Part Gothic, from 1240, and part Renaissance, from 1572, Rothenburg’s town hall is decorated with intricate friezes and a large stone portico opening onto the main market square. A climb to the top of the 60m (200-ft.) tower provides a view that sweeps across town and far into the Tauber Valley. You’ll be standing where sentries once kept an eye out for fires, ringing the bell every quarter-hour to prove that they were awake and on the job. Today a clock atop the adjoining Councilor’s Hall keeps time for the town, putting on a show at the top of the hour between 10am and 10pm. As far as glockenspiel shows in Germany go, this one is a bit lackluster but lends a charming bit of local color: two doors in the gable flip open, chimes sound, and out come Bürgermeister Nusch and the Catholic general who challenged him to consume a huge tankard of beer in order to save the town during the Thirty Years War (you’ll learn the full story at the Reichsstadtmuseum). In the halls below, councilors once conducted the business of the prosperous city state, one of Europe’s great centers of commerce by 1400; their private quarters included their own tavern (now housing the tourist office).

Notice the iron bars on the side of the Rathaus: These originally served as measuring tools, marking off els (the length between the elbow and fingertips, roughly a yard) and rods (the equivalent of four meters). These were used to measure goods brought into town so that tolls and taxes could be assessed.