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Marty Weybret From the shadows, the night watchman emerged to share with us a tale ancient and true

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Marty Weybret

Posted: Thursday, August 5, 2010 12:00 am

July 12, 2010, Rothenburg — It was muggy again but we shopped, shot photos and walked all day.

Dinner was at the Burgerkeller, which you'd never confuse with Burger King. I had roast pork in brown beer sauce; Christi had butter-fried filet of pengasius, a catfish from the Mekong Delta. German cooking can be heavy, but at least while we were there, we always found salads and other summer veggies on the menu. Our dinners were delicious and the food wasn't the best part.

We were served by owner Harry Terian, an old rock-and-roll drummer renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of Europe's top 100 music from the '60s and '70s.

Harry only had three tables to serve, and along with a family from Texas and a couple from Australia, we all spoke English. So Harry put on a CD of theme music from old American TV shows. Then like a game show host, he stood in the middle of the restaurant and started quizzing us. The Australian guy, of course, guessed the theme from "Skippy" (remember the show about the family with the pet kangaroo?). We and the Texans tied on "Flipper" and Christi got "I Dream of Genie."

As we passed a delightful dinner hour in the Burgerkeller, a thunderstorm moved in and drenched our steamy world with a refreshing rain. We walked through the drizzle to the meet the "Nachtwacher" (night watchman) tour. Lodians Corey and Brenda Colla are veteran travelers and they gave strict instructions not to miss this walking history tour. The 8 p.m. tour is in English.

Our "guide" emerged from a corner of the square, a figure in a black cloak and three-corner hat walking purposely toward us. He held a horn, a lamp, a chain and a halberd — a cross between a pike and a battle-ax. In the 15th Century, the Nachtwacher was a sort of beat cop permanently assigned the graveyard shift. He protected the town from fire, crime and foreign enemies sneaking in the gates.

We followed Georg, the actor playing the Nachtwacher, through town as he related anecdotes from its history. His comic timing rivaled Rodney Dangerfield or Mark Twain. I'll try to approximate one of these stories — Rothenburg's comeuppance in the Thirty Years War:

At that time, Rothenburg was a very wealthy town. It was a wool and weaving center located on a crossroads and surrounded by fertile land. It had royal permission to hold a market several times a week. Its wall protected a vast store of grain.

At that fateful point in its history, a month-long rain made the roads impassible. An army of 10,000 soldiers became mired near Rothenburg. The town's population was about 3,000 at the time. The army had no grievance against the people of Rothenberg.

"They needed to get dry," said the Nachtwacher in a conspiratorial tone, rain dripping from the tip of his hat.

"They wanted our food.

"Naturally — we didn't want to give it to them.

"But they had cannons. They shot at us — for three days.

"We shot back.

"We ran low on gunpowder.

"One night somebody asked the guy with the key to see how much gunpowder was left.

"He went in — with a torch.

"It was a bad idea.

"Only two people died.

"Naturally — the guy with the torch. The other guy got too close."

The explosion breached the wall and invaders pillaged the city. With no grain or goods to supply weavers and shepherds, the economy of the whole region collapsed.

That's why Rothenburg is preserved. Other cities grew. Cannons got better — so why have walls? Munich and other towns tore down their walls and old buildings. They built new buildings, on wide streets.

"Here — nothing happened — for two hundred years," said the Nachtwacher.

"So that's what you see today. Nothing's changed.

"We don't have sheep anymore. But we still need money.

"We have something better than sheep.

"We have tourists.

"Thanks for coming."

We'll give the travelogue a rest tomorrow and finish up Saturday on the Lodi Living travel page. The topic: The beers of Munich.

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