J&D's Travelog


Nürnberg, Germany

December 10, 2008

Since D’s parents were unable to make their 50th anniversary cruise of the Greek Isles, we decided to pay them a pre-Christmas visit to see how they were doing. We hadn’t been to Germany since the 2006 World Cup, and we decided to get into the spirit of the season by experiencing a Christmas market. D’s aunt lives in Würzburg, so it made sense to combine a day of catching up with family and a day visiting one of Germany’s best known holiday markets in Nürnberg. So after a half-day on the train, lunch in the Ratskeller, the obligatory kaffeeklatsch to catch up on family matters, and an evening strolling around Würzburg, we were on our way the next morning to see the sights of Nürnberg.

St. Killian was one of three Irish missionaries that converted the inhabitants of Würzburg to Christianity in 868AD.
A night scene of St. Kilian and the Festung Marienberg in Würzburg.

The Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit) was built in 1333 to care for the elderly.
Heilig-Geist-Spital on the Pegnitz.

Albrecht Dürer's painting of a hare is one of his most famous watercolors.
Dürer's rabbit.

The Kaiserburg has three sections and hosted many Holy Roman Emperors.
The castle at Nürnberg.

The King's Gate is one of five gates that allowed entrance through the city walls.

The Imperial coat of arms displayed at the Kaierburg.
Castle courtyard entrance.

The St-Lorenz-Kirche was built in the 13th century and suffered severe bombing damage in World War II.
St. Lorenz church.

Albrecht Dürer's birthplace is an excellent example of medieval Nürnberg sandstone and timber architecture.

The Altstadt

To most people, the history of Nürnberg (anglicized to Nuremberg) will forever be entwined with the Third Reich and World War II. However, the importance of the city from an historical perspective dates back to the First Reich. In the middle ages, it was generally regarded as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a conglomeration of central European states formed from Charlemagne’s kingdom. For five hundred years, Nürnberg was the site of the empire’s administrative gatherings called reichstage which were held in the city’s castle beginning in 1050. The emperors themselves were required by law to occupy the castle during these congresses leading to it being called the Kaiserburg.

Nürnberg flourished during this period as it sat along a major trade route between Italy and northern Europe. It was also granted status as an Imperial Free City meaning that it answered only to the Holy Roman Emperor. The city became a center for trades such as printing and toymaking but also for art and science due in part to the presence of Albrecht Dürer who was seen as the "DaVinci of the North". Dürer was born in Nürnberg and made contributions in astronomy, geometry, anatomy, painting, engraving, and printing – a true Renaissance man. The Thirty Years War initiated a decline in the city’s influence which eventually culminated in Napoleon’s decision to put it under Bavarian control.

In addition to the castle that overlooks the city, Nürnberg is surrounded by impressive city walls, much of which is still standing. The city was an important manufacturing site of engines for airplanes and tanks during World War II, and it therefore suffered severe bombing which destroyed about 90% of the old city. Most of the historic parts have since been rebuilt to their pre-war appearance, but the area near the castle known as the Burgviertel remained relatively unscathed. This section of town still retains its medieval charm with narrow cobblestone streets and half-timber houses. This is where the Albrecht-Dürer-Haus has been preserved with a number of the artist’s woodcuts, paintings, and etchings.

The Kaiserburg watches over a square in the Burgviertel.
Dürerplatz in the Burgviertel.

Nürnberg is surrounded by three miles of city walls.
Nürnberg's city walls.

The Henkerturm was home to the city's hangman whose job was considered dishonerable (albeit necessary) and therefore lived in seclusion.

The Kongresshalle now houses a museum dedicated to remembering the horrors of the Third Reich.
The Congress Hall.

The construction of several structures were halted when the war began.
Speer's ultimate plan.

The EasyCredit Frankenstadion is home to "Der Club" - 1 FC Nürnberg.
Home of "Der Club".

The Grosse Strasse was aligned with the Kaiserburg as a symbolic nod to the German First Reich.
The Grosse Strasse.


The structures at the Reichparteitagsgelände are some of the few remaining from the Third Reich.
Remnants of the viewing area that lined the Grosse Strasse.


The Führer spoke from the central dais during the Nürnberg rallies.
The Zepplintribune.


From the Zepplintribune and the speaker's platform, one has a nice view of the Frankenstadion.
A view across the Zepplinfeld.


Speer used nearly 150 spotlights pointing to the sky to create the effect of a "cathedral of light".
Towers that supported spotlights surrounding the Zepplinfeld.


Signs of Nürnberg’s nefarious past can be seen southeast of the city in a park called the Volkspark Dutzendteich. Hitler regarded Nürnberg as the most German city in the Reich owing to its geographical location and of course its central role in German history. It was also the hometown of Julius Streicher, one of Hitler’s earliest supporters, and had a history of anti-Semitism as evidenced by several purges of Jewish inhabitants during its history. In fact the Reichtag issued new laws from Nürnberg in 1935 that defined the German race and revoked the German citizenship of Jews. Many of these reasons contributed to Hitler’s decision to make Nürnberg a showpiece of National Socialism.

As early as 1927, Nürnberg hosted the Nazi party congress, a gathering of party officials and members from all over Germany in a celebration of their allegiance to the Third Reich. Once the National Socialist Party ruled Germany, the congresses were held annually in Nürnberg, and attendance steadily climbed to the point that the rallies were moved to accommodate the growing crowd. Hitler tapped Albert Speer to create a grandiose complex called the Reichsparteitagsgelände to host the rallies and to last as long as the Thousand Year Reich. Speer’s plans called for incorporating the existing Ehrenhalle, a World War I memorial, into a large gathering area called the Luitpoldarena with a capacity for 150,000 people.

Just to the east of the Ehrenhalle is the largest structure of the complex that is still standing. Though modeled after the Coliseum in Rome, the Kongresshalle would have been twice the size. It was intended as a meeting hall to accommodate 50,000 people; however, the top levels and roof were never completed because of the war. Today, it is preserved as the largest building of the Nazi era that remains and houses a museum dedicated to remembering the horrors and implications of National Socialism. Outside of the Kongresshalle is the starting point of the Grosse Strasse (Great Street), a 200 ft wide and one mile long granite thoroughfare that bisected the complex. Steps built on either side were meant to serve as bleachers for crowds to watch the military processions held here. Only three quarters of the road was ever completed, and it is currently used as a parking lot for events.

Heading north from the Grosse Strasse, we came to the remnants of the Zeppelinfeld. This one time park where one of Graf Zeppelin’s airships once landed was converted by Speer into a massive parade ground fronted by a granite grandstand from which the Führer addressed his followers. Surrounding the field were concrete towers that contained restrooms and supported the 150 spotlights used during nighttime rallies. Speer had the lights arranged so that they pointed straight up into the darkness thereby causing the facility to appear as a "cathedral of light" when illuminated. All these lights needed power, so a power substation was built behind the Zeppelintribune. We swung around behind the railroad tracks to take a look and found that it is now a Burger King, yet the traces of a Nazi eagle emblem are still visible.

Two major projects at the grounds never neared completion. Speer's plans included a parade ground called the Märzfeld that would be larger than 80 football fields and surrounded by spectator stands. An even loftier undertaking was the Deutches Stadion (German Stadium) which was to hold 400,000 spectators and was by order of the Führer to host all future Olympic Games. The demands of the war halted both projects, and many of structures were either demolished during the Allied occupation or years after for public safety reasons.

High-ranking Nazi officials returned one last time to Nürnberg in 1945 when they faced an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes. The Allied forces chose Nürnberg specifically for its location in the American occupied zone, its spacious courthouse, and its symbolism as a Third Reich showpiece. Albert Speer, architect of the Reichsparteitagsgelände, avoided the hangman’s noose, although convicted of using slave labor, and instead served a 20 year prison sentence.

The Ehrenhalle was incorporated into the Luitspold arena early on.
At the Ehrenhalle.

The crowds at the rallies outgrew the capacity of the Luitspoldarena prompting the construction of the Zepplinfeld.
The Luitpold arena - then and now.

The substation was built to provide power to the "cathedral of light".
You have to love the irony.

The Frauenkirche was built in the 14th century on the ruins of a synagogue destroyed during  one of several pogroms.
Mmmmm... Nürnbergwürstchen.

The making of gingerbread (ginger acts as a preservative) in Nürnberg dates back to the 14th century.
Lebkuchen peddlers.

The Frauenkirche and Schöne Brunnen are some of the most recognized symbols of Nürnberg.
The Shöner Brunnen and Frauenkirche.


As we toured the Rechsparteitagsgelände, it began to snow – the kind that is heavy and wet. By the time we returned to the Altstadt, we were both very cold and wet. We thawed out in a stube with hot coffee, a bowl of soup, and some rotbier – a Nürnberger specialty. We were holding out for the evening’s main event, the Christmas market, which would surely provide plenty of warm glühwein, Nürnberger würstchen, and gebrannte mandeln. Although Nürnberg is particulary known for its lebkuchen (gingerbread), neither of us have a taste for it. So we roamed around the market checking out each stall, admiring the ornate Schöner Brunnen and Frauenkirche, and just taking in the holiday atmosphere.

No one is certain as to the age of the Christmas market in Nürnberg. The earliest recorded date seems to be 1628, but there is circumstantial evidence to indicate it is much older. It is neither the oldest Christmas market in Germany (Dresden’s dates back to 1434) nor the largest (Stuttgart’s has over 200 stalls), but it is the most famous. The market’s popularity waned over the centuries, and it was moved from the Hauptmarkt (main marketplace) to smaller squares around the city. Interestingly, it was the National Socialists that rejuvenated the market by moving it back to the Hauptmarkt and romanticizing its Germanic significance by converting it into a Christkindlesmarkt. Conceived by Martin Luther in the 15th century as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Saint Nicholas, it is the blond-haired and winged Christkind (Christ child) who delivers gifts to the children on Christmas Eve. The Nürnberg market opens each year with a ceremony in which an actress portraying the Christkind is introduced to the crowd and delivers a speech of faith and hope for the future.

Carmelized nuts and gingerbread hearts are a staple of every Christmas market.
Typical Christmas market offerings.

Turning the brass ring three times supposedly brings luck.  Its legend goes back to forbidden love between the iron worker's daughter and his apprentice.
The Shöner Brunnen's Messingring.

As with many expanding urban Christmas markets, more stalls are located in some of the surrounding squares of the old city.
Lorenzplatz and the Nassauer Haus.

Given the cold wet weather, a carriage ride looked appealing.
Carriage rides in the Altstadt.

Event organizers urge stall owners to sell handmade Christmas articles over mass-produced plastic trinkets.
Hand-painted tree ornaments for sale.

The Christmas market in Nürnberg is nicknamed "the little town of cloth and wood".
The Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg.

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