Nuremberg made me cry. No, it wasn’t because of the spine-chilling Nazi sites. I cried over some tiny bratwurst. (To be fair, I do have a tendency to weep over really good food, but usually it’s food that I’m already passionate about, like kaiseki in Kyoto, or baked pork buns at a Michelin award-winning dim sum restaurant.) As for my sudden tears during a meal in Nuremberg, it’s a long story.
Before our Germany trip, the only thing I knew about Nuremberg was its atrocious Nazi past. Appropriately, the first thing we did after checking into our hotel was take a tram to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, which comprise an immense complex of buildings designed by Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect. One building, Hitler’s unfinished Congress Hall, is the largest surviving example of Nazi architecture and houses Dokumentationszentrum (Nazi Documentation Center), an in-depth museum that attempts to answer the big question: How did this happen?
Meanwhile, neighboring Zeppelin Field was where the actual rallies took place. Now, anyone can climb up to Hitler’s grandstand in front of the Zeppelin Tribune and experience the sheer audacity of it all.
Why did Nuremberg appeal to Hitler so much? For practical purposes, Nuremberg is centrally located in Germany and thus a convenient meeting point for Nazi supporters. Hitler also had a friend here named Julius Streicher, who spread Nazism with his inflammatory newspaper Der Stürmer (The Storm Trooper). Most importantly, however, Nuremberg is steeped in German history. Long before Nazism, the city was once home to the Holy Roman Emperor and Germany’s most famous artist, Albrecht Dürer. Its Old Town is packed with Gothic buildings in the quintessential German style — and as I had learned from our last town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Hitler had a thing for those. As one of the most important cities of medieval Europe, Nuremberg was the perfect place for Hitler to legitimize his Third Reich by invoking Germany’s glorious past.
In other words, our first afternoon in Nuremberg was pretty depressing, and I was not very fond of the city. However, my mind changed completely when we returned to Nuremberg’s Old Town and started exploring the rest of Nuremberg.
Long ago, Nuremberg consisted of two distinct walled towns separated by a river. As both towns grew, they merged and the middle wall came down. Hauptmark (main market square) was built by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and became the center of the newly united city. Year-round, Hauptmarkt is bustling with fruit, flower, and souvenir stands. For a few weeks before Christmas, it hosts Germany’s largest Christmas market.
My favorite area in Nuremberg was way uphill, near Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle). In the Middle Ages, Holy Roman emperors stayed here when they were in town. The castle is a huge complex of 45 buildings that can be partially accessed by ticket, but a stunning view of Nuremberg near the round tower is completely open to the public.
Just below Kaiserburg is a popular socializing spot for a young, artsy crowd. Nuremberg is rich in art. During World War II, artwork was carefully protected from air raids in a series of cellars. Nuremberg was bombed relatively late in the war, which allowed the city to prepare for the attack. Artwork was packaged inside wooden crates and padded with sandbags, then hidden in a climate-controlled environment behind thick fireproof doors.
Albrecht Dürer is Nuremburg’s most famous resident. He studied in Italy, brought the Renaissance to medieval Germany, and undoubtedly influenced many artists like Raphael and Titian. He did things that were radical in northern Europe at the time, such as signing his own works, and painting things simply for study instead of on commission.
In the same neighborhood, a street called Weissgerbergasse (Tanners’ Lane) is lined with Nuremberg’s finest collection of half-timbered houses to survive the war. These well-crafted homes attest to Nuremberg’s considerable prosperity. The iconic dark-red color in the painted beams of these homes is oxen blood, which helped prevent rot and termite damage.
I was so overwhelmed by the vibrancy throughout Nuremberg that, by the time we were eating dinner at Bratwursthäusle, I struggled to blink back my tears. Maybe it was the wine — I was downing my glass of Riesling (why is German wine so much better than American wine?!). Maybe it was the bratwurst, which was made in-house by the restaurant’s own butcher and cooked on a beechwood grill. Maybe it was the atmosphere — Christmas lights strung over the patio, right across the street of an important church. Or maybe it was my guilt that I had thought so little of this city just a few hours ago.
Whatever it was, Nuremberg clearly taught me a couple of crucial lessons: Give a city more than four hours to judge it. More importantly, what many Americans know about other countries does not do those places justice at all. Nuremberg’s infamous Nazi past is such a small part of its lengthy history, though barely anything else is taught in our schools. (In America we love to over-learn World War II because we were the “heroes” of that war). Furthermore, Nuremberg is so much more than its past. It’s a thriving place and the second largest city in Bavaria. A whopping 40% of its population are immigrants (mostly from Turkey and Yugoslavia), and well-known German companies such as Adidas, Faber-Castell, Playmobil, and Siemens also call Nuremberg home. Nuremberg reminded me of Florence in many ways. Both are comfortable, hilly cities located inland, filled with art, history, and incredible food. Both pleasantly surprised me, and both will have a special place in my heart forever.
Tips for future travelers:
Check out the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Germanic National Museum). If you have any interest in German history or culture, you can easily spend an entire day in this sprawling museum.
After visiting the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, have lunch at Guttmann’s Biergarten, a lovely beer garden overlooking a nearby lake. Here you can try the obligatory “3 im Weckla”, a Nuremberg specialty. “3 im Wekla” refers to three tiny bratwursts stuffed into a bun. Nuremberg has been making these sausages for 700 years. The use of mace, pepper, and marjoram in the sausage is proof of Nuremberg’s significance as a trading city in the Middle Ages. Why are Nuremberg sausages so small? One theory claims that their diminutive size allowed them to be shared with hungry travelers through keyholes in the city gates after the nightly curfew. Another theory claims that the size was just a response to a spike in pork prices in the late 16th century.
Have at least one meal at Bratwursthäusle. It was my favorite meal on our entire trip. Maybe you’ll cry, too.