Saturday, March 21, 2009

Drinks in Hell

I've been to Hell, and it was actually quite nice.

Hell, it turns out, is a restaurant and bar in Rothenburg, Germany. A nicely restored medieval city oozing charm, Rothenburg is surrounded by a stone wall and is usually clogged with tourists, but well worth a trip.

Since the city is so old, most of the original houses were built in the 1600s, but one stands apart, with its foundation having been laid in 980 - more than a century before the First Crusade. The date of the walls is "nothing impressive," according to the resident night watchman, who makes the old building a stop on his tour, since they were only erected in the 1500s.

Aside from just being the oldest building in one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world, a metal sign with a cut-out of Satan hangs near the door - earning it the name Hell.

(Yes, that's a Christmas tree in front of Hell.)

It's unclear how the name and sign came about, but the restaurant and bar is a well-established business now, and a popular stop for locals and tourists alike.

When I went to hell, I was accompanied by my sister and another American we'd met earlier in the day who was traveling alone before meeting up with his family for Christmas.

It was a cold night, and we hustled over the cobblestone streets to reach Hell. It was warm inside, and we grabbed a table in one corner. It was immediately apparent that the building was old. The floor was on several different levels, and a narrow stone staircase led to the building's bowels.

We ordered beers from the server and toasted to "dining in Hell," with the obligatory references to the movie "300." Never mind that we weren't dining, just drinking.

We only had time for two rounds of beer, since it was pushing 1 a.m., and Hell was closing, but we got a good feel for the restaurant and the fare as we watched food served to a few late diners. It didn't look like anything out of the ordinary as far as German food goes - it was lots of meat, potatoes, vegetables and beer - but it all looked good.

When Hell finally closed its doors and we had to leave or be kicked out, we paid our bill - which was very reasonable - and hurried up the deserted streets to our hotel.

Having a few beers in Hell was one of those traveling novelties I just had to do. The name is really the only thing that sets the building apart - the foundations aren't really visible, so the fact that they were laid in 980 is cool, but not overawing.

Hell is, however, open somewhat later than most other restaurants and bars, and like the night watchman says, if you're out in Rothenburg at night, you can walk along the city's wall, or you can go to Hell.

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