On a Family Road Trip Through Germany: Fairy Tales, Castles and Cuckoo Clocks

Unless your children have the magical combination of age, gender and disposition to sleep peacefully in the same bed (hats off), you need a room with four beds, or better yet, a room with one bed and another with three.

You also need a minivan. Not a stylish European minivan that could pass for a car if you squint. No, you need a big, dumb American version — and do not confuse that with an S.U.V., which has neither the legroom for five nor the trunk capacity for five suitcases. Car rental companies do not generally get into these subtleties, which is why we found ourselves staggering with jet lag at the Frankfurt airport, filling out forms to upgrade to a decent-size minivan, one that might even fit all our suitcases if we abandoned the concept of rearview vision.

We were tired. We were hungry. We set off to Heidelberg on a series of German autobahns, squeezed into what felt like a Beetle.

With one more challenge — or, as a fairy tale would have it, an obstacle: One of those three children is vegan and we were in southern Germany where vegetarianism is only lightly tolerated, and vegan (we tried out various pronunciations on our waiters) is understood mostly as an insult in the land of bratwurst and schnitzel. Menus had to be scrutinized, allergen lists examined. Waiters, stumped, retreated into kitchens to consult with chefs. At one Swabian restaurant, the waiter apologetically retrieved a bowl of noodles made with eggs. At another, when we asked if we could just please get a veggie plate, the owner threw up his hands. “Vegetables?” he huffed, motioning us out. “This is a traditional Bavarian restaurant; we don’t have vegetables!”

Driving was less challenging, despite kids prone to backseat nausea. We kept our rides under two hours. Remaining within two regions, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, we traveled from Heidelberg to Baden-Baden, through the Black Forest, down to the Bodensee and into Bavaria, upward to Munich and northward on the Romantic Road back to Frankfurt.

Our hotels began in jetlag-friendly luxury, before downshifting to more modest, but still spacious, lodgings and a three-day Airbnb in Munich, with a strategic happy ending at a castle stay outside Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

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