Nuremberg has an unfortunate history which could certainly and unfortunately mar its future. More than any other city in all of Germany, it suffers from the curse of the Nazis. For the entire time of the reign of the Nazi regime, Nuremberg was the center of the Party's power, and for this reason Hitler had Albert Speer design his gigantic Olympic-sized festival grounds made specifically for Nazi party rallies. When you Google “Nazi party rally” that’s what you’ll see – monumental sized concrete monoliths, stages, and flag holders, all built just outside of the city of Nuremberg. Of course, that all lies in rubble now, the weeds and wild flowers having long since defeated the once fertile grounds of white supremacy and racism, driving out the floating dandelion seeds to different grounds and across different seas. It's a vast and somewhat beautiful park now, and parts of the rubble are even being used for rock concerts.
Nuremberg had suffered a terrible fate in World War II, like Dresden it was scourged and raked; had the days been those of the Romans, the fields would have been sewn with salt. All that was left after the Allied bombing campaign was a smoldering castle on a hill, missing much of its palace, and the coals of a once bustling medieval city-scape, only the occasional charred church spire rising from the smoke, the carbon coiling around the Gothic buttresses and spiky peaks.
The roofs of Nuremberg
The first time I had visited Nuremberg I was with my wife. I had decided to save all the “Nazi sights” for when my parents were there – the parade grounds which now serve as a coliseum for rock concerts and a gigantic park, filled with joggers, sunbathers, and twenty somethings playing frisbee with their dogs – and of course, the Palace of Justice which served as the home of the Nuremberg trials. There’s also a museum of a dungeon that was used to hold stolen art pieces, protecting them from the rain of fire from overhead. We were there for the Christkindlemarket though, which was hardly the right spirit for the Nazi tour anyway.
When my parents came, we still didn’t have time for the Nazi tour, as it was only a stop of a few hours. My attempts at pleasing my inner Nazi kept Hitfailering though, since we had found a different reason to visit Nuremberg: the old town festival. I might add that I don't have an inner Nazi, it's just some wry history nut's humor there, dearest NSA reader.
The Nuremberg Hauptmarkt
My father wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to suffer the crowds of Munich and the main Oktoberfest in all of its dirndl glory of breasts and granfalloons, but he did want to go somewhere with beer. So a quick search of festivals in the area of Bavaria and Franconia – we were in Rothenberg at the time, trying also to find something in the direction of Prague – brought up the Nuremberg Old Town Festival. Now, if you read my description up above about Nuremberg’s placing near first in Allied ravaged cities of World War II, then you might be wondering, what Old Town? And you’d be perfectly right in saying that. But buildings and people manage to survive the worst of terrors, and then are sometimes just destroyed for the most petty of things, like a parking lot. Vonnegut – in I think Slaughterhouse-five – once noted how the destruction of war is all seemingly completely random, how a bomb might fall on a house, burning everything to embers, but for a desk with a stack of paper and an inkwell, somehow sitting there completely untouched.
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All that to say Nuremberg’s old town rose from the ashes, though in patches. Some streets were recreated to look fairly similar to its medieval past, streets and buildings rivaling the old timey beauty of Rothenberg even, and then other streets lined with the glass, steel, and concrete of the modern era, with giant red lit H&M signs, the red light districts of market perversions and materialistic obsessions.
H&M is somewhere on this street
We had a limited time for our exploration. We began making our way to the small medieval market, the Handwerkerhof Nurnberg, that’s hidden alongside the old town wall and tower. Then we followed the granite pedestrian streets which made up most of the town center to the Lutheran Church of St. Lorenz, which started construction in 1250 and was finally finished in 1477. It’s one of the few Lutheran churches that was spared the iconoclasm of the Reformationists, as the locals saw all the art as pieces of their heritage and refused to remove them from the church. The church is a must see of Nuremberg, with its hundreds of statues still lining the walls. We then followed the streets down to the bridges of which there are many beautiful crossings over the River Pegnitz. The most beautiful is an old iron chained pedestrian bridge, the Kettensteg, built in 1823. It follows along a mysterious building that serves also as a bridge and was, as I was told, once used as a prison, but is now one of the more famous biergartens in Nuremberg, the Kettensteg Biergarten. If it’s a sunny day – which I’ve never seen on my many visits to Nuremberg – then be sure to spend your time there. Another bridge that you should be sure to use in crossing is the Trodelmarkt bridge, which leads to a small island of the same name in the middle of the Pegnitz. At one time this was the pig market, and later a sort of medieval flea market, it’s now the host of beautiful restored medieval style buildings which are the homes of quite the variety of boutique shops – if you want to get away from the chains found on the South side of Nuremberg, then head here.
view of the Henkerhaus bridge from the Trodelmarkt bridge
From there, we headed up Winklerstrasse to Sankt Sebaldus Kirche, which is a bit more properly Lutheran in that it’s depressing and stripped of all of its ornaments, a real contrast to St. Lorenz. Then we went up and up towards the Imperial Castle. The best way to approach it is along Albrecht Duhrer Strasse which leads to a nice and narrow advance to the Tiergartnertor, which served as the main gate of the city back in the old days, leading around the castle moat and into the city just underneath the auspices of the castle. There are the typical buildings of medieval character, with plaster white walls and dark wooden crossbeams, and a huge stone tower that dwarfs everything.
Also not to be missed near the Tiergartnertor are the Albrecht Duhrer House Museum and the Historischer Kunstbunker. The Albrecht Duhrer house was, in some incarnation, the home of the famous woodcutter Albrecht Duhrer, who in the 15th century made a series of incredible woodcuts of Biblical scenes, of which such a quality in woodcutting is still unmatched. The Historischer Kunstbunker Is where the Nazis stored a lot of stolen art, along with the local treasures of the city (like Duhrer’s woodcuts), hoping that the Allies wouldn’t destroy them in the bombing and that perhaps they wouldn’t discover them, so then they could be sold on the black market after the war and the Party heads could finance their exiles off to Argentina in style. There isn’t much here left but an empty bunker filled with photographs and a video, but it’s an interesting place nevertheless, and if you’re in Nuremberg during a blazing hot summer, it is air conditioned.