There are no wars like religious wars, and the wars between early protestants and Catholics are no exception. They tend to be particularly destructive and brutal. Such was the 1618-1648 Thirty Years War, which was one of the most destructive in human history. The German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber might have met the same fate as many before it were it not for the legendary wine it produced and the extraordinary consumption ability of its Bürgermeister, Georg Nusch.
Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly led the Catholic armies of the Thirty Years War. For 11 of those 30 years, Tilly dominated the protestant forces, sacking and destroying town after town with a demoralizing effect. When he arrived at Rothenberg, he was prepared to do the same to it as he had done so many other times. Legend has it he sent the city’s councilmen to death and prepared to burn the town. At the last second, he was convinced to take a glass of wine – in a large, beautifully ornate cup.
Tilly was as taken with the nearly one-gallon flagon as he was the wine itself. With his mood changed, either by the townsfolk or because of a delicious, intoxicating beverage, Tilly decided to offer the town a bargain. He said he would spare the town if anyone could slam an entire glassful of the wine – the 3.25 liter glassful – in one drink.
Anyone in the town was free to try, but there was a catch. Anyone who failed to down the full glass in a single go would be put to death. The choice was clear: die trying to drink the wine or die by the sword when the Catholics torch the town. That’s when
fate the mayor stepped in.
The glass itself was new. No one had ever really downed a whole glass tankard of wine in one drink. No one knew they should have been practicing all these years. But that was okay. The people of Rothenberg elected him to take care of the town, and by choice and by duty, Georg Nusch was going to be the first man to make the attempt.
When Nusch walked in, he took the tankard, and downed the entire 3.25 liters of wine, all in one go. Everyone watching, especially Tilly, was suitably impressed. True to his word, Tilly spared the town, and the locals have been telling the legend of Der Meistertrunk (the Master Drink) for some 400 years now. They even wrote a play about it, which is retold better and better (like most bar stories) with every retelling.
But most notably, the story is retold in the clock tower of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the 17th-century Ratstrinkstube. When the clock strikes the hour, a door opens and out comes Count Tilly on one side, and the other side comes Mayor Nusch, who puts a drink to his lips for as long as the clock chimes.