I’ve spent four months of my life in Germany. I visited my family here for one month when I was ten years old, another month when I was sixteen and about two months spread across three visits over the past three years. The large time span between visits has allowed me to experience the strange intersection of memory and reality. Nowhere was this more evident than when I visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber last week with T, S & J. Because of its medieval old-town, Rothenburg is a popular tourist destination in Bavaria. Also, since it sits above the Tauber River (i.e. “ob der Tauber”), it is a regular stop for small cruise ships passing on the river. There are some interesting stories of how the town was saved from bombardment during WWII, but I won’t bore you with real history.
The first time I visited Rothenburg, I was ten years old (yup…that was 26 years ago…). After my visit, I left with two prominent memories: First, what I have always referred to as “the torture museum,” and second, walking on the large wall that surrounds the city. It’s likely that these memories stuck with me because of photographs taken of ten-year-old me in “the stocks” (a medieval restraining device built to publicly humiliate criminals) and walking atop the wall. It’s possible these photos still exist (Mom?).
Last week, we made the 90-minute drive to Rothenburg on a sunny weekday during T & S’s vacation. We parked and walked past many shops, Bäckerei und Konditorei (bakeries for bread and confectioners for treats) before heading into the museum. What I remembered as the “Torture Museum” is actually called the “Criminal Museum.” The exhibits were basically the same as I remembered; after all, what’s 26 years when it comes from artifacts from the middle ages?
As a ten-year-old, I found the “thumb screw,” the “iron maiden” and the “rack” fascinating. As a 36-year-old, I couldn’t help but imagine my body parts being subject to these devices. It was pretty gross. I did, however, enjoy seeing the “drunk tank” a lot more than I did when I was ten. It turns out that the “drunk tank” is a large barrel that drunks were forced to wear over their head, sometimes with weights attached to make it harder to carry. I had no idea that the popular phrase for the place where drunks “sleep it off” in the police station originated in The Middle Ages. Good stuff!
The wall was also how I remembered it, but browsing the shops brought back a few repressed memories of ten-year-old me. “Mom! Can I have a marionette?” I did get one, and I probably played with it twice. “Dad! Can I have a butterfly knife?” To my disappointment, I wasn’t allowed to buy the weapon. Ten-year-old me saw shop windows full of treasures, while current me saw shop windows full of over-priced junk that wouldn’t fit in my backpack. Even if I bought myself the coveted butterfly knife, I’m not sure it would make it past customs. Instead, J and I made souvenirs of delicious Schneeballen (balls of crunchy fried dough covered in chocolate or confectioner’s sugar) and a vegan cookbook in German. Maybe I’m the one who’s “middle-aged.” – M