Rothenfels am Main, die kleinste Stadt Bayerns
Maximum Mini

What is it like in the smallest town in Bavaria? Discovering diva-esque landscape gardeners, murder cases in a turnip cellar and pop art in a local corner shop

Reading time: 15 minutes

Rothenfels am Main: Bavaria’s Smallest Town

If you are quick, you can complete the tour of the town in just three minutes – on foot! You could probably keep this time with your leg in plaster. The journey will take you down the old main street past half-timbered façades with their patina and vines, lovely bay windows and old guild signs.

On the left you'll see the municipal library in a telephone box, followed by the town hall from the 16th century, which is quite cute to look at. The tiny beverage shop at the end of Rothenfels keeps its inhabitants hydrated.

Rothenfels am Main would be the dream of Chinese bus tourists: a trip around the town in the time it takes to boil a soft-boiled egg! Only then the peace and quiet would be over. Speaking of peace and quiet: Is today a public holiday? There is not a car to be seen on the cobblestones. An old gentleman rides past on his bike and wishes us a friendly good morning.

But it’s worth taking a closer look at the smallest town in Bavaria. A few metres up the steps, past an old stone fountain, the narrow Obere Gasse, or Upper Alley, has an almost Mediterranean flair, with plants outside the front doors and marble busts. There is even a beach chair.

Rothenfels was built high up, perched beautifully on the northern slope of the Main valley. Only this morning, it’s hard to tell. Slowly the morning mist begins to lift. And then Rothenfels Castle makes an appearance. The building was erected in 1150 by the Franconian nobleman Markward II von Grumbach. The fortress now serves as a youth hostel and education centre.

The rhythm of the town can be observed in the Main River, which flows calmly on its Lower Franconian course just behind the flood barriers. Or in the Kunstraum studio and gallery on the main street.

Luftansicht Burg Rothenfels am Main
Atelier und Galerie
Atelier und Galerie

From Retail Space to a Space for Art

Years ago, when they discovered the old half-timbered house with its pointed roof, Martina Benge and Norbert Komorowski were immediately smitten. One of the last remaining local corner shops used to be here. The artist couple from Frankfurt moved in in 2007 and sculptor Benge immediately transformed part of the inventory into art.

She named a series from back then “Dream Ships”. Inspired by the Main River, hemp sacks, scrap iron and lots of finds from the riverbank were combined to create fairytale ship forms reminiscent of the boats in “Lord of the Rings”. What’s more, the artist also finds the human body beautiful, especially the female body, which is often the subject of her bronze sculptures. This is a passion she shares with her husband.

Atelier und Galerie

Busts and Breasts

Norbert Komorowski's pictures put you in a good mood, not least because they combine themes and entire eras of art with a healthy portion of humour. For instance, a Roman emperor flirting from his bust with a pop art beauty in a sexy pose. Native Americans and Hollywood starlets in a shrill, colourful combination. Or simply a portrait of an almost finished apple in gaudy colours.

Norbert was first inspired by film posters from the 1950s and 1960s. Formerly a visual merchandiser, Norbert discovered Pop Art during his art studies at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, dabbled in other styles, mixed them together and continues to play with them to this day.

The Kunstraum is a project for life that is far from being finished, as they say, and combines a gallery and studio into one. It’s a splash of colour in historic Rothenfels. “And then there's the peace and quiet,” enthuses Martina Benge, “isn’t it wonderful?” It absolutely is, as in the ten minutes we spend taking photos in front of the door, only one car passes by: the one belonging to the “boss in town”.

Atelier und Galerie

A Tour of the Town with the Mayor

Michael Gram has been the First Mayor of the small town and its 1,000 inhabitants since 2014. “The town with the town hall down on the Main River only has 350 inhabitants,” he explains. The rest of the congregation lives in the higher district of Bergrothenfels, where he also lives with his family and six dogs.

“Visitors won’t get bored with us. We have the old town, beautiful cycling paths and the castle”

Being Mayor? That’s something he does on the side. “My main job is as a business inspector with the government of Lower Franconia. The position of mayor is an honorary one.” However, it does take up a lot of time.

“With reduced working hours in my main job, working from home, effective time management, and the support of my understanding wife, I've coped well so far,” he says while cuddling his dog Brenda. Together, we’ve driven to one of his favourite places – a picnic spot at the edge of the forest, high above the fortress and the Main valley.

Fortunately, his good time management allows him some room for creativity; the telephone box library was one of his ideas. And he is committed to marketing the town. “Visitors won’t get bored here. On the one hand, we have the historic old town, on the other, beautiful flat cycling paths along the Main River and Rothenfels Castle." Gram lists hiking trails and vantage points with views of the wooded Spessart mountain range.

“Thanks to our active club activities, we organise a large number of festivals. There are also great opportunities for excursions!” For example, the “Snow White Town” of Lohr or the city of Würzburg, which is located 50 kilometres down the Main River. Then Gram has to go again. We’re told we should definitely pay a visit to the buffaloes and to Mr Franz. “He’s got a few skeletons in his closet!”

Bürgermeister Michael Gram mit Hündin Brenda
Rothenfels hatte mal 22 Gaststätten

The Mystery Cellar: A Thirst for Murder on the Farm

There was a room in his parents’ house that Michael Franz did not enter for the first 30 years of his life. In the family, they always referred to the black nothingness behind the cupboard in the cellar as “the hole”. What sounds like a delightful horror story in itself actually describes the true beginning of Rothenfels’ most entertaining cultural institution: Since its first performance in 2010, the Krimikeller, or the Mystery Cellar, has become a cult event that attracts both theatre fans and performers from far beyond the districts of Main-Spessart and Würzburg.

Franz, then still a journalist at Bayerischer Rundfunk broadcasting corporation and at the same time an enthusiastic amateur actor in Würzburg, had long wondered what he should do with the farm he had inherited in his home town of Rothenfels. Even before the boom in true crime stories on television and podcasts, he and a friend came up with an idea:

A theatre in the old cider cellar and cowshed! “We put the technical equipment in the turnip cellar,” Franz reports cheerfully. And he is relieved to have overcome the trauma of the hole. Now it serves as the cloakroom and is put to good use. The 92 seats are usually well filled. Regular performances are also held in the inner courtyard. Performances have even been held in the centre of Rothenfels in front of 250 spectators.

Selina Tausch mit ihren Wasserbüffeln in der Bioschäferei Tausch
Wasserbüffel in der Bioschäferei Tausch

The Tausch Organic Farm: Water Buffaloes with a Top Job

They never miss out on the mud-bath wellness programme. Afterwards, the buffaloes of Bergrothenfels graciously present themselves for a photoshoot. Chilled water buffaloes have a cute look that is more like a Yorkshire terrier than cattle.

“But they can also be quite stubborn,” says shepherd Selina Tausch. Her little trick: she has brought along fresh apples, which the buffaloes greedily devour. The horned water lovers with a migrant background are the most exotic residents on the Tausch organic farm and can afford to be divas. After all, they do have a demanding job to do.

As employees of the Spessart Nature Park, the buffalo kids and the older animals clear the wet lowlands of the idyllic Hafenlohr valley in summer by incessantly grazing on grass and bushes and trampling ecologically important ponds into the ground. Meanwhile, the teenagers enjoy themselves in the meadow by the farm.

Selina’s parents moved to Rothenfels in the 1980s to fulfil their dream of living in the country. They passed on their enthusiasm to their daughter. “There’s a photo of me proudly holding the shepherd’s crook at the age of six.”

She completed her shepherd training in 2012 at the age of 19. Her twin sister and boyfriend Marcel also help out, as there is always a lot to do. 400 bleating furballs are part of the big Tausch family.

Galloways in der Bioschäferei Tausch in Rothenfels am Main

At lunchtime, after the buffalo herd, she also takes time to greet the rams. With the exception of the sex escapades with the flock of sheep-girls, the rams remain in their own fenced enclosure as an all-male community. Now they are begging for cuddles from their owner Selina.

And then there are the three dozen Galloways standing around in a huge neighbouring pasture at the edge of the forest, enjoying the autumn sun. Selina calls after them: “Fiona, Renate, Lena, Thor, Heidi, Olivia, Clara!” They all come trotting in at once. She especially likes the brown Thor. Some of the animals look very funny, black in the front and white in the back. Selina calls them Oreo cows.

So much for Rothenfels in three minutes! In the end, it was a splendid day in Bavaria’s smallest town. And the show at the Krimikeller hasn’t even started yet!

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