National Geographic : 1926 Feb
ROTHENBURG, THE CITY TIME FORGOT BY CHARLES W. BECK, JR. With Illustrations from atural Color Photographs by Hans Hildenbrand THE traveler in Germany who, at Whitsuntide, is within reach of Rothenburg ob-der-Tauber should set aside all other plans and visit this per fect medieval walled town to witness a unique festival, so picturesque and so pleasantly diverting as to have no equal in continental Europe. (n this occasion the city does honor to the man who took the biggest drink in all history, bar none! Thereby he saved the lives of Rothen burg's town council and obtained mercy for his fellow citizens. This is the story : During the Thirty Years' War Rothen burg felt secure behind her great wall, with her towers well placed for defense; with her wide, and at that time very wet. moat; with her citizenry trained to arms and loving nothing better than a good fight, and with a garrison of professional soldiers, a Swedish force sent to hell) the Rothenburgers against the enemy. But the city was besieged by no less a general than Tilly himself, who brought up his whole army of 40,ooo and swore to cap ture the town and deal with it as he had already dealt with hapless Magdeburg. ROTIHENBURGERS REFUSE TO SURRENDER Tillv's cannon battered at the walls, and the light artillery of the city's towers was powerless to silence the heavier guns of the besiegers; but whenever a reach was made and Tillv's soldiers attacked, in hand-to-hand fighting they were eaten off by the intrepid townsmen. Tilly warned the city that capture was inevitable, and that the only salvation of the citizens lay in surrender; but they would none of it. At last one of the assailants' cannon, by a lucky shot, ex ploded the Rothenburg powder magazine. Even then the doughty burghers refused to surrender, but with dauntless courage continued the hand-to-hand fighting. It was left to the garrison of mercenaries to hang out the white flag. Tilly was so enraged at the prolonged resistance of the town that, after he had taken possession of it and allowed the surrendering Swedes to march out in safety, he summoned the members of the town council and informed them that they were all to be hanged. But, moved by the pleas of their wives and daughters, the conqueror at length mitigated this sentence and announced that he would hang only four. Hie gave the council per mission to cast lots to see who of their number should die. \hereupon the undismayed council stood up and refused the marshal's "mercy," saying they would all live or they would all die, but there would be no lot-casting among them at Tilly's bid ding. At this point in the proceedings a di version was created by the appearance of the town Pokal, the state beaker, a huge three-quart glass, filled with the town's best wine. Tillv and his seven aides drank and drank again. The Pokal went around twice and still it was not empty. After all, three quarts is no mean measure. Perhaps the wine softened Tilly's heart At all events, he cast a grimly humorous eye over the council and swore that if there were any man among them who could empty the famous Pokal at one draft the council would le spared and mercy would be shown to the citizenry. The proposal did not seem to offer much of a chance to the staunch patriots, even though the Rothenburgers were sup posed to be as good drinkers as fighters; lut at last one brave soul, ex-Burgomaster George Nusch, said he would make a try, and intimated that if he failed he'd just as soon he hanged drunk as sober. BURGOMASTER NUSCII SA\'S ITHE CITY WITH A GIGANTIC QUAEE The keeper of the town cellar refilled the beaker, and George Nusch lifted it and drank-and drank-and drank-and drank. Imagine with what anxiety he was watched by his fellow councilors, and with what amazement by Tilly and his men!