Nuremberg is the 14th largest city in Germany with a population that numbers around 500,000. Nürnberg (its German name) is the second biggest city in the state of Bavaria, following Munich. It is the largest city and the unofficial capital of the Franconia¹ region. Nuremberg was first referenced in a document in 1050. By 1500, it had become one of Europe’s leading cities. Geographically, the city is located roughly in the middle of continental Europe which gave it a favourable position along many trade routes. Nuremberg was also an important stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire, as many important meetings and elections (known as the Imperial Diets of Nuremberg) took place at the Imperial Castle.
Part of the Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg) as it appears today. It was built in the first half of the thirteenth century.
The double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire, appears on this door leading into the castle courtyard.
Nuremberg was the third stop on our European adventure. We knew that we wanted to stop somewhere en route to Berlin from Munich. I had heard that Nuremberg, located 170 km north of Munich, featured an old city wall, a castle, and a medieval city centre.
I love a good city wall. The Nuremberg one encircles a 5 km stretch of its downtown. Construction on the walls and defensive towers began in the 12th century and continued until the 16th.
It makes for an easy and enjoyable walk.
During our stay we learned that, sadly, more than 90 percent of the old city of Nuremberg had been destroyed by bombs in World War II. However, many of the historic buildings were faithfully re-erected and the design of the rebuilt city remained true to what had been lost. Nuremberg today is a small, beautiful and pedestrian-friendly city. We were there in the fall, and I kept my camera out the whole time. There was always another stunning building, bridge, or tower to fall in love with.
In this post, I’m going to provide a quick overview of some of Nuremberg’s highlights. I’ll provide further historical detail (and lots of more photos) in future posts.
Tawers’ (Tanners’) Street is one of the best-preserved streets in the old city. It consists of 22 half-timbered homes (the first floor or two in Nuremberg homes, where the kitchen was located, had to be made of stone to help reduce fire risk). This neighbourhood is located near the Pegnitz River because tanning animal hides to make leather required a lot of water, and produced a lot of waste (which was flushed down the river). It was also a very stinky process, but everything on this street is cute and clean today!
The Maxbrücke (Max Bridge) is considered the oldest stone bridge in the city. Originally built in 1457, with repairs being carried out in 1852. It was named after Bavarian King Maximilian I Joseph in 1810 (prior to that it had just been referred to as “the Stone Bridge.”)
The Frauentor (Women’s Tower). Built in the 14th century to defend the southeastern gate to the city.
The Hauptmarkt (Main Market Square) features the Gothic-style Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) and a year-round assortment of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other items. Sadly, the development of this area as a market square has a violent history. Jewish people settled in this area at the end of the 12th century, but they were violently expelled in 1348. More on that in another post. The Frauenkirche was built between 1352-62, in place of the former Jewish synagogue, which had been destroyed in 1348/49.
On a more cheerful note, I loved these cabbages that could double as a floral arrangement!
In December, the Hauptmarkt is the setting for the Christkindlesmarkt, Germany’s most famous Christmas market. The origins of the market are unknown, but the earliest item relating to the market is a box made of coniferous wood that refers to the “Kindels-Marck” of 1628. The Christmas market may have evolved from the weekly traditional markets into its own independent market between 1610-1639. The market is opened each year by the “Christkind”² (“Christ child”) on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent. The Nuremberg Christkind, a young girl chosen for the occasion, appears on the balcony of the Frauenkirche.
Fun fact: Did you know that tinsel was invented in Nuremberg in 1610? It was originally made of shredded silver, and comes from the old French word estincele, meaning “sparkle.”
The Hauptmarkt is also home to the Schönner Brunnen, the “Beautiful Fountain.” The fountain was erected in the square in 1378, and was a favoured drinking well because it provided residents with fresh water from outside the city (as opposed to other fountains that tapped inner city sources and were occasionally contaminated by nearby cesspits).
Other quick highlights of Nuremberg include the Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit). The hospital was originally built in the 14th century but received a major overhaul between 1506-1525 into what it is today. Building the hospital over the river allowed it to quickly and effectively dispose of waste.
The Mauthalle (Huge Toll Building) was built between 1498-1502. It was one of 12 grain halls built to store grain in case of future crises such as a city siege or famine (common medieval concerns). In 1571, the municipal toll and weigh house moved into the first floor, giving the building its current name.
Fembohaus, a late Renaissance merchant’s house built between 1591-1596, now houses the City Museum. Look at the beautiful line of the roof!
Nassauer Haus. The lower two storeys date from the early 13th century (where the darker stones can be seen). The upper levels were added 1422-33. Interesting historical fact: in 1431, King Sigismund mortgaged his crown to the house’s owner, Ulrich Ortlieb, for a credit of 1500 guilders. Ortlieb then adorned the stone railing at the top of the building with various coats of arms belonging to the emperor, the electoral princes, and the pope.
Sebalduskirche (St. Sebaldus Church) began construction in 1225, and is the oldest church in the city.
Nuremberg is home to famous German Renaissance painter, printmaker, and theorist Albrecht Dürer.
It was fascinating to visit his house and workshop, and to learn how his innovative printing techniques made him arguably the world’s first successful commercial artist. (Note also how the first floors of the house are also stone, where the kitchen was located).
Nuremberg was the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. He took advantage of the city’s history and symbolic value as a stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire. Massive rallies were held for the Nazi party between 1933-1938. If you’ve heard of Nuremberg previously, it might be because of the Nuremberg Trials that took place after World War II, in which many prominent leaders of Nazi Germany were prosecuted. In this way, the symbolism that Hitler took advantage of as his party rose in power and prominence came full circle.
The Kongresshalle was meant to be bigger and more impressive than Rome’s Coliseum. It remains unfinished, and today it houses the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds).
The Rally party grounds are an eerie memorial to this time in history, especially where they have become slightly overgrown. Visiting this area was a very emotional experience, and I’ll share that (along with many more pictures) in a future post.
I have lots of pictures and stories to share with you about Nuremberg. It is a wonderful city, and was a real highlight of our time in Germany. Stay tuned! For now, I’ll leave you with this beautiful window box of flowers.
¹Napoleon restructured the south German states after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, and much of Franconia was awarded to Bavaria.
² Traditionally, December 6 (the Catholic feast day of Saint Nicholas) was celebrated in Europe as the day of gift-giving. During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries, Martin Luther (whose views were welcomed in Nuremberg), moved the day of gift-giving to December 24. He introduced the idea of a Christ child as a gift giver, trying to make the holiday more focused on the role of Jesus. The Christkind is a sprite-like figure, sometimes depicted as an angel, with blond hair and wings (as seems to be the case in Nuremberg where a young woman plays the role of the Christkind). In addition to parts of southern and western Germany, the Christkind is celebrated as the traditional gift-bringer in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of northeast France, parts of Hispanic America, and Quebec in Canada. The Christkind has faced increasing competition with the commercial North American figure of Santa Claus.