Earlier, I recounted my thoughts on the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg and promised to come back and talk more about our time in the city since we were there for a few extra days and had an opportunity to explore beyond the market.
When I first shared the itinerary for our Christmas Market River Cruise with some friends and family, those who weren’t familiar with the city’s most popular tourist “attraction” looked at me skeptically because they *were* familiar with Nuremberg’s ties to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. And honestly, the only two things I knew about Nuremberg were the Christmas market and the Nuremberg trials (the military tribunals held following World War II for the prosecution of Third Reich war criminals).
(NOTE: Consider this advance warning that this post touches on the atrocities of World War II and I share some of the thoughts I had while being exposed to one particular example of rewriting history, which largely colored a lot of feelings I experienced while exploring the city that first day.)
You Can’t Talk About Nuremberg Without Talking About the Nazis.
What I didn’t know is before any of that happened, Nuremberg was actually an Imperial city that was at one point the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, since much of the empire’s business was conducted at Nuremberg Castle. During the late 1200s, Nuremberg was also one of the greatest and widely traveled trade routes between Italy and Northern Europe. Flash forward to the 1830s, and Nuremberg was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, with the first German railway opening in 1835 (Later, Nuremberg’s train system, paired with its level of industry, was a large part of why it was chosen as a hub of the Third Reich).
During our time here, I had a very hard time reconciling its past with its present, which I’m sure is incredibly unfair of me. I’m not Jewish, nor am I a scholar, but it seems to me that Nuremberg has a very long history of treating Jews abominably. I mean, it’s hard to argue the pograms that took place in the middle ages had anything whatsoever to do with the genocide of WWII, but I can’t help but be reminded of the phrases “history repeats itself” and “those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.” Is it an accident of bad luck that one singular place in the world has a significant history associated with the massacre of its Jews? Again, I’m not a scholar and I’d hate to offend anyone from Nuremberg with this statement, but it just seems to me that if your history sees the same sort of atrocities repeated from one millenia to the next, you’re doing it wrong.
And I think one of the reasons I walked away having negative thoughts about the history of Nuremberg and the willingness of its people to participate in such endeavors was due to an exhibit I saw in one of the churches that was nearly destroyed by the allied bombings of WWII. It featured an historic photo, blown up to about five feet wide, showing a street of Nuremberg the day before the bombing. Its caption card talked about how the people of Nuremberg didn’t deserve the destruction and ruin that befell them during the war because they were innocent of wrongdoing. Now mind you, the picture clearly shows several swastika-laden flags draped from windows and Hitler’s army marching blithely and unencumbered through the city streets. I can’t reconcile a population who didn’t seem to vociferously oppose Hitler’s regime in any meaningful way claiming they shouldn’t have suffered the perils of war. While WWII era Nuremberg didn’t have things like the 24 hour cable news cycle, Twitter, or Facebook, the Nazi party was incredibly adept at distributing information via its propaganda machine and I have a hard time believing the people of Nuremberg weren’t exposed to the Third Reich’s anti-semitic philosophies, especially with the enaction of the Nuremberg Laws which forbade “non-Aryans and political opponents of the Nazis from the civil-service and any sexual relations and marriage between people classified as Aryan and non-Aryan” and the use of the city’s zeppelin field as a rally ground.
So … basically, while I greatly enjoyed the physical aspects of the city and how beautiful its architecture was, I just felt myself struggling with the notion that the people of Nuremberg actively condoned Hitler’s actions. And before you say, “but what about America’s history of slavery?” let me assure you I felt equally uncomfortable walking through the plantations of Louisiana and seeing the way of life during that time exalted as something to be admired or looked upon as “the good old days.”
Given the sentiment expressed in that (Catholic) church I referenced above, I was heartened when we took a WWII bus tour and our guide was very explicit in talking about how the young people of Nuremberg are appalled over the city’s history and are working hard to make it so that its residents and visitors alike are thinking about the future of Nuremberg instead of so actively associating it with its heinous past. The tour was part of the cruise for those who were going on to Prague but because the ending location for that tour was literally across the street from the hotel where we were staying, the cruise director let us join them. It was riveting to hear the information presented from a guide who was associated with the museum, and it was chilling to stand on the Nazi parade grounds and picture Hitler and his cronies holding court over thousands of Aryan soldiers.
Now On To More Pleasant Topics, Like What a Wonderful City Nuremberg Is.
One of the things we really enjoy doing when visiting ancient cities is taking in their castles. Before we got to Nuremberg we didn’t really know the city had one, much less the important role it played in this part of the world. But the castle, together with the city walls, is considered one of Europe’s most formidable medieval fortifications. And Alan loves a medieval fortification! (See Salzburg trip report and Scotland’s Sterling Castle and Edinburgh Castle visits.) Most of the castle was destroyed during WWII, with only the Roman double chapel and the Sinwell Tower remaining intact. After the war, the castle was restored to its historical form, including the Luginsland tower which had been completely destroyed.
Most of Nuremberg is a restoration project and truthfully you wouldn’t know it. Everything looks like it has been standing for hundreds of years, not fewer than one hundred years at this point. If you didn’t know a major war had nearly leveled the city there is no way you could tell from looking at it. And what a city it is! We had such an enjoyable time just walking around taking in the various neighborhoods, squares, and hidden pathways.
The other really fun thing we did while in Nuremberg was visit the Toy Museum which was actually much more interesting than I gave it credit for when Alan told me he wanted to go there. It’s a really informative – and some times creepy (I’m looking at you dolls with evil, dead eyes) – way to view the history of the city from a different perspective. Between the two of us, our favorite toys in the entire museum were located in the same small case in one of the first rooms. The blue car below with the driver looks like it would have come from the art deco period but it’s actually much older than that (sorry, the exact date/era escapes me – but I remember it’s *not* art deco) and I especially liked how simplistic and yet realistic the little wooden castle figures were. I got a little up in arms in the doll and kitchen rooms because the museum also talked about how the toys were marketed to children and let’s just say the verbiage used around “girl toys” was condescending, rude, and demoralizing. Probably the most impressive toy in the four-floor museum was the train city
Nuremberg has always been a toy city of world renown, its tradition stretching from the “Dockenmacher” (doll makers) of medieval times to outstanding tin figure manufacturers and numerous tin toy producers in the industrial age, up to the International Toy Fair, the world’s most important trade fair of its kind. Nuremberg Toy Museum’s comprehensive and exceptionally high quality collection spans the time from antiquity to the present day, with a strong focus on the past two centuries. Since opening in 1971, the museum has attracted more than four million visitors from all over the world.
And Oh My God, The Food.
While most of the meals during our trip were on the boat, Nuremberg was one of the few cities where we got to explore the local cuisine on our own. We didn’t really prepare that well for such an endeavor however (read: we failed to look into good restaurants or make any dinner reservations anywhere) but all told, things turned out really well for us. The one night we had for dinner by ourselves could have gone horribly wrong, and in fact, it looked like it was going to be a very difficult evening when we were turned away from two restaurants within a thirty minute period due to not having a reservation. One of them was so hot I thought I was going to die just standing there so I don’t consider that too much of a loss, but the second place looked really fantastic and I was sad when the hostess came back and told us we could come back the next night if we wanted to. We asked her for a recommendation for somewhere else to eat and she sent us around the corner to the upstairs restaurant that was associated with them. We walked in and were seated immediately which was pretty amazing. At that point I probably would have eaten cardboard as long as someone gave me a beer to wash it down with so when we ordered and our food showed up and it tasted fantastic I was overjoyed. The meal was extremely reasonably priced, especially when you consider the sheer size of the plate put down in front of you. And the beer. Oh the beer. And the dumplings. And the goose.
The next afternoon we realized that we likely weren’t going to have dinner given the time our flight left so we wanted a big, late lunch featuring famous Nuremberg sausages. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tiny little bratwurst, a Nuremberg sausage has very particular specifications. According to an article from The Telegraph, they ” … must be no longer than 9cm and no weightier than 25g. Germany it is said, is home to some 1,500 varieties of sausage – more than there are types of cheese in France. What distinguishes the Nuremberg sausage from those found in other parts of the country is not just its dainty proportions, but its longevity – they’ve been making these delicately flavoured bangers here for fully 700 years.” Again, with no clear idea where to eat, we ended up by a restaurant outside the castle that had relatively good reviews on TripAdvisor. They were able to seat us immediately and the food was so, so good.
And that concludes not only my report on the city of Nuremberg, but also the entirety of our Christmas Market River Cruise Trip Report. I hope you’ve enjoyed our insights and getting to see all of the places we visited through this blog.