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Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Speyer Pilgrimage – Pt. 1 – the lull between or rest and recuperation in Schrozberg.

Schrozberg, established in 1249, roughly 20 km (in a certain direction) from Rothenburg ob der Tauber , is a town of 5889 people (as of Dec. 31, 2009) and big enough to boast a taxi service and a Bahnhof (train station).  There is a bus service as well, but as it is school holidays they are not running regularly. However, if your heart (or pocket book as it is cheaper) is set on taking a bus you can reserve one an hour in advance of when you need it.

Geographically, Schrozberg is situated along the Vorbach River which has diminished to a stream by the time it gets to town. This is a relatively flat area with only the gentlest rise of hill here and there.  As it seems for almost every village, town and city – large fields and tracts of forest surround it.  As well as being on the route for at least a couple pilgrimages, Schrozberg is also in the centre of some prime bike touring country.

Schrozberg in the distance

It is Tuesday, Sept. 7, I have arrived at the Gästehaus Im Tal (guesthouse in the valley), Marlene Weigel’s establishment, and I will be here for the next 4 days.  Achy breaky
legs and bad weather conspire to keep me here for a time.

More miserable than a soaked cat, my only thought is to get out of these wet clothes, have as hot a shower as I can stand and get a hot drink into me.   I am not particularly hungry (though I haven’t eaten since 8AM that morning and it is now after 6PM- or 18:00) but Marlene insists on bringing me a hot supper.  In due course she arrives with the hands down most scrumptious vegetable soup I have ever eaten!  I forget that I’m not hungry and it’s all I can do not to polish off the entire contents of the tureen.   I do have the recipe by the way which I have included in a separate post.

That first night is the worst and I fear that I will not be able to sleep because of my legs/feet.  I am full of painful wonder that body parts can be so sore and not fall off.  Tending to necessary bodily eliminations (all that tea) is cause for anxiety (because I have to get up!) and to put off the moment I lie there dreaming up inventions involving tubes and hoses (details not supplied).

Gästehaus Im Tal - Schrozberg

Thankfully, each day is much better and it is during this time that I meet two interesting beings. The first is Helena – a young woman in her mid to late twenties who has just finished her Master’s Thesis in Economics from the University of Stuttgart.  She is doing the pilger because she was too often “in her head” and had a real need to be in nature.   The route she has chosen is the Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Rottenburg pilger, a much more established route of the same length (~185 km).  However, she will not be completing the entire route as her family home is several kilometers from Rottenburg.  She is the one who also got turned around at Enzenweiler.

It is when I am sitting with Helena that I mention that I would like another cup of tea and the kettle starts to boil.  It is plugged in, but did not get switched on. Helena laughs and says, “Wow, if you can do that after only one day on pilger, what can you do at the end of a week?” Alas, we will never find out. Okay, so it was a faulty plug.

Friday, and I have opted to stay the day, although my legs and toes have recuperated just fine   I have the opportunity to get to know Marlene better (she offers me supper and a room to stay in her house) and in the interest of making another friend I stay the extra day.

My room at the Gästehaus Im Tal

There is a big bicycle festival (as in Bike Tours) happening in Schrozberg over the weekend and all the rooms in the Gästehaus are filled.  I spend the day helping out and going on various errands with Marlene. In addition to getting all the new guests sorted Marlene receives a call from two pilger (the Badish pilger) inquiring about a room.  Instead of telling them too bad, so sad, she finds a friend who will take them in.
Marlene delivers them and bedding to her friend.

It turns out that these two people (a couple) are going on the same pilger route that I am.  Marlene asks me if I might want to go with them the next day- she’s probably thinking –“at least she wouldn’t get lost”.    I don’t give it a nano second’s worth of thought. This couple is fiercesomely fit and look like they could eat 39km for breakfast.  Besides, I CANNOT understand a word they say.

It is when the first group of four cyclists arrive that I meet the next interesting being.  Igon (would be pronounced Egon in English) makes his appearance.  Marlene is astounded.  She has not seen him for about three months, and says of course he would show up today when everyone is arriving.   Igon sits in the middle of the floor while the six of us (Marlene, the four cyclists and me) view him with varying degrees of surprise,  although, none of us is so surprised that we all hide behind the bravest of us, or leap squealing and shouting onto chairs and tables.

Sign of the way - and others (bike tour routes)

Igon is the largest garden variety spider that I have EVER seen.  He must have a diameter of three inches!  One of the cyclists calls him a house pet and goes to touch him causing Igon to scamper lively into one of the guestrooms.  Luckily Marlene finds him, scoops him up in a hand towel and sends him outside.   She has obviously done this before.  It occurs to me that Igon might be a she as spider ladies are generally larger than spider gents.

It is in the lull of helping out when there is nothing for me to do but sit and write that the first insight or lesson, or whatever you want to call it presents itself.  It is
about loneliness and being alone. Maybe those are two lessons or just variations of the same?

While in Rothenburg ob der Tauber I experienced a razor sharp loneliness that startled me by how deep it cut.  I had always declared that I could handle being alone and in fact would relish it. However, when faced with it, when the alone was right there, like green eggs and ham, I did not like it one bit, no I did not, Nita, I am.  I was in a city where I did not know anyone.  I missed my travelling companion, I missed my family, I missed my friends.  Being alone when you know someone is going to walk through that door in a couple of hours or even a couple of weeks is a whole lot different than knowing no-one is going to appear.  Internet is ok and helps, but I wanted to see my people, talk with them, laugh with them. In fact I was so disconsolate that I believe my lower lip may have trembled a time or two.

All that changed in Schrozberg sitting there writing just to pass the time.  I am apart from all that is going on and I am a part of it all and I realize that I have never been alone.  There have been all of the people that have helped along my “way” – and particularly those lately because they were people who were strangers to me.  People like Daniel, Hilla and Victoria (who only knew me through Charli, but who opened their home to me), Klaus (of the Pension- Elke in Rothenburg ob der Tauber who kept phoning on my behalf until he reached Marlene so that I would have a place to stay), the “sherry” shopkeeper (whose name I never did learn), the farmer, the young girl at the bus stop, Helena, and Marlene (by the way pronounced as in Marlene Dietrich) they all reached out and in some way scrubbed out that aloneness/loneliness. I am aware that you can be lonely and not be alone the same as you can be alone and not be lonely but, for me at that time they were one and the same.

Schrozberg - last view

And, because of those people the certainty that, at least, in a spiritual sense one is never alone and always well loved became a truism for me.  I have settled into my aloneness and have not felt lonely since (but that doesn’t mean you should stop emailing!).  Sure, you say, it’s only been three weeks or so – will it last? I don’t know, but for the time being, like the certainty that a heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve night will wonder and delight on Christmas morning, I am sure in it.

As always, I hope this finds you all healthy and happy!


PS – The Gästehaus Im Tal was a recommendation in the Rothenburg to Speyer  Pilgrimage guide book.  I heartily second that recommendation!  Marlene and Rolf are superior hosts – warm, welcoming and nothing is too much trouble.  The accommodations are clean, bright, quiet and very reasonably priced.  The included breakfast is varied and substantial.

The Gästehaus Im Tal is the former hospital of Schrozberg.  It so happens that Marlene was born in that hospital and so she’s tickled that she is now the
proprietor.  As of this writing there are 12 double rooms with private bath available.  As time and money permit more of the additional rooms will be renovated.


September 7, 2010 – Pilger – Part I – Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Schrozberg – approx. 22 km. (more if you get lost).

Pilger (German) refers to both pilgrim and pilgrimage depending on the context used.

So…the tale begins…..

All set to go!

Pack on, all set to go, take that first step … and my first thought is:  “I should have cut my toenails.”  My second thought: “I hope I never drop anything because otherwise I am going to be doing a lot of headstands.”

However, balance issues quickly got sorted and off I went, excitement and anxiety competing for equal space in my thoughts.

My first problem, how to actually get on the “Way”, had been resolved a couple of days previously with the help of a friendly shopkeeper with whom I had shared a couple of glasses of sherry.  She was the first of many who would help me along my journey, because as it turns out I have a particular talent for getting lost.  By the time I quit the pilgrimage this talent had been honed to a calibre rarely seen.  *Pilger tip #1- bring a map and learn how to tell North from South, etc.  North, as I discovered, is not always in front of my nose.

Road to the right is where I entered the woods.

Anyway, getting out of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was problematic because:  1. My German reading skills are not that good, and there seemed to be an uncommon number of compound words in the wee guidebook.  Germans have a bad habit of simply adding two or more words together to make a new one instead of coming up with a nice short new word, for instance the word for tank is about 26 letters long.  2. No signs are allowed to be posted within the city walls, so how was I to find the yellow shell on a blue background (sign of the Way).  3. There are at least seven towers along the wall of Rothenburg and it really wasn’t clear (to me) which one to leave from as indicated by the guidebook.

Gate I left through

However, my friendly, shopkeeper got that sorted for me, and I proceeded with confidence.  To make doubly sure of a confident beginning I had scouted out the “Way” for a couple of kilometres two days previously.  I even discovered a shortcut which would knock off at least 1\2 Km from the trip.  Believe me that would count!  Well, in no time I lost the shortcut and in wandering around trying to find it I
probably added a kilometer.  Sigh.

But, I was off!  It was excellent walking weather – overcast, but not cold, and, although my Lady pack was heavy, it rode comfortably on my back.

All was going well.  I stopped at the suggested rest place to have the suggested last look at Rothenburg and took suggested photos.

Last view of Rothenburg

Weather did not hold and it started to sprinkle, but that was still ok, I had a poncho.   Although, I did have a few suggestions of my own about what was supposed to be a non-rainy day.

By the time I reached Enzenweiler, a village about 7.5Km from Rothenburg, my feet were getting sore and the sprinkle had stepped up a couple of notches.  Still ok though and the yellow shell signs were right were they were supposed to be.

Yellow shell - sign of the Way

That all went South (or wherever) when I left Enzenweiler as there was no indication where to go next beyond turning right at the crossroad and then left at the village end.  Sure that I had missed a yellow shell marker I retraced my steps, but no, I was on track.   Still it seemed to me that the village had ended a couple of kilometres back and that was before the suggested right turn on the crossroad.  So, which village end were they talking about???  In talking with another Pilger a few days later – she also got turned around here and ended up in a village not in the guidebook. Gratifying to know I wasn’t alone – in this instance anyway.

Failing any signage I strode straight ahead (my default setting) figuring I would come to a village sooner or later and then see where I was.  And, so it came to pass.  Unluckily for me though this was not a village named either in the guidebook or shown on the sketchy map in said guidebook.  I was losing confidence in the guidebook.  Still at its end there were several signs indicating village this and that, this way or that way.  With the exception of one, none of these village names were in the guidebook or its less than helpful little map.

Along the way. The Windrader in the distance were landmarks to look for.

However, the one recognizable name riveted my attention because it said:  Rothenburg ob der Tauber (that way) 5 Km.  Keep in mind that by now, with backtracking and discovering new villages, I had probably walked at least 12 Km.  So, upon seeing this sign, I said to myself:

“Why gee willikers, would you look at that.  I’ve been walking in a circle.  Gosh darn it, don’t that beat all.” (or words to that effect).

I confess that I gave serious consideration to walking back to Rothenburg, hopping a train, and pretending nothing ever happened.  However, with spirits and self considerably dampened as it was by now raining, I set about looking for someone to tell me how to get to Schrozberg (my end point for the day plus I had overnight
accommodation booked there).  *Pilger tip #2 – make sure you have proper rain gear. Poncho doesn’t cut it.

I did finally find a farmer who kindly stopped in his headlong rush from his barn to his warm, comfortable home to help me out.  He actually happened to be the only person I saw outside in this village.

Permit me to digress and mention a little something about German dialects.  The Schwäbisch dialect sounds like so much pea gravel and sand being swished around in a bucket of water.  I understood maybe three words out of this man’s directions.  I never did catch on to more than half of what anyone said to me in Schwäbisch.  The only dialect that was more incomprehensible was Badish.  Later in the week, I would meet two Badish Pilger.  Thankfully, they were not talking to me as based on my open mouthed look I’m sure they would have thought I had the IQ of a celery stick.  I understood one word, “gel” (hard “g” like in girl), and as it is like our “eh” it really isn’t a word after all.  The Bavarian folks, by the way, roll their “r” so vigorously that I’m surprised they don’t choke for air halfway through a sentence!

Anyway, at my “deer in the headlights” look the farmer slowed it down and spoke more Standard German giving me directions that all involved walking back the way I had come, but then turning towards Heligebronn (3 Km away) and then walking another 2Km or so, to Spielbach where there was a gas station in the middle of town (it’s down the road on the 2nd left when you get to the middle of the village – you can’t miss it.  Right.), and someone there would be bound to know the way to Schrozberg.

He was also the first that would ask me two common questions.  1.  You are alone?  2. You are walking?  all the while looking over my shoulder as if expecting people or a car to appear.  It got so that I was often tempted to have a look myself, even though I knew the air behind me would remain distressingly empty of companions, or A CAR.

So, he says “You are alone?”  “Yes” I say.  “You are walking?” He says.  “Yes”, I say.  “That is bad” he says.  “How so?” I say.  “Because it is a long way”, he says.  “Yup”, I think.  Of course, I have translated for your benefit, although, I’m pretty sure the thought bubble was in English.

Well, there was nothing for it and off I go and trust that I will reach Heligebronn and then Spielbach.  I had begun to put a lot of trust in trust because nothing else was working too well!  And, I did find Heligebronn and it was just where the farmer said it would be!  By this time though, my legs were aching something fierce and my feet were so sore I could feel blisters playing King of the Castle on my toes, and I was wet through and through.  I spotted a bus shelter and thought – screw it – I’m taking the bus to Schrozberg!  I had been walking for several hours with only one break.

*Pilger tip #3 – in small villages in Germany when kids are on school holidays – as they were until Sept.13 – buses do not run.

So, I have to drag my carcass to Spielbach after all.  What’s another 2 Km (in theory) to the 20 Km I must have walked already, eh?

Still, I am optimistic… until I get to the crossroad.  No signage and every direction looks equally well travelled.  I am so very tired, so very sore, so very wet and the wind has picked up and I am getting cold and there is NO ONE in sight, and I just cannot stomach retracing my steps yet again.  I give in, but only have enough vigour to perform about 30 seconds worth of the standard 2 minute dance of panic.  But, it’s enough to clear my head and, as per usual, I head straight.  I am rewarded in short order by the sight of houses.  I have made it to Spielbach!

Spielbach - fountain where I waited for Marlene. Appropriate.

I have NO intention of looking for gas stations, and instead phone Marlene, owner of the Gästehaus Im Tal that I am going to be staying at, to ask her if she could send a taxi for me.  I really, really cannot physically or mentally walk another step further.  Schrozberg is larger (about 4500 people) and it has taxis, a bus and a train station!

I never did get a chance to ask Marlene to send for a taxi, because after she got over her surprise that I was in Spielbach (she was aware of the correct pilger route), she said she would come and get me.  I spent the next four days in Marlene’s care.

Gästehaus Im Tal - Schrozberg.

Schrozberg, by the way, was another 8 Km away.

And, that, my friends, ended my first day of walking.

Hope this all finds you healthy and happy!



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