Rothenburg’s Medieval High Street: Shop Signs As Street Art

Gasthof Sign

If the facade of the building is the face of the business, on Rothenburg’s high street, colorful and creative shop signs are the flashy earrings that get your attention.

In these days of overzealous, uninspiring advertisers, it’s a pleasure to see artistic creativity used in advertising. In the US, I walk by most shop signs and don’t give them a second thought. I’m not always the target market (at the skinny jeans shop for instance), but still – the marketing department wouldn’t be happy.

But with our first steps through Rothenburg’s city gate, we noticed a gilded wrought iron sign and the shop beneath it. One after the other, down the street the signs continued, and we enjoyed every one. For us, they became not just business signs, but a street art exhibit.

Bakery Cafe Sign

Bakery Sign

In the Middle Ages, many people couldn’t read or write so shopkeepers used guild signs so travelers could find their shops. For most travelers the bread shop was one of the first stops.

Swan Hotel Sign

A gasthof (guesthouse) provided food, rest, and a place to wash off the trail dust.

Apothecary Sign

And the apothecary shop was there for the ailing.

Bubble Blowing Bear

Modern travelers aren’t always weary or ill, but many of them do have a special little one at home, and while not Medieval, this bubble-blowing teddy bear sends a clear signal of what’s available inside.

Pottery Sign

Helmet Sign

Bull Sign

Rothenburg’s attractive, whimsical wrought iron signs provide another glimpse of life in a Medieval village, and put on an art show as well – a captivating combination.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

58 thoughts

    1. Thanks Jenny. The teddy bear shop was buzzing with activity, and is called “Teddyland”. There was a light wind the day we were there, and the bubbles were blowing all over. It was pretty neat. ~James

      1. Well, I will see your Rothenburg and raise you Sighisoara, in Romania…. Also much given to day trippers, but I think has a ways to go before reaching Rothenburg’s level. Especially on a Sunday evening (places are closed on Monday).

      2. We haven’t been to Romania Kathy, but from the online photos it looks lovely. Romania has been on our list for some time, but it isn’t the most convenient place to get to and we’ve just never worked it out. ~James

      3. This time (trip in progress) I flew from London to Bucharest and then worked my way west by train, falling in love with Brasov on the way. The north is a bit more difficult, but if you keep going north you get to Lviv in Ukraine, also highly recommended.

    1. I take it that you’ve visited Rothenburg Pit. Of course there were lots of foreigners in town, but is Rothenburg popular with Germans as well? I understand the Christmas Market is a big deal. ~James

      1. James,
        I must admit that I have not a good idea, but I believe Rothenburg is popular with Germans, too. When we were there, kit was kind of a “good mix”.
        The Christmas Market there might well be worth seeing, but I prefer the Christkindlmarkt in Nurenberg. I know that there are plenty of Christmas Markets around in Germany nowadays, but Nuremberg still is the epitome of Christmas Markets for me.
        Take care,

      1. McDonalds are trying. Here in the UK the red and gold has been replaced with a much nicer green and a more discreet logo and horrible Ronald seems to have been pensioned off!

    1. It’s funny you mention neon Laura. I hadn’t thought about it, but I don’t think that I saw a single strand of neon anywhere in town. I’m sure that the city zoning board carries a big stick in Rothenburg. We’ve seen lots of beautiful, quaint villages in New England (many in your photographs). Are the zoning restrictions strict, or do people just police themselves? ~James

      1. Zoning is pretty strict but in the cities it seems to be an all out offense on the senses – apparently brighter and bolder is better. I prefer the more subtle message the signs in Rothenburg have!

  1. Beautiful! One of the reasons why I like old European cities so much. Your post reminded me also of getreigdegasse in Salzburg, and the Mozart candy that I kept popping in my mouth! 🙂

    1. We visited Salzburg years ago, and I don’t remember Getreigdegasse. I looked at photos online, and it looks fabulous, with even more guild signs than Rothenburg. I’m not sure how we missed it, but it’s on the list for next time. Thanks for the mention. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Leslie, and for dropping by the blog. I’ve always had a good deal of respect for artists who work with wrought iron. These signs are a great combination of iron and color – not easily achieved. ~James

  2. What? No skinny jeans for you? I always appreciate the injections of humor in your posts James and Terri.
    The signs are remarkable and my top pick is the one with the armored hat hanging off of it. What did they sell in that shop? Being in Europe the ironwork always amazes me.

    1. A day in Rothenburg is still the highlight of my memories of Germany! Thanks for
      bringing my memories back in to sharper focus.

      1. Hey Sayra, it’s great to hear from you. How are things in SA? We visited Rothenburg years ago and it was freezing cold, so we couldn’t appreciate it. This trip was much different. I didn’t know that you’d been before. I’m surprised that this didn’t come out at one our many happy hour gatherings. ~James

    2. Thanks Sue. If I’m not mistaken, the armored helmet was in front of a hotel. I’m not sure what that means except that maybe it was a blacksmith in the past, or the dress code is “full metal jackets” only. 😉 ~James

      1. I thought if it was outside a hat shop it would be the most clever sign ever!
        With recent events at parliament here in Canada let us hope we don’t need full metal jackets in the future.

      2. Did you happen to catch any of the video of the ovation Kevin Vickers received in pariament the next day? A true hero. If the shooter had turned left or right the story would have a very different ending.
        I think in Canada we have felt a bit like ‘it won’t happen here.’ When will it stop indeed.

    1. I agree Linda. While I was researching this post I learned a new British slang term that I didn’t hear while I lived in England. The word is “twee” and I saw it used to describe Rothenburg. I’ll work hard to use it on my next trip to the UK. ~James

      1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. There are lots of ironworkers making heavy tools, but you’re right, there aren’t many crafting colorful, creative signs like these. ~James

    1. Martha, our memory is that it’s in front of a hotel. Why, we don’t know. It was a beautiful autumn day when we visited Rothenburg, and the blue sky was a perfect backdrop for colorful signs. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Genevieve and for dropping by the blog. An experienced traveler like you really should go to Rothenburg. It’s the real article – at least as real as it gets 500 years later. ~James

    1. Rusha, you really should put Rothenburg on your travel list. I’ve always been interested in the Middle Ages because I think it was a pivotal time in western civilization – the peak of power-hungry self interest, and consequently, one of the catalysts for the Renaissance. Rothenburg will take you back to that time. ~James

  3. You’re correct — they are like works of art in a street gallery. We lost so much when everything in our towns conformed to the advertiser’s dream.

    In Tallinn in Estonia we revelled in all the old shop signs too. Sadly, I suspect if such signs were here they might well be vandalised. Such a shame.

  4. The attention to detail is always intriguing, combining the practical (eat here) with art. It speaks to another time before signs and foods or whatever were mass produced. Many communities are making more of an effort today. There’s hope, James and Terri. –Curt

    1. You’re right Curt. There are small pockets of creativity in advertising, but much of it gets overshadowed by the raucous, anything-goes type of marketing. Some might consider Rothenburg over the top, but they know what they’re about, and despite the crowds, it’s still a wonderful look at an interesting time. ~James

    1. I suspect that you’re right Marie. As you know, in marketing, if your target market can’t understand what you’re selling, the campaign is a flop. Interesting stuff. ~James

  5. These are very special and speak to a slower society too – one where you’re walking and can appreciate the signs and not zipping by in cars…also maybe one where the quality of the craft, and the sign, was more important than today.

    1. This assumes that that drivers aren’t too busy texting to see the signs. As we’re bombarded with more and more advertising, the message has to get louder and louder to get through. When it comes to ads, I’m a big fan of soft and clever rather than loud and demeaning. But since I’m no longer a major demographic, I guess my voice will go unheard. ~James

  6. You lucked out with blue skies while in Rothenburg, Terri and James. I remember being quite taken with this stylish ironwork in Rothenburg and Salzburg. Those bubble-blowing teddy bears are also becoming quite ubiquitous in Germany. When I lived in Heidelberg, a similar one sent bubbles down the main shopping street to my 5th-story apartment. It never ceased to make me smile. 🙂

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