Being notoriously peripatetic until he finally settled down at Mount Vernon, George Washington allegedly slept in enough beds to fill a catalogue. So, for that matter, did Napoleon and Goethe, also inveterate travelers, albeit for different reasons and purposes.
But whereas most of the Washington beds tend to be hands-off museum pieces, in West Germany you can actually sack out for a night or two on springs or under canopies once used by Bonaparte or Goethe, a whole series of emperors and kings, such generalissimos of the Thirty Years' War as Tilly, Piccolomini and Wallenstein, or Marie Antoinette. Or how about spending a night in the place where Faust reputedly made his pact with Mephistopheles, or eating at a table once used by Albrecht Du rer, or sitting on chairs once occupied by Victor Hugo or Mark Twain?
Scores of old inns with such tidbits and relics of history dot the countryside and offer travelers glimpses of Germany at its romantic best. A number of them will also satisfy discriminating gourmets and rate a Michelin star or similar mark of culinary distinction in guidebooks.
Though most are off the well-beaten path, they are still within an easy drive of Frankfurt, since the whole country is no larger than the state of Oregon. All are gems of cozy gemu tlichkeit, burgeoning with legends, lore and anecdotes.
The crown jewel, so to speak, and a touch of Germany incarnate, is the Hotel zum Riesen in Miltenberg, a storybook town of half-timbered houses on the banks of the Main River, halfway between Frankfurt and Wu rzburg. It is West Germany's oldest hostelry, with a documented pedigree going back at least to the year 1158, when Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the Red Beard, stayed there for the first time.
From then until 1806, when Napoleon abolished the realm that despite its name was not very Holy, totally un-Roman and far less of an Empire than its rulers believed, the inn was a temporary home away from home for a whole succession of German emperors: Ludwig of Bavaria in 1314, his successor Charles IV in 1368, Frederick III in 1442, Charles VI in 1711, Charles VII in 1743, Franz I in 1764, Leopold II in 1790 and Franz II, the last of the thousand-year series that began with Charlemagne, in 1792.
At considerable theological distance from the Holy Roman emperors was Martin Luther, who used his stay in 1518 on the way to meet the papal legate at Augsburg as an occasion to convert a local Miltenberg noble to the principles of the Reformation with an evening of "prayer and devotional singing."
During the Thirty Years' War the Riesen's register looked like a "Who's Who" of field marshals and commanding generals, with Wallenstein, Tilly, Piccolomini and Pappenheim on the Catholic side, Sweden's King Gustav Adolph on the Protestant. In 1655 Gustav Adolph's daughter, Queen Christiana, checked in with an entourage of 100 courtiers and retainers. Luminaries and VIPs since that time have included Prince Eugene of Savoy; Prince Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister; Prussia's Gen. Helmuth von Moltke; a duke or two of Marlborough; Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia, and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
How does one know all that? From the guest lists and the bills they either did or did not pay, most of them meticulously preserved in town archives in Miltenberg, Wu rzburg and Mainz, whose Medieval and Renaissance prince-bishops ruled over most of the Main River basin.
"Just as today," says Werner G. Jo st, the hotel's present owner, "the real VIPS did not carry cash. They traveled on 'credit.' That is, innkeepers catered to them lavishly, then submitted their bills for reimbursement to the city treasurer who settled them gladly in exchange for promised imperial or royal favors such as trade rights, commercial privileges or exemptions from tax levels. Those old innkeepers' bills are the best sources of information for who stayed here when, and also for what they ate and drank, which is the tale of prodigious consumption."
Since those first records from the 12th century, when Barbarossa was twice a guest, the Riesen has been in continuous operation, except for repairs, at the same site on Miltenberg's narrow, cobblestone main street, and it has always been privately owned, with one family of innkeepers running it for four generations. Though the present half-timbered building dates "only" from 1590, it incorporates walls and foundations known to be more than 1,000 years old.
Jo st, an architect who worked his way through university as a mason, is not only a walking encyclopedia of the hotel's history but also is single-handedly and single-mindedly responsible for its pristine look and dazzling state of preservation.
His personal love affair with the inn began in the late 1950s while a student. One of his assigned projects was to analyze the architecture and make a restoration proposal of an old and historical building. He was given a choice of three structures by his professor, and picked the Riesen, then sadly neglected and literally crumbling.
"During that year I came back every every few weeks to spend a night in one of the rooms and look at this marvelous monument, increasingly dismayed that the proprietor had so little interest in its upkeep," he explains. "During the 1960s I even offered to install a central heating system and repair the roof, but the owner turned me down. In 1970, after town authorities had ordered the hotel closed for safety and sanitary reasons, I scratched together enough capital to buy and start renovating the place."
The result, after years of loving work, total dedication to the project by Jo st, his wife Cilly and their friends, and an investment of more than $300,000, is spectacular. The repair and restoration work was done with centuries-old oak from a razed postal relay station.
And, although no original furnishings were left, Jo st collected antiques from relatives whose families had lived in the area for hundreds of years to create an inn that is perfect in taste and true to historical style. Of its 21 rooms, all with private baths or showers and toilet, a number are named for famous past visitors -- such as the Charles VI suite, the bay-windowed Gustav Adolph room, or the Ludwig IV chamber with its canopied Renaissance bed -- and furnished with priceless pieces.
Although there are conference and meeting rooms, there is no full restaurant service. For acceptable meals one must go elsewhere in Miltenberg, such as the Altes Bannhaus or the Brauerei Keller, both serving solid Bavarian dishes with a wide selection of dry Franconian wines. The Riesen is, except for light snacks, strictly a bed-and-breakfast place, though the breakfasts are opulently lavish. Rates are moderate, averaging $30 per night for singles, up to $50 for double occupancy.
Almost as venerable as the Riesen is the Hotel Deutsches Haus in Dinkelsbu hl, a completely walled town astride the "Romantic Road," 65 miles south of Wu rzburg, and by consensus one of the most charming cities in Germany. Pristine in its medieval appearance. Dinkelsbu hl is less touristy than nearby Rothenburg and thus more genuine.
Built in 1440 as a rich merchant's mansion, the Deutsches Haus has been renowned as an inn since 1575. Its intricately carved, half-timbered facade is one of the most beautiful in the country. Each floor is set out a little further than the one below so that you get the impression the whole structure should have toppled over centuries ago.
Richard Kellerbauer, the present proprietor, has furnished the guest rooms, lobby and hallways with heirlooms and local antiques to give visitors the impression that time has stood still. He supervises a kitchen that is at its best with local Franconian dishes and game specialities in season -- not memorable cuisine but palatable and filling. There are only 14 rooms with rates ranging from $12 for the smallest, most spartan single to $30 for the largest and poshest double.
Heidelberg's Hotel zum Ritter is one of the finest examples of opulent Renaissance architecture in West Germany today. Built in 1592 by Charles Belier, a French textile merchant who had fled his native Tournai because he was a Calvinist, it is the only building that survived the city's destruction in 1693 during the Palatinate War of Succession. For a decade after that conflagration it served as Heidelberg's city hall. In 1705 it was turned into an inn -- the Gasthaus zum Ritter St. Georg, which translates as the Inn to the Knight St. George -- and that has been its role ever since.
The interiors, barely changed and reminiscent of a more stately and serene age when Heidelberg's students were really princes, are decorated with 17th- and 18th-century armor, paintings and antiques. Among the more illustrious guests on registers of the past were Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, who spent several months in Heidelberg in the 1890s trying to learn "The Awful German Language," eventual mastery of which is the theme of one of his funniest essays.
The Ritter, now owned by Georg Kuchelmeister and his wife, is a member of the "Romantic Hotels" group of family-run historic hostelries in Germany, eight other European countries, and, remarkably, the United States (where four country inns in New England, New York and Minnesota have joined the association). All are in the upper-middle-class bracket of service and conveniences, and priced accordingly. The cuisine is opulent, perhaps a bit too much so for the fashionable criterion that less is more. All the 34 rooms have private baths or showers, and rates range from $20 for the least expensive single to $77 for the most elegant double.
Though you can't spend a night there, Regensburg's Alte Wurstku che, right on the banks of the Danube in this 1,800-year-old city, is worth a detour if not, in fact, a special trip. The name translates as "Old Sausage Kitchen," and it's famed for precisely that. They're pork, four inches long, half an inch in diameter, charcoal broiled, and you are expected to eat at least six at a sitting, accompanied by sauerkraut, all washed down with beer.
The Wurstku che has been in business uninterruptedly for nearly 850 years. In fact, it started as the canteen for the masons who built Regensburg's famed Stone Bridge, one of the engineering marvels of the Middle Ages, completed in 1146. Like the Wurstku che, the bridge across the Danube still stands and is very much in use today -- even by cars. The fare in the tavern is simple and filling, the atmosphere as colorful as a picture postcard.
Food and hospitality in Germany are at their best in the south, especially the southwest -- Baden-Wu rttemberg and the Black Forest. One of the most charming old inns in the area is the Gasthaus zum Lo wen in the town of Staufen, 12 miles south of Freiburg in the heart of the Breisgau wine region. Mentioned in records as an inn as long ago as 1407, legend has it that Dr. Johann Faust, the miraculous alchemist and magician, died in one of its rooms in 1539.
Little is known of Faust's real life, but the legend of his pact with the devil for eternal youth has made him the central character of some of the greatest literature and music.
According to local historians, Baron Anton von Staufen invited Faust to this town in the early 16th century to turn his alchemy to making gold. Faust took up residence in the Lo wen Inn and conducted his mysterious experiments there. One day the venerable building was rocked by an explosion, and a terrible smell of sulfur pervaded the air. Everyone rushed to Faust's room. He lay on the floor, his face blackened, his neck broken. Whatever the truth to the story, it tends to prove that the Lo wen was the leading hostelry of the town, since Faust would never have taken second best.
That reputation endures, especially since Wolfgang Trch, one of Germany's talented young chefs, took over the hotel and its restaurant in 1981. Trch, who appears on the way to a Michelin star, offers a light, regional cuisine that blends the related styles of Alsace and Baden. The hotel has 22 double rooms ranging in price from $30 to $40.
Hinterzarten, 15 miles east of Freiburg, is the epicenter of the Black Forest resort region, and its Hotel Adler is the town's most luxurious -- and expensive. Its reputation for fine food and comfortable accommodations dates from 1446, when it was first mentioned as a village inn, and by the 18th century the renown was apparently international, for when Marie Antoinette, then 15, traveled from Austria to marry the dauphin who became Louis XVI, she stayed overnight at the Adler.
Only the finest was good enough for the teen-age princess. In fact, to assure that she would have as smooth a ride as possible, her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, ordered the road through Hinterzarten leveled and evened out. This act of royal extravagance, rather common for the time and the Hapsburgs, not only paved Marie Antoinette's way to France -- and ultimately the guillotine -- but also gave Hinterzarten vital road connections to the outside world, which eventually helped turn the town into the resort spot it is today.
The Adler also served as the model for "The Black Falcon Inn," an English novel, and though much and luxuriously expanded, the original tavern at the center of the complex is little changed. The ceilings are so low that many taller guests bump their heads when standing up. It is filled with historical bric-a-brac and antiques.
But be prepared for a stiff bill. There are 25 single rooms, ranging from $37 to $65, 47 doubles in the $63 to $100 category, and 18 suites that cost between $110 and $165 per night.
By German standards the Hotel Wehrle in the Black Forest town of Triberg, 38 miles northeast of Freiburg, is almost an upstart, built "only" in 1608. But for 250 years of its relatively brief history it has been owned and run by the family of the present proprietor, Claus Blum, who has turned it into one of the country's gourmet temples.
The Michelin guide gives it one star, the Varta two toques, and the Aral atlas lists it among the 250 top restaurants in Germany. Culinary standards are so high that neither the chef nor any of his assistants is permitted to smoke, even off duty, because it might dull the sense of taste.
The restaurant rooms, lobby, hallways and guest rooms are filled with heirlooms and antiques, the service is highly personal and exquisite. The Wehrle, too, is in the "Romantic" group. Rates for the 64 rooms, about half of them in an adjacent, modern dependence, run from $20 for the most austere single to $63 for the quaintest and most lavishly furnished doubles. Dinner for two, which could include a choice of 20 different trout dishes, will average $60 including wine.
Though the present facade is 18th century, the Hotel zur Sonne in the industrial town of Offenburg, 41 miles north of Freiburg, is more than 600 years old. Registers, preserved by the Schimpf family, which has owned and run the Sonne for centuries, testify to some of the famous guests of ages past.
Napoleon was one, and Karl Schimpf owns the pewter tureen from which the emperor was served. Another was Engelbert Humperdinck, the composer, who presumably was looking for scene-setting inspiration in the Black Forest before writing the opera version of "Hansel and Gretel."
Schimpf is also an artist of considerable skill and versatility. He has built a marionette theater, written a skit for it that tells the story of his innkeeping family and acts as puppeteer. This artistic skill is apparent throughout the hotel. Everything is in perfect taste, from the wainscoted walls in the dining room, the splendid Rococo stairway, to the bedrooms all furnished with Baroque and Biedermeier pieces.
There is artistry in the kitchen as well, and the wine features Baden vintages from the Schimpf family's own vineyards in nearby Fessenbach. There are 40 rooms and rates are moderate, ranging from about $18 for a single to about $28 for doubles.
The Hotel Waldhorn is Ravensburg, 60 miles due east of Freiburg, 90 south of Stuttgart, has been catering to weary travelers since the 18th century and has been operated by the same family of innkeepers since 1860.
But it is today's owner and chef, Albert Bouley, who has turned it into a culinary paradise. What he does in the kitchen is perfect artistry, and although the Michelin rates it with only one star, the Aral gives it four crossed spoons, putting it in the category of Germany's 50 best restaurants, and the Varta Guide marks it even higher -- three toques, meaning it is among the top 10 in the country.
Either way, it is one of those spots worth a special trip. For overnight guests there are 20 single rooms, 16 doubles and three suites, with rates between $30 and $75.
Many of the oldest hostelries are so-called post hotels, or stagecoach inns, a tradition going back to 1622 when Duke Johann Friedrich of Wu rttemberg issued a "Posts and Butcher Ordinance" that established firm rules for the delivery of both meat and mail in his little realm.
It seems that in the 16th century butchers, who were also the local innkeepers, were used to carry and protect the mails while making their rounds to buy livestock for slaughter. In the 17th century, when the princes of Thurn-und-Taxis, descendants of a clan of robber barons, started Europe's first mail-stage service in Austria and southern Germany, these butcher-mailmen found themselves in a new role -- as postmasters -- and catering to an affluent clientele of stagecoach passengers. Their inns became the relay stations along the growing network.
Nowadays, of course, butchers have as much to do with mail service as bakers and candlestick-makers, but hundreds of villages and small towns along the old mail and stage routes still have a Gasthof or Hotel zur Post. Many are average country inns or run-of-the-mill local taverns, but a few are noteworthy.
One of the most memorable and venerable is the Hotel zur Post in Nagold, a town 32 miles southwest of Stuttgart, known as "the gateway to the Black Forest." A half-timbered, fairy-tale house built in 1697, its interiors are a maze of wood-paneled parlors, dining rooms and hallways filled with antiques, oriental rugs, paintings and mementos of three centuries of service to discriminating travelers along the old Stuttgart-Strasbourg route.
This is one inn that can prove Napoleon was a guest. He signed the register that proprietors Karl and Lore Scholl, members of the family that has owned it since 1773, keep on display under glass.
One of the founders of the "Romantic Hotels" group, Scholl has a rule that "a simple dish for two dollars must be prepared with the same care as one for 20." Rates in the 40 rooms average $30 for double occupancy.
Mo nch's Posthotel in Bad Herrenalb, 50 miles west of Stuttgart, is comparatively new, having been built by Werner Mo nch's grandfather as a relay station for the royal Wu rttemberg mail service in 1900. But part of the building is an abbey tavern built in 1148 when the Cistercian monastery of Herrenalb was founded.
What Mo nch's may lack otherwise in venerability it more than compensates for in luxurious living and Michelin one-star, Varta two-toque food. It has its own nine-hole golf course, manicured gardens and a heated outdoor pool. Luxury costs. Rates in the 50 exquisitely appointed rooms average $50 for doubles.
Titisee, 96 miles south of Stuttgart, 18 miles southeast of Freiburg, was a key way station on the Thurn-and-Taxis route between Strasbourg and Innsbruck from the 17th through 19th centuries. The place to stay, then and now, was the Hotel Adler-Post, established in 1576 and bought by owner Werner Ketterer's great-grandfather from another innkeeper in 1850.
A travel-poster house with frescoed facade and rustic interior, its reception desk area used to be the post office. Ketterer, who apprenticed in hotel kitchens in Paris, London, Toronto and New York's Park Sheraton, strives for a "common sense blend" between the nouvelle and traditional cuisines of his native Baden. Twice a year he teaches his culinary art in three-day live-in courses to amateurs who pay $140 for the privilege, including room and board at the Alder-Post. Average rates in the 34 rooms, each furnished with antiques, are $35 for double occupancy.
Saulgau, 71 miles south of Stuttgart, is in the heart of the Baroque district, and the Hotel Kleber-Post is where to stay. Owner Hermann Kleber is a 10th-generation descendant of the butcher-postmaster who started it 315 years ago.
The list of satisfied guests, starting with Marie Antoinette (the night before the one in Hinterzarten), includes kings and princes, cardinals and bishops, and three postwar German chancellors. The interiors are Baroque and Biedermeier, the cuisine Michelin one-starred. House specialities include some made according to family recipes 270 years old. Prices are astonishingly moderate. Double occupancy for the 36 rooms averages $30.
And what about that bed in which Napoleon slept? To find it, travel northward where, alas, historic inns are rare and postal hotels nonexistent. But you'll find it in a castle near Bonn: Schloss Auel, an 18th-century chateau in the town of Lohmar.
Owned and operated as a hotel by the baron whose ancestors purchased this cozy little palace more than 200 years ago, it features a canopied four-poster that Bonaparte used on a visit in 1811 while inspecting his Rhine Army. What's more, four years later the same bed was lengthened to accommodate Czar Alexander I who, as historic irony would have it, stopped off at Auel on his way to Paris to seal Napoleon's defeat.
Other illustrious slumberers have been the last German kaiser, Margaret Truman, Shirley Temple and Henry Ford II. For $45 you can use it for a night, and rest assured -- the mattress has been renewed several times since 1811. Auel has four other singles, ranging from $23 to $45, and 17 doubles at $40 to $60. Baron Adolf von la Valette-St. Georges and his wife, Giselle, also supervise a very respectable kitchen in the old ancestral digs.