Rebuilding the Middle Ages after the Second World War: the cultural politics of reconstruction in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
By Joshua Hagen
Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 31 (2005)
Abstract: Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations attracting over two and a half million visitors annually. Yet, many visitors do not realize that nearly half of Rothenburg’s medieval architectural heritage was destroyed in 1945. Its reconstruction was characterized by complex negotiations and compromises as Rothenburgers attempted to balance contemporary preservation philosophies with the town’s image as a national symbol and economic interests in a revived tourist trade. These diverse factors were generally complementary and resulted in a remarkably consistent and consensual effort, but the project was not without controversies and contradictions. This article examines the cultural politics of reconstruction in Rothenburg as an attempt to preserve and rebuild the town’s image as well as its actual physical structures. Although both the reconstruction of Rothenburg’s built environment and its symbolic meaning buttressed the town’s status as a national cultural icon, divergent strategies for each project have diminished awareness of the reconstruction period and opportunities for critically engaging this past.