• Photo: ArTono / Shutterstock

Nordlingen

In Nördlingen a medieval watchman's cry still rings out every night across the ancient walls and turrets. As in Rothenburg, its sister city, the medieval walls are completely intact, but here you can actually walk the entire circuit (about 4 km [2½ miles]) beginning at any of six original gates. Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere while taking in the riot of architecture, from the medieval to the Renaissance and the baroque, without the masses of tourists of its sister city. Or ask at the tourist office for accommodations in one of the small houses built into the city's wall for a unique overnight experience. The ground plan of the town is two concentric circles. The inner circle of streets, whose central point is St. Georg, marks the earliest medieval boundary. A few hundred yards beyond it is the outer boundary, a wall built to accommodate expansion. Fortified with 11 towers and punctuated by five massive gates, it's one of the best-preserved town walls in Germany. And if the Old Town looks a little familiar, it might be because the closing aerial shots in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were filmed over its red roofs.

Nördlingen was established along the same Roman road that goes through Augsburg, but its "foundation" goes much further back—the town is built in the center of a huge, basinlike depression, the Ries, which was at first believed to be the remains of an extinct volcano. In 1960 it was proven by two Americans that the crater, 24 km (15 miles) across, was caused by an asteroid at least 1 km (½ mile) in diameter that hit the spot some 15 million years ago. The compressed rock, or Suevit, formed by the explosive impact of the meteorite was used to construct many of the town's buildings, including St. Georg's tower.

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