After our trip to Switzerland, we still had two days left on our rail pass that we needed to use up by early November. Since we were just doing a weekend trip, it needed to be someplace fairly close and within Germany/Switzerland (since that’s where the pass was valid). Switzerland was out, since the cool places would take too long to get to. Even though train travel in Germany is great, a lot of places would have been too long of a trip to do just within a weekend without eating up a lot of our time. We wound up settling on Nuremberg, a city with a long (and tragic) history.
A little bit of background: Nuremberg (aka Nürnberg in German) is a city in Bavaria that has been around since [at least] 1050 and has been significant throughout history. Personally, when I hear the name “Nuremberg” (or “Nürnberg”), I immediately hear the opening chords of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in my head (played beautifully by the Vienna Phil here). But, unfortunately, what this wonderful city has come to be known for is the Nazi party. It was the location of those giant rallies that we’ve all seen in pictures. And it was then the location of the Nuremberg Trials, the international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After exiting the train station we walked though the old city center, which is within medieval walls. We first visited St. Lorenz, a medieval church built in the 1400s. It was architecturally pretty standard for a church of that time. What stood out was all of the magnificent artwork hanging all over. Although St. Lorenz was an early adopter of Lutheranism during the Reformation (in 1525),it was able to retain its beautiful artwork because it was cared for by the wealthy citizens of Nuremberg, who insisted upon keeping it. There were countless carved wood figures, dating back to the earliest days of the church, and also many paintings and three organs. There was construction scaffolding up and I also noticed that many windows only had clear glass, not stained glass. I assume that these are by-products of the damage it suffered during WWII.
The most striking part of the church, though, was the little display in the back showing that damage. I teared up seeing the photos of the wreckage. I took photos of the pictures in the display and then took comparison photos. This is what the church looked like after the war and how it looks now:
When we were on the train back home I looked up more pictures of the ruins of Nuremberg, now that we had seen the city. It was heart-wrenching to see photos of the places we had just walked filled with nothing but rubble and the skeletons of buildings. On January 2, 1945 Allied forces heavily bombed the city and about 90% of the medieval city center was destroyed in a single hour. Just reading that sentence made me tear up again. You can watch video footage of the heartbreaking aftermath here. Obviously, the world was fighting hard to stop a dangerous leader doing unspeakable things, but I can’t help but question the civilian and cultural cost. It’s way too easy for us to be completely disconnected from the costs of war when we’ve never been affected by it. It’s way too easy for people to say that refugees should go back where they came from. But “where they came from” looks just as bad as the ruins of Nuremberg. Would you want to live there? Wouldn’t you want someone to take you in and help you if that’s what your home looked like?
We continued to walk through the historic center, passing by the Frauenkirche, which is located on the square that it the center of the world-famous Nürnberg Weinachtsmarkt (Nuremberg Christmas Market). We weren’t able to visit this church, as there seemed to be a service in progress. We kept walking and also walked around St. Sebaldus church, then looped back to the nearby Bratwursthäusle. Nuremberg has its own style of bratwursts: you get 3 little sausages on a roll. This restaurant was a cute little house and the smoke from the grill was billowing out a chimney. Randolph wanted to try the Nuremberg-style wursts, and the smells wafting from this place lured him in. It was a very popular place and very crowded, but he just got his to go.
One of the other sights on my list was the street Weissgerbergasse (Tanners’ Lane). It is a rare part of the city where you can see old, half-timber buildings, with about 20 medieval houses having survived the air raids of WWII. They aren’t as exciting or colorful as other medieval half-timber buildings we’ve seen, but I think that their survival through all the destruction is what makes them special.
Before checking into our hotel, we did a little more walking around. I wandered into a yarn shop with some high end yarns. I’d just started knitting about a week earlier (and I’ve now finished my first project – an oversize scarf!), so it was interesting to look around at all the types and colors of yarn. Sadly, since I’m still a newbie, I refrained from any impulse purchases.
We bought some good old-fashioned Nürnberger lebkuchen, a dense, spiced baked good that’s sort of similar to gingerbread. The existence of this local treat is owed to Nuremberg’s history as a center of trade. They had ready access to nuts and spices from around the world, and bakers used these special ingredients to make special sweets. And this stuff has been around for 600+ years! In addition to being a popular holiday treat in Nuremberg (at the above-mentioned Weihnachtsmarkt), lebkuchen can be found in the form of large hearts at any Oktoberfest gathering (and at candy stands at pretty much any German festival). They’re basically like a giant cookie version of candy hearts – complete with schlocky sayings.
By then, we were ready to check in to our hotel. Design Hotel Vosteen is a funky little place that I’d found thanks to a recommendation from what was basically a hipster guide to Nuremberg. I always like to look for those kinds of guides because they get you off the beaten [i.e. touristy] path and can lead to some really cool local finds. We didn’t have the time to check out any of the cool stores listed, since they were outside of the old city, but this hotel was perfect. It was very affordable, plus it was a funky little place located in a peaceful neighborhood just outside the medieval walls of the city. And the included breakfast was spectacular! Hands down, the best yet!
After dropping off our bags we headed back out again. The restaurant we wanted to go to for dinner was booked until on the late side, so we decided to have a snack (and some beer) at a local brewery, Barfüßer. When in Bavaria, right? The bar/restaurant is in a large basement and we managed to snag one of the last tables without a “reserved” sign on it. For food, we tried obatzda, a Bavarian specialty. It’s a spread made with soft cheese and seasonings, including caraway seed. It was served here with bread, onions, cucumbers, and lettuce. While I don’t usually like rye/caraway, the creaminess of the cheese tempers it nicely and it was a pretty tasty snack. For drinks, we each tried one of the brewery’s own beers. Randolph got the schwarze (dark beer) and I got the blonde (self-explanatory, I hope). Both were quite tasty, although I especially liked the schwarze. It was so flavorful and smooth.
Once we’d had a bit of refreshment, we killed the remaining time til dinner by going into some stores. Some of the stores in Nuremberg were the same as what we have here in our area, but there were also some different ones. Interestingly, the fashion situation seemed slightly less bleak than in our area. I even found a pair of cute ankle boots (something I’ve been on the hunt for) on clearance for only 10€! Woohoo! I guess Germany knows I was trash-talking its fashion and is trying to win me over now, haha.
Our dinner, expertly selected by Randolph, as usual, was at Albrecht Dürer Stube. It’s a German restaurant, housed in a lovely half-timber building (as all German restaurants should be, right?). It’s named after the artist Albrecht Dürer who is famous for his Renaissance prints and paintings. You can visit his house in Nuremberg, which is now a museum, but we didn’t have time. But back to the restaurant – the food was quite awesome. It was hearty German fare, but not the usual stuff that I’ve seen a million times. Randolph had a pretty epic bacon-crusted pork shoulder, served with potato dumplings and the spiced red cabbage he loves. I had a really good salad as well as salmon and horseradish cream soup. I was eager to try the soup, since I’ve never seen that before. It didn’t disappoint! We also enjoyed some good German wines. Randolph tried a schwarzriesling (black riesling) – not something you see every day. I really liked it! Interestingly it’s best known as one of the three main grapes used in champagne (under the name pinot meunier).
After dinner we meandered our way around a bit as we walked back to the hotel. Nuremberg is really a pretty hopping place on a Saturday night!
After a delightful breakfast at the hotel, we started out by visiting the castle, which was nearby at the north of the old city. We only walked around the outside parts (I think you can only go inside with a tour), but there was plenty to see, anyway. There was a pretty nice view of the city, with the morning haze still hovering.
But the best part was walking through an archway into this courtyard. We came at such a perfect time in the fall! I was completely in love with all the colorful vines covering the walls. I just wanted to keep staring at it.
But, eventually, Randolph tore me away from the pretty colors and we walked our way back into the center of the old city. As we walked, I got a few more pictures around the city. It was a very sunny day (unlike the day before) and it just had that “nice fall day” feeling.
We wound up spending the remaining time before our train at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, “the largest museum of cultural history in Germany.” It’s a museum that pretty much takes you through all aspects of German history – starting with an axe from c. 200,000 BC and going up through the 20th century. And it really covers everything. Some of the other highlights: the oldest globe in the world (fascinating!), an intricate astrolabe made in Syria (yes, they had advanced science and culture hundreds of years ago!), the musical instruments room (huge!), and the 14th century church/cloister that the museum is built around (integrated incredibly well!). We had been on the fence about going to a museum, but I’m so glad we did!
Before hopping on our train we grabbed lunch to-go at a stand in the train station. Pretzel sandwiches, of course – another Nuremberg specialty. Yum!
We’re going to keep our Thanksgiving adventures fairly close to home (a tour of the Weihnachtsmärkten in some cute German towns). And that’s because we have two (yes, two) super awesome trips planned for the holidays. But I won’t ruin the surprise, because what fun would that be?