I am about to leave Nuremberg, though if I didn’t have a train booked I would definitely stay longer. This city is one of contrasts and an incredibly self-aware writing of history. The medieval center where I spent most of my time is pretty tiny, but full of churches, the palace of the Imperial Diet and museums. Just outside the center lie some important landmarks, like where the Nuremberg Trials were held and a bit further (though I didn’t get there) an amphitheater that was never quite finished for Hitler to hold rallies in. Nuremberg was the second largest medieval city of what would become Germany besides Cologne and it held an important place as a free city and the location of what was essentially a medieval convention center from around the 12th century. Over the years it has been witness to a pogrom because citizens wanted to build a marketplace where the synagogue was, the congresses of the Imperial Diet and most recently the centerpiece of Nazi rallies. All of this history, good and bad, is approached sensitively and logically without the quiet denial you find in many museums of cities or countries that took actions that are now viewed as treacherous or despicable.
A perfect example of this is the Church of Our Lady, located on the Hauptmarkt, which was built at the Emperor’s decree for the housing of the Imperial Insignia. This church is rather beautiful inside, though it is rather small, but it is built on a razed synagogue that was emptied when the citizens of Nuremberg said, Emperor, we’d really like to build a market here in this place that used be worthless ground so we let the Jews have it. But now that the two parts of the city are joined, they are right in the center of the city! The Emperor gave permission (not orders) to expel the Jews. Almost 500 Jews died in the pogrom that resulted. The information given at the church does not shrink from this knowledge, but rather asks it to be viewed in light of the history that surrounds it. This trend is typical of how the city handles such a tumultuous history.
I visited a great many churches in Nuremberg and in general really enjoyed walking the streets. What stood out was how much of the city was destroyed and is still in the process of being restored. Unlike Dresden, the push for restoration has not resulted in completed buildings with all the furnishings but rather complete structures, with the frills to be added slowly and painfully. It is the history, not the buildings, that draw tourists to this imperial city.
The palace was very interesting because it is not really a palace. It was a space that was kept up by the people of Nuremberg for the Imperial Diet. If the Imperial Diet was going to meet here, the best families of the city would furnish it for that purpose. If there was going to be a dance, then they would furnish it for a dance. Seriously, a medieval convention center. The complex as a whole is quite beautiful and enjoyable to walk around. In particular the chapel is very interesting because it is built with a hole in the floor, so the knights would be in this odd squat room for services, the kings in a normal vaulted height room, but quite tiny and the emperor and his family in a gallery at the back. Hardly appropriate for services, my guide insisted. Of course, the guide primarily spoke long-winded German, which I managed to tease out a bit of, and then would speak in English for barely 30 seconds. So much information missed…
The final thing I want to touch on is the German National Museum. I could spend days there. This sprawling museum was established in 1840 or so, despite the failure of the German bits and bobs to unite and has a special focus on the medieval period. The building itself is this sprawling structure that has eaten the buildings around it, including a Cistercian abbey which holds most of the medieval collections on display. If I ever come back here, I will plan on an extended visit to this fabulous museum.
Next stop, Vienna! I love trains, I really do. None of the fuss of airplanes with plenty of space. Although, I have to say that so far in terms of amenities, Irish trains are winning over german ones. I was never on an Irish train that didn’t have plugs, free internet and ran frequently and on time. German trains in general only have paid internet if that in second class.