Exploring Nuremberg Germany


            Nuremburg, Germany is actually three Nurembergs, all occupying the same space: Old Nuremberg with its fortress castle and ramparts; quotidian Nuremberg, a modest, somewhat nondescript city; and the Rally Grounds, a vast park where Hitler’s National Socialist Party held its sacred rituals. It’s a city that sometimes cloaks its long, problematic past, and other times eagerly reveals it to the world. Nuremberg is small enough to easily explore, rich with experiences, and haunted by centuries of ghosts.

            If you and I toured Nuremberg, we would begin by climbing up the steep cobblestone path to Kaiserburg, the castle that has stood on this promontory for at least eleven centuries. We would explore the odd upstairs/downstairs chapel, cool corridors leading to many rooms, one with a wicked looking spiked coffin for torturing prisoners, and another with the glittering regalia of the Holy Roman Empire.

            Looking down from the castle ramparts, the Old City looks like something out of a German folk tale, but that’s deceiving: most was built after World War II. That’s because on January 2, 1945 British bombers decimated Old Nuremberg. More than 90% was gone; it was a wasteland. When it came time to rebuild, residents resisted calls to either create a faux replica of the old, or start anew. Instead, they decided to keep the medieval streetscape and build new buildings on the original footprints of the old using classic materials and rooflines. If you look walk down the streets, you can spot small signs on the new buildings describing what used to be there.

            The home of Albrecht Dürer was one of the very few that survived because neighbors risked their lives to douse the burning roof. It’s a museum documenting his life and displaying some of his paintings and meticulous etchings.

            Nearby is St. Seabald’s Church, Nuremberg’s oldest, a meticulous restoration. Its statuary and windows survived because they were stored in a secret underground cave that’s now open to visitors. An evening organ concert is a perfect way to imagine what it was like to worship here in times past:

            Blink and imagine the medieval faithful

            Blink and imagine the Nazis tourists arriving for the annual party rally

            Blink and imagine it bombed and burning.

            Old Nuremberg is small; everything is close to everything else. The Main Market Square is around the corner. In the winter it is filled with Nuremberg’s famed Christmas Market festival, and in the summer with locally sourced vegetables, fruit, cosmetics, cheeses, sausage, beer and wine.

            We buy a trolley ticket at the train station. The trolley runs along quotidian Nuremberg’s commercial strips and small homes. Some twenty minutes later we disembark at the Rally Grounds of Nazi Nuremberg. The massive, partly ruined building in front of us is Congress Hall w built for party meetings. Jutting out from its side is a glass box that leads to the Documentation Center, a museum that tells the story of the site and Nazis.

            Hitler’s brilliant architect, Albert Speer created the Rally Grounds by transforming a four-mile square suburban park into a dramatic setting for massive celebrations, commemorations, and displays of force. Speer appropriated iconic classical buildings, embellished them with sleek, modernistic elements, and bloated them to massive size to accommodate hundreds of thousands of the Nazi faithful in service of the Nazi cult. The Nationalist Socialist Party Rally Grounds remains, by far, the largest ensemble of Nazi architecture still in existence, and it’s especially shocking to learn it was only used for five years.

            The spaces between the monuments are vast, so we’ll take the History for Everyone tourist van. History for Everyone is unlike any tour company I’ve ever known, founded by academic activists who forced locals to finally see what they had long ignored: their complicity in National Socialism.  As we travel from site to site, “Triumph of the Will” plays on a monitor set above the seats. This masterpiece of propaganda depicts the 1936 Rally at this very spot. It’s chilling.  

            Our last stop has to be The Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials were held after the War. It was the first trial of government officials for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The trials took place in Courtroom 600. It continues to hear cases, but on days it’s empty, you can step inside. We’ll make time for the excellent exhibit on the top floor of the Palace of Justice that details the story of the trials and their aftermath.

            Three Nurembergs, each with its own character, all quintessentially German. There’s much more to experience…but I’ll stop here, because it’s much more fun to discover it on your own.