In 1631 the Thirty Years' War – pitching Catholics against Protestants – reached the gates of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Catholic General Tilly and 60,000 of his troops besieged the Protestant market town and demanded its surrender. The town resisted but couldn’t stave off the onslaught of marauding soldiers, and the mayor and other town dignitaries were captured and sentenced to death.
And that’s about where the story ends and the legend begins. As the tale goes, Rothenburg’s town council tried to sate Tilly’s bloodthirstiness by presenting him with a 3L pitcher of wine. Tilly, after taking a sip or two, presented the councillors with an unusual challenge, saying, ‘If one of you has the courage to step forward and down this mug of wine in one gulp, then I shall spare the town and the lives of the councilmen!’ Mayor Georg Nusch accepted – and succeeded! And that’s why you can still wander though Rothenburg’s wonderful medieval lanes today.
It’s pretty much accepted that Tilly was really placated with hard cash. Nevertheless, local poet Adam Hörber couldn’t resist turning the tale of the Meistertrunk (champion drinker) into a play, which, since 1881, has been performed every Whitsuntide (Pentecost), the seventh Sunday after Easter. It’s also re-enacted several times daily by the clock figures on the tourist office building.