MARKTL AM INN, Germany -- If we rebuild it, they will come, thought the residents of Marktl am Inn, Pope Benedict XVI's hometown, and for a while they did. But visitors to the museum in the house where he was born, brightly repainted in the white and yellow colors of the Vatican, had begun to taper off well before his abrupt resignation this week.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became pontiff nearly eight years ago, there were high hopes that his elevation would put this tiny Bavarian village on the map. Mayor Hubert Gschwendtner set up a tourism board, sponsored by the regional authorities, the local bank and the village of Marktl. He established an information office in the foyer of City Hall and published pamphlets in German, English, Italian and Polish.
In the first few years, about 200,000 came annually to see Benedict's birthplace. Lately, the number has fallen to half that, and with the pope stepping down, it is likely to fall further. "For Marktl it is a bit sad," Mr. Gschwendtner said of the pope's decision to step down.
Marktl's letdown reflects in many ways Germany's experience with its first pope in half a millennium: enthusiasm followed by a reality check. Benedict was not the same sort of charismatic rock-star pope as his friend and predecessor, John Paul II. More important, perhaps, Germany is not Poland, John Paul's more Roman Catholic homeland.
It was something of an odd match right from the start, the dedicated, conservative theologian and his largely secular, socially liberal home country. Germans treated his "victory" as pope almost like winning an Olympic gold medal or the Eurovision song contest.
The reality was a little different. Just one year after he became pope, Benedict angered Muslims with a speech in his longtime home, Regensburg, in which he quoted a reference to Islam as "evil and inhuman." Serious allegations that there had been child sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising when he was archbishop there surfaced during his tenure as pope. And even Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized him after he revoked the excommunications of four schismatic ultraconservative bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust.
"We are not pope," many Germans said in Twitter posts in the hours after his announcement, some in jest and some with an apparent twinge of sadness, a reference to the now-famous headline in the tabloid Bild, "We Are Pope," that captured the German enthusiasm at Benedict's election in 2005. More than a few joked that the pope had actually stepped down because he had passed off Bible passages as his own one time too many -- a reference to the plagiarism scandal that has claimed two members of Ms. Merkel's cabinet, most recently on Saturday, when the education minister stepped down.
Detlef Schuricht, a native of Berlin, and his wife drove 30 minutes through the snow-covered hills of Bavaria from a nearby vacation resort to Marktl on Tuesday. Neither of them is Catholic, but they figured that since they were nearby, it would be an appropriate way to honor the first German to lead the Catholic Church in centuries.
But they found the museum closed, as it is from Nov. 1 to Easter Monday every year. That was better than the butcher shop, where a sign taped to the door reads, "Closed since Dec. 2, 1997," the day the butcher who ran it died. Across the street, large flakes of pale green paint peel off the front of the Gasthof Strasser hotel, and the windows are caked in dust.
"Even the bakery that sells Vatican bread on Mondays and Fridays didn't bother to open today," said Mr. Schuricht, shaking his head.
The optimism here was once far greater. In addition to establishing the museum and the information center, village officials worked with regional authorities to develop a bicycle route through the stations of the pope's early life in the region. Visitors came from Poland, especially Wadowice, birthplace of John Paul II, which became a partner village.
But Marktl's claim to fame was never quite the bonanza that some envisioned. Most pilgrims who make the trip to this village between the Inn River and the Austrian border arrive by bus, said Roland Stadler, the deputy mayor. After touring the house where the future pope was born and the baptismal font where he was christened, and then perhaps having a quick coffee, they continue on their way.
"It allowed us to improve our infrastructure in ways that previously would have been unthinkable," Mr. Stadler said. "But it was never a big economic boon."
Officials pushed back against a rush of merchandising from companies outside the village that sought to cash in on the link to the pontiff with cheap trinkets. Agriculture and a nearby factory, not tourism, remain the main sources of income in the region.
Still, for the people of Marktl, Benedict remains an inspiration. Jutta Heimerl-Sejpka's eyes light up as she recalls the visits he made to the village as Cardinal Ratzinger in the years before he became pope.
"He is one of us," said Mrs. Heimerl-Sejpka, recounting how he broke protocol during a visit in 2006, stepping into the crowd to bless the villagers who had packed the square to see him in person. "He always made it clear how important we are to him."
Mr. Gschwendtner, Marktl's mayor since 1996, had the inspired idea to award Cardinal Ratzinger an honor equivalent to the keys to Marktl in 1997, linking him to the village where he was baptized and spent the first two years of his life, before his family moved on.
Despite the loss for the village, Mr. Gschwendtner said there was much sympathy for Benedict's decision. "We understand that at nearly 86, he could no longer endure the enormous pressure," he said.
Although Benedict plans to formally step down on Feb. 28, the village nevertheless will go ahead with a planned weeklong festival around the pope's birthday in April that has been held annually since 2005, Mr. Gschwendtner said.
"At the end of the day, there aren't so many places in Germany that can claim to be the birthplace of a pope," he said.
Melissa Eddy reported from Marktl am Inn, and Nicholas Kulish from Berlin.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.