“Nächte Haltestelle, Hauptbahnhof.”
The distinct melodious southern German accent from the automatic announcer in the tram signaled my destination, the Nuremberg (German: Nürnberg) central train station which is located in a beautiful Neo-Baroque building and facing the Altstadt (old city). Right across the station lies the Königstor (King’s Gate), the main access to the walled old part of Nuremberg.
As I walked through Königstraße – the main street leading to the center of the Altstadt – the view of the wide expanse of the city outside the wall turned into a medieval-looking promenade of cobblestone street lined up with tall buildings in authentic German architecture on both sides. I was walking toward Nuremberg Castle, located at the north end of the Altstadt. Despite the numerous small alleys in the Altstadt, the castle is easily accessible from Königstor. One can walk Königstraße until it ends at the Hauptmarkt – the Central Market which is located at an open space right in front of Frauenkirche. Then head further north until the castle is visible. When I was around the Hauptmarkt, there was a particular shop that drew my attention: a Lebkuchen shop. Lebkuchen is a traditional German cookie originated from Nuremberg and usually eaten as a Christmas treat. Made from honey, ginger, cardamom, coriander, cloves, aniseed, allspice and various kinds of nuts, it is hard not to love this cookie.
When I got out of the shop, suddenly an old man approached me with a big grin. “That’s only for Christmas.”
“Well, but here I am now, in summer,” I replied and smiled at him. Then he continued walking, still with a big grin.
Currently Nuremberg is Germany’s fourteenth largest city. However, in the past it played a significant role in the history of the nation. During the age of the Holy Roman Empire, Nuremberg Castle was once the place where the Reichstag and courts met. Therefore Nuremberg is often referred as the unofficial capital of the empire. Over time, Nuremberg grew as not only a place to convene but also an important trade center, especially on the route from Italy to Northern Europe. On top of everything, in the 14th century under the edict of King Charles IV, Nuremberg was designated as the city where newly-elected kings of Germany must hold their first Reichstag.
Not only an exceptional city, Nuremberg was also the home to some notable people in history. The most famous native to the city is Albrecht Dürer, the first person to produce the printed map of stars – a map he created himself. Not long afterward, he published the first perspective drawing of the terrestrial globe. It was also in Nuremberg where the main part of Nicolaus Copernicus’ work was published.
However, Nuremberg has its own dark chapter in history. Due to its importance in the Holy Roman Empire and geographical location at heart of Germany, the Nazi chose the city to hold huge Nazi conventions – also called the Nuremberg rallies. To the southeast of the Altstadt, the Nazi constructed a massive rally ground with huge artificial lakes and a colossal Kongresshalle – slated to be the congress hall for the Nazi. However, this immense building was never completed. Empty spaces inside this building created a very strange and eerie atmosphere for me.
On January 2, 1945, Nuremberg was decimated by the bombardments of the Allied forces in a successful attempt to weaken the Nazi. Within only one hour, ninety percent of the medieval city center was destroyed and 1,800 people were killed.
When the war has ended, the old city part was rebuilt and carefully restored to its pre-war appearance. Any visitor visiting Nuremberg without learning about its history beforehand, like I did, would never think that this city was once severely damaged during the war. What people can see now is a beautiful and atmospheric Altstadt at the heart of Nuremberg.
All photos courtesy of my cousin-in-law, Anne.