Traveling through history in Nuremberg, Germany
By The Grateful Traveler, Vikki Moran
Leisurely strolling the streets of Nuremberg envokes a sense of both tranquility and awe. It is a beautiful big city with a humble, small‐town feel; its medieval past is beguiling, its more recent history still painful. To experience all of these contradictions and the resulting confusing emotions, you must travel Nuremberg’s Bavarian footprint. Exploring this city is unique and sometimes chilling.
Exploring medieval times
From its founding in 1051 through 1570, Nuremberg flourished and grew due to its location as the center of various trade routes. Culturally, it thrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, ushering in the German Renaissance. Many structures from that time remain, although they were once mingled with market stalls that are now long gone. The tradition, however, famously lives on – during November and December as the Christmas market stalls line the streets of Nuremberg and are said to be some of the best in Europe. Nuremberg certainly reinvents itself and survives through the parade of centuries.
Another example of a tenacious will to live in this vibrant city is The Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady. It showcases an amazing clock, Männleinlaufen, which, at each chime, reenacts the election of Emperor Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire. This church has survived losing all of its parishioners to the black plague and two major bombings. It has served as a synagogue, and both a Catholic and Protestant house of worship.
As an avid history enthusiast, I especially loved all the folklore that abounds in Nuremberg. It is easy to say that the famous Nuremberg sausage has been around since medieval times, but to hear the story of the fat businessman jailed for terrible crimes is far better. The tale claims that his family smuggled sausages to him while he was incarcerated. To get the meat links through the bars of the keyhole, they needed to make them long and skinny, thus the now‐famous look of the city’s sausage. True??? Maybe not. But regardless of authenticity, it is enchanting to hear!
Every city in Germany had its own executioner/hangman, which was considered the lowest of all trades and class ranking. Henkersteg (Hangman’s Bridge) is in the medieval historic section of town and was constructed in 1457 as a wooden bridge that housed the town’s hangman and his family. This locale is only one of the genuinely exceptional sites in this once Imperial city. Flying to Germany, I read The Hangman’s Daughter, a novel by Oliver Pötzsch. By the time I landed, I was primed and ready to enjoy anything “hangman.”
Facing the recent ugly past
If there is an academic yet graceful way to display and discuss the absolute horror of your country’s history, Nuremberg leads the way.
Necessary for world history, Nuremberg will forever remain the home of the Nazi Party Rallies and the fierce bombings by the Allied forces. Humankind will also remember that this city was the site of the Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the National Socialists held their Party Rallies in Nuremberg, after which they were supplanted by the beginning of the German offensive against Poland and the beginning of WWII. The haunting bones of large structures still lay in witness to the gruesome propaganda of the Nazi Party. Today, the Documentation Center accounts the Nazi Party’s rise and fall chronologically. You stand and walk where the Nazis reigned supreme, a chilling yet very educational experience for even those of us who feel we know history well. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds give a view of the manic followers of this mass‐murdering machine. The grounds are left overgrown, as they should be, and the thought of any glorification is the furthest thing from the minds of the museum’s curators.
Reconstructed film reels play as you move through the museum. Pictures of the parade grounds littered with “brown shirts” as well as fuzzy images of the stage with Hitler being glorified surround you on the walls of the museum while you are standing feet from the actual site. It is a purposeful and surreal view of this tragic time.
Nuremberg today is vibrant, happy, and easy to navigate as a tourist. Eager to please visitors, hospitality employees and shopkeepers (most of whom are fluent in English) are thrilled to direct you to sights in their city. Comfortable and accommodating, Bavaria’s best is always on display in this historic river city of Germany.