Nuremberg is a lively and historic city that has done much to remake its image over the last several decades, but the sad truth is that it is forever tainted by its associations with National Socialism. It was here in the 1920s, that the Nazis built sufficient support amongst the urban working class for it to become Nazism’s spiritual home. In the 1930s, the city lent its name to the anti-Jewish race laws that were a stepping stone to the Holocaust, as well as hosting the fanatical and grotesque Nazi rallies that projected the power of National Socialism.
If it’s this unsavoury history that draws many foreign travellers to Nuremberg, Germans make the trip for the spirited nightlife, world-class museums and gloriously restored medieval old town. We had planned to spend a few days exploring the town and surrounding region, but the weather intervened, forcing us north away from thunderstorms and torrential downpours. Luckily, the historic heart of Nuremberg is compact and we were able to cover a lot of ground in the time we had.
Ironically, it was the 1,000 year history of Nuremberg and its imperial connections to the Holy Roman Empire that made it so attractive to the Nazis. This was the family home of Henry III, Duke of Bavaria, who in 1046 became Holy Roman Emperor, and spurred Nuremberg’s growth in wealth and power to become a major military, cultural and manufacturing centre in medieval Europe. That same history bequeathed the city a wealth of magnificent buildings.
The Nazis’ obsession with the city was doubly negative because they also turned it into a centre for military production during the Second World War. The city had been bombed from 1943 onwards, but it was only in January 1945 that successive waves of British and American bombers flattened the historic Altstadt. When the war ended over 90 per cent of the medieval city had been reduced to rubble. That makes the resurrection of the Old Town so much more impressive.
Martin Luther summed up the importance of the city when he said, “Nuremberg shines throughout Germany like a sun among the moon and stars”. True, there are plenty of modern architectural horrors to be found, but the city still retains a strong sense of its former grandeur. We had a day wandering the streets and sampling traditional Bavarian cuisine (it’s heavy on pork, but where in Germany isn’t?), and some of the famed local beer that contributes so much to the nightlife.
We made our way to the River Pegnitz and crossed over into Nuremberg’s central square where the magnificent 14th century Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady, stood overlooking the Saturday food market. It is here that the Nazis’ 20th century anti-semitism collides with more ancient European anti-semitism. The Frauenkirche was built over the ruins of the town’s first synagogue, destroyed during one of numerous outbreaks of violence against Jews over the centuries.
The square is also home to the 14th century Schoene Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain, that is decorated with secular and religious figures of significance in the Holy Roman Empire. From here we continued onwards and upwards towards the Kaiserburg, the Imperial Castle, from where you get magnificent views over the city. Walking back down we re-entered the city through the defensive walls close to the house of Albrecht Dürer, Germany’s most famous Renaissance painter.
While here there’s little option but to try the town’s most famous culinary treat, the Nürnberger bratwurst, washed down with a local beer. Only 9 cm long and flavored with marjoram this sausage has been made and cooked the same way for around 700 years. A fact that tells you all you need to know about Bavaria’s dedication to sausage culture. After a lunch of sausage and beer we tried to walk it off by exploring the rest of the ancient city centre.