to the building’s bowels.
We ordered beers from the server and toasted to “dining in Hell,” with the obligatory references to the movie “300.”
We only had time for two rounds of beer, since it was pushing 1 a.m., and Hell was closing, but we got a good feel for the restaurant and the fare as we watched the food being served to a few late diners. It looked like the excellent Bavarian food I love – lots of meat, potatoes, vegetables and beer.
When Hell finally closed its doors and we had to leave or be kicked out, we paid the (very reasonable) bill and hurried down the deserted streets to our hotel.
Having a few beers in Hell was one of those traveling novelties I just had to do. The name is really the only thing that sets the building apart – the foundations aren’t really visible, so the fact that they were laid in 980 isn’t overawing.
Hell is, however open somewhat later than most of the other restaurants and bars, and like the night watchman says, if you’re out in Rothenburg at night, you can walk along the city’s wall, or you can go to Hell.