Day 8: Nuremberg and Rotbier and Sausage
Old and new buildings; old and new history. That’s a petty good short description of Nuremberg (aka Nürnberg), today’s stop on the Viking River Cruise Grand European Tour.
Nürnberg was one of the most important crossroads on the trade routes during the years of the Holy Roman Empire (12th-18th centuries) and one of the primary seats of power for the emperors who ruled the hundreds of small German states during that period. As a result, Nürnberg has one of the finest fortified medieval castles in Germany and one that was never taken by force but changed hands occasionally following extended seiges.
It also has the best preserved city wall in all of Germany. As cities grew in the 18th and 19th centuries and the weapons of war made city walls obsolete, most cities tore down their walls in order to more easily expand. Nürnberg was an exception. The people here (Franconians not Bavarians, they will tell you even though they live in the state of Bavaria) have long had a valuable sense of place and an enduring respect for history.
One German leader once said that Nürnberg was the most German of all German cities. That leader was Adolph Hitler, and as a consequence he made Nürnberg the site of the famous enormous Nazi rallies of the 1930s and the location of his never finished Congresss Hall. Today I had a chance to literally ride into the middle of the Congress Hall in a tour bus. It’s impossible, I think, to describe how big the building was to be, but the circular outer walls that remain and which would have supported the roof of the courtyard testify to its anticipated size. Had it been finished, the interior would have held more than 50,000 Nazi party loyalists to hear the rantings of a madman. Nearby, the Zeppelin Field and the Stadium remain, while most other structures were demolished after World War II.
So, in Nürnberg you have two histories: A thousand year history before the 20th century and a tumultuous and deadly more recent past. Unlike Bamberg where we were yesterday, Nürnberg was nearly totally destroyed by bombs and fire by the end of the war. The castle was badly damaged, yet its 40′ walls and deep subterrean rooms saved invaluable pieces of local art from dozens of churches and protected the lives of up to 50,000 residents during bombing raids. The rest of the town, however, suffered near destruction. The question after the war was should the burned out houses, churches, shops and public buildings be torn down and a new town erected in their place or should the people take on the more arduous task of restoring the town to its medeaval, baroque and renaissance glory?
The sense of place and past I noted earlier held sway and the people of Nürnberg spent the next 30-40 years carefully restoring the town as much as they could. Even the large churches had to be nearly completely rebuilt but the artwork saved in the bunkers under the castle are in place as it was for centuries. Many of today’s buildings are only about 50 years old, but they look as though they’ve been standing for hundreds of years. I for one am glad a respect for the past won out.
Every region of Germany has the best sausage and the best beer in the world. Just ask the fiercely proud residents in any region. Nürnberg is known for its small pork sausages seasoned liberally with marjoram. In most places, one or two sausages or brats would be sufficient for a restaurant dinner, but in Nürnberg you need to order at least six, eight or ten to go with your sauerkraut or warm potato salad. Or, you can do as I did and go to the takeout window in the restaurant and order “Three on a Bun,” cover it liberally with mustard or horseradish and enjoy it as you walk though the narrow streets. The other half of the Nürnberg culinary experience has to be the craft brewed Rotbier or red beer and the best place to get it is the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof (Old City Brew House) where they’ve been making it the same way for nearly 300 years. Both the brats and the beer convinced me that my German roots are real. I think I could live here on those two things alone. My guide, Andreas, informed me that “A man without a beer belly is not yet a man.” I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go, though.
Nürnberg’s most famous son was the artist Albrecht Dürer (1451-1528), known mostly for his woodcuts but also a prolific painter. Unfortunately for the people of Nürnberg, he achieved great fame during his lifetime and most of his works hang in great museums throughout Europe and not in his hometown. They did preserve the house he lived in and created a small museum there, but, unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow time for a visit.
Today we left the Main River in Nürnberg and headed south through a 150-mile long canal that will take us to the Danube and into Austria. The canal journey will carry us through more than two dozen locks, two of which are 80′ high. As I was writing this we sailed along an aquaduct that flows above a highway and Marilyn got to see the four-lane road below our river highway. No doubt, it’s some shock to drivers of cars below to see a 2,000 ton cruise ship above their heads.
More from Nuremberg