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Germany A-Z travel guide 2020: Nuremberg (The best places to see in a great city)

The name of Nuremberg has become notorious, its reputation taken prisoner by the city’s recent past. This has not stopped it becoming a popular travel destination.

Today, much of Nuremberg’s late medieval town centre has been salvaged from World War II damage and is a monument to a time when a thriving middle class led the city to a commercial and cultural peak. This brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors.

But it is also why the 20th century city fell victim to its symbolism. Due to its central role in the medieval Holy Roman empire and cultural significance in German history, it became the scene of Nazi party rallies from 1927, as well as the venue of the 1935 assembly that passed the Nazis’ definitive anti-Semitic laws.

Given the special place Nuremberg was accorded by the Nazis, and the fact that its courts were undamaged, the city was further chosen for the series of trials over war crimes and crimes against humanity that followed the German defeat.

This recent notoriety has, if anything, increased its attraction. The Nazi congress hall and the court precinct have become centres for study, memorial and a determination never to forget. The court buildings of the Justizpalast have become the location for the Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse, recalling not just the trials but charting the development of international justice. The courtroom of the famous trials of Nazi leaders is often open to visitors. Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände, near the former rally grounds, is now a centre devoted to examining Nazi activity and its legacy.

Independence and greatness

The other Nuremberg was a city whose wealth was largely due to its trading position near the centre of Europe and the enterprise of the commercial class that dominated its affairs. This wherewithal patronised Renaissance art and achievement. Its status as a free imperial city, below a mighty imperial castle, offered its middle class greater freedom of self-government. The building of mighty city walls and ditched defences enclosing Nuremberg’s castle led to disputes between its residents, the Hohenzollern burgraves, and the town and the dukes of Bavaria attacked the castle. The Hohenzollerns, whose origins were in Swabia and future lay in Brandenburg and Prussia, eventually cut their losses early in the 15th century and sold the castle, ruined in a 1420 war with the dukes of Bavaria, to the city. The lack of a powerful local princely authority allowed the city an independent outlook.

The city’s late medieval and Renaissance heritage is preserved most clearly in its trademark round towers and a 3.6km circuit of walls and towers. Many large structures of the period, such as the Kaiserstallung, the Heilig-Geist-Spital, the Mauthalle, the Nassauer Haus and the Weißer Turm, have been rescued from the depredations of war, as well as a range of half-timbered residential buildings.

The phenomenon of the Meistersinger is an unexpected example of the Nuremberg craft ethos at work – as well as its class system. The Meistersinger were poets drawn from the social ranks of artisans of Nuremberg, performing their intricate poetry mainly for their own middle class – rather than the courtly audiences of princely patrons associated with the knightly minstrels (Minnesinger) of Germany’s High Middle Ages. The wordcraft of the Meistersinger parallels the trades that many plied, reflected by a hierarchy ranging from master to novice. In the 16th century, led by the shoemaker Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg Meistersinger were the pre-eminent practitioners in Germany. Today a monument to Sachs and his age stands at Hans-Sachs-Platz and Richard Wagner turned to the period as inspiration for his opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which celebrates the burger class and their art.

The contrast with the commercial class is illustrated by the 16th century Tucherschloß in Hirschelgasse, built by one of the established and successful Nuremberg families in garden surroundings. The Renaissance exterior was, according to custom, restrained by comparison with the inner decoration. The museum inside puts this interior on show, along with the opulent Hirsvogelsaal (1534), reconstructed using fragments placed in storage before bombing destroyed a nearby building.

Another example of a Nuremberg merchant-class residence is the late Gothic Fembohaus (1596) in Burgstraße. The building was given Baroque decorative touches in the 17th and 18th centuries, making it showier on the outside. The city’s history museum inside provides an opportunity to view its opulent interiors, including the dance hall.

The lives and style of the craft class are displayed differently. The half-timbered buildings of Weißgerbergasse, leading to Weinmarkt, give the best impression of a complete half-timbered street. More than 20 preserved buildings towards the west end, ranging from the 15th to 17th centuries, are artisan homes, as opposed to those of the commercial classes. Tanneries seem to have been the dominant businesses, probably producing fine leather. And, not far from the city’s central station, the Handwerkerhof today blends the nostalgia for old-style craftsmanship with half-timbered cottage boutiques and some entrepreneurial colour. The area will hold interest for children and includes bars and cafes.

The craftsmen and the commercial classes clashed in the mid-14th century when the craftsmen revolted against city controls and a lack of civic rights, but they were suppressed and fobbed off with token seats on the city council, while their guilds were abolished. The “free” artists had fewer constraints, but enjoyed little city protection.

The wealth of Nuremberg helped the city, at its height, to make strides in art, science and publishing. The work of sculptors such as Veit Stoß and Peter Vischer the elder is visible in the two parish churches, St Lorenz and St Sebald, while the genius of Adam Krafft can be seen in his crucifixion scene in the Kreuzigungshof courtyard of the Heilig-Geist-Spital.

The Nuremberger Martin Behaim developed navigational instruments that contemporary Portuguese explorers used to reach out over the oceans, as well as one of the early world globes. The city was to become a leader in the manufacture of clocks, especially pocket watches, and toys – also remembered by a museum. Sundials are preserved on many of Nuremberg’s Renaissance buildings.

But the name of one Nuremberger stands above them all – the artist, printer, mathematician and chartmaker Albrecht Dürer, who was also perhaps the leading Renaissance painter north of the Alps. Dürer’s family name (transformed from the form used by his Hungarian father) suggests his forebears made doors, although his father had risen to the status of goldsmith. Dürer the younger likely learned the printing skill from his godfather Anton Koberger, a successful publisher, and the importance of business was not lost on the talented pupil. Two journeys to Italy (especially his time in Venice) and a late visit to the Netherlands taught him much about art. In both places, art and business lived side by side.

Dürer’s consummate skill meant that he achieved the ultimate – the patronage of the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I. His achievement is today celebrated at Dürer’s house, now restored complete with workshop as a museum.

The divided city

The division of Nuremberg into two by the river Pegnitz was reflected in twin parishes, with the result that the city has no cathedral. St Sebald at Weinmarkt, the elder of the great parish churches, was the earliest place of worship for the upper town patriciate. Its 13th century kernel is late Romanesque and the high Gothic choir and much of the stained glass is from the mid-14th century. The towers were raised to 75m in the 15th century. There was a Baroque makeover during the 17th century, before the Nuremberg organist Johann Pachelbel – composer of the famous Canon – became cantor. War damage required much reconstruction, but notable works from the great Nuremberg artistic period remain, including the tomb of St Sebald (1519), by Peter Vischer and his sons, and the crucifixion with Mary and Joseph (1520), by the sculptor Veit Stoß.

The high Gothic basilica of St Lorenz was partly modelled on St Sebald and built between 1270 and 1390, with a classic grand portal worthy of a cathedral, rose window and flying buttresses. Chapels for patrician families were added during the next century, followed by a High Gothic choir and chancel. The scene of the Annunciation (1518) hanging near the centre of the church and the main altar crucifix (1520) are further works by Stoß. A Baroque altar was added in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The other great medieval Gothic church is the Frauenkirche (1361) at Hauptmarkt, built on a site occupied by the city’s synagogue before the pogrom of 1349. The pogrom was brought on by rumours that the Jews had been responsible for the Black Death plague that seized Europe. A push to remove Jews from their town centre quarter around the river was launched. It is clear some of the prime movers were in debt to Jewish lenders, but the Jewish community had also lined up against the emperor Charles IV in his conflict with German throne claimant Günther von Schwarzburg. The emperor approved the destruction of the Jewish quarter to build a central marketplace and church and in the eviction that followed about one-third of the community of about 1500 were killed. Survivors could not return for three years.

Today, the pogrom is largely forgotten and the site is the centre of the opening of the Christkindlesmarkt, one of the great Advent-Christmas markets of Germany, in late November. The site’s darker past is acknowledged on a plaque on the north side of the church and a star of David in the choir. Among the treasures inside the Frauenkirche are statues from the 14th century and the 15th century Tucher family altar. More prominent is the noon daily clock parade of the Männleinlaufen (1509), toddling figures representing Charles IV and the electors of the Holy Roman empire that recognise the city’s place as the venue of the first imperial assembly in 1356. That assembly (Reichstag) came with the edict that each new emperor should always hold his first assembly in Nuremberg.

Nuremberg several times became a centre for anti-Jewish sentiment. It was one flashpoint of the massacres that spread through Franconia in 1298, when a mob leader known as Rintfleisch led a series of pogroms. He assaulted Nuremberg’s castle, where citizens had tried to protect the Jewish community, and led a slaughter of hundreds. Rintfleisch was eventually hanged, but there was a further Jewish expulsion in 1499, after which the Jewish community did not re-establish itself in the city until the 1850s.

Nuremberg’s great buildings

As a free imperial city – its leadership coming directly under the Holy Roman emperor – Nuremberg’s medieval relationships with German power were close. The emperor Frederick Barbarossa built up the Kaiserburg or imperial castle above the city from the middle of the 12th century before the Hohenzollerns took it over. The preserved medieval features of the castle are due to the crown’s loss of interest in the city after the Reformation – no renovations or extensions took place. The earliest of the present structures is the Kapelle (c 1200), of which there are lower and upper sections, the latter with an imperial gallery and limewood crucifix by Veit Stoß. The Kaisersaal, used for receptions, and the Rittersaal, for assemblies of the Reichstag, are on different levels. The Heidenturm tower is also from this period, along with the footings of the mighty round Sinwellturm, but the Sinwellturm’s present upper tower is from the 16th century. The tower is the place to survey the layout of the fortifications as well as take in the best view of Nuremberg. The Burggrafenburg, in the lower area next to the present access ramp, is much reduced by the war of 1420.

After the castle passed into the control of the city, the moat that separated the two was redundant. It was filled in and the Kaiserstallung (1495), designed by the Nuremberger Hans Beheim, was built as a giant corn storehouse on the site between the earlier eastern watchtower Luginsland and a pentagonal tower. In the 16th century it was converted for use as stables, but today it is a youth hostel. The towers were used as prisons from the 15th century.

Beheim, a master stonemason, proved himself master of techniques for large buildings that left their mark on the city forever. His impressive Mauthalle (1502) at Hallplatz, a short walk from today’s Hauptbahnhof, was built on the site of an earlier city moat as part of the system of granaries. The ground floor was put to Customs use from late in the 16th century and the building also served as an auxiliary city weighhouse. But its capacity for grain remained a vital insurance policy against war and famine until the 19th century. Its intricate exterior details had to be reconstructed after World War II bombing. The much smaller building behind it, with Renaissance domed towers, is the last remnant of the facade of the Zeughaus or arsenal (1588).

Museumsbrücke near Hauptmarkt gives the best view of the extraordinary protruding wing of the infirmary Heilig-Geist-Spital (1339), later built out over the Pegnitz by Beheim and completed in 1527. The foundation and its adjoining church were destroyed in World War II but the spital and belfry tower were rebuilt. The Kreuzigungshof courtyard of the complex, with a crucifixion sculpted by Adam Krafft, can be reached through the east portal near Spitalbrücke.

Other distinctive Pegnitz bridges include the Renaissance Fleischbrücke (1598), the western of the two river crossings the below Hauptmarkt. The Fleischbrücke was on the pattern of Venice’s Rialto bridge, though open and much smaller, and built on more than 2000 wooden piles. The roofed wooden Henkersteg (originally 1457) was named for the executioner who lived in an adjacent house and had a stone extension north of the Trödelmarkt island, the Henkerbrücke, which now links the water tower and half-timbered Weinstadel (1448) with the Unschlitthaus, the former tallow house. The mid-15th century Maxbrücke nearby, oldest of Nuremberg’s stone bridges, had to be rebuilt in the 19th century. The sandstone Karlsbrücke, from the 18th century, replaced earlier bridges linking Trödelmarkt with the north and south banks and is marked by an imperial eagle atop an obelisk. At the west end of the fortified city area is the enclosed and arched Hallertorbrücke.

Outside the castle precinct, there are three types of tower in Nuremberg – two of them parts of the fortifications.

Entering the city fortifications from the Hauptbahnhof, visitors see the round Frauenturm, strongpoint of the old Frauentor gate complex to the west and strengthened to be 7m across in the 16th century. Its name came from the nearby convent that stretched to the city walls and survived the Reformation. Neutorturm on the western side of the old town and Laufer Torturm in the north-east are other examples of the robust circular plan. The three were parts of a third city wall that reinforced Nuremberg and served it well during the Thirty Years War, although the then-Protestant city was for a while occupied by the Swedes and attracted an imperial siege.

The square Weißer Turm at Ludwigsplatz is an example of what the city gate towers were like in the 13th century, when the contemporary moat and second city wall ran around today’s street line from Kornmarkt in the east of the old town. With its small fortified inner gate, it served as the south-west city gate but was later encompassed by the Spittlertormauer and the powerful Spittlertorzwinger, a further sophistication of the defensive and Customs gate system at the south end of Ludwigstraße. The square Schlayerturm at the west end of the old town, with the arched Fronveste, guarded the Pegnitz river approaches.

The smaller 14th century Henkerturm, with a plan rounded at one end and later used by the city executioner, was also part of the earlier western wall circuit and connected by a covered and fortified bridge to a larger water tower.

But there were also residential towers. The Nassauer Haus on Königstraße is the only surviving example of a building type that once lined the streets up to the castle but was almost wiped out by World War II bombing. From the 12th century these towers were in vogue among the urban patriciate, inspired by Italian examples, and offered defensive advantages to their owners inside town walls that at the time were less than secure. The gallery and the oriels atop the Nassauer Haus were added in the 15th century by the then owner, but were damaged in air raids.

The Altes Rathaus has both late Gothic (c1515) and Italian Renaissance (1622) facades, the latter marked by the ornate doorways and completed by the father and son Jakob Wolff. The Gothic Große Rathaussaal (1340) upstairs was for the time a surprisingly large pillarless chamber, redecorated in 1520 with designs by Dürer that were badly damaged by bombing.

Decline and rebirth

The return of plague several times in the 16th and 17th centuries took a toll on the city and sea travel provided a bypass for the land routes critical to Nuremberg’s trade. The 17th and 18th centuries were depressed economic times, so the Baroque, which had a big impact in parts of Bavaria, largely passed Nuremberg by. But markets never lost their significance. Fresh produce markets are usually held at Hauptmarkt, except when Easter and autumn markets take over the city with a festival atmosphere.

Reflecting more than Nuremberg’s greatness, Germanisches Nationalmuseum is Germany’s leading museum of cultural heritage, including art (with works by Dürer), a wide collection of musical and scientific instruments, period dress and home interiors, toys, craft history including original objects and an extensive weapons and armour collection. Among these are other relics of Nuremberg’s great material heritage.

In 1806 the city joined the new Bavaria, which agreed to accept its civil debts. But the rise of the machinery industry aided a return to prominence, along with the arrival of the first German railway to nearby Fürth in 1835. Today the Deutsche Bahn transport museum is in the city. Economic activity gradually returned with the industrialism of the 19th century and a Nuremberg company merged with an Augsburg concern in 1898 to create the MAN company. Its industrial importance and nationalist background made it a target for Allied air raids that culminated in the city’s near-annihilation in January 1945.

Nuremberg is one of the Great Cities of Germany on this website.

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19 sites and museums including the finest town houses

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Dresden travel guide PDF in 11 pages

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Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

Nuremberg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Modern Nuremberg has preserved or restored many walled and historic areas. The city’s leading late medieval citizens were some of the best known German personalities. Then came the Nazis.

● Guides to 20 buildings, historic streets and monuments, among them the Kaiserburg, the castle of early imperial German assemblies

● 13 museums, including Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany’s leading cultural history museum

● The courts of the post-World War II war crimes trials, now also a museum

Transport links, urban transit, tours and essential services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Cologne (Köln)

Cologne travel guide PDF in 15 pages

Cologne is Roman, medieval and modern all at once, a city known for piety, carnival and perfume. Travellers can walk the historic centre and the remains of the Roman wall. The guide has been updated for 2019-20 and expanded with new material.

Germany’s mightiest cathedral, which took more than 600 years to complete

● Cologne’s Roman and medieval walls and gates picked out for travellers

● 12 precious Romanesque churches with historical background

● In all, 25 sites and 17 museums of art, history and culture including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and associated archaeological sites

Transport links and urban transit services including fares

Tours, parks, views, food and performing arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites


Stuttgart travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The Baden-Württemberg capital is one of Germany’s beautiful lifestyle cities, surrounded by hills and some of the country’s most beautiful palaces and pleasure pavilions.

● 10 sites including Stuttgart’s castle complexes, Schloß Solitude and the magnificent palaces of Ludwigsburg nearby

● 10 museums and galleries of art

Tours, walks through the city’s extensive parks and views

● Guide to essential services and hyperlinks to tourist information and accommodation house websites and a guide to performance art

Munich (München)

Munich travel guide PDF in 13 pages

Munich was founded by monks and built up by dukes and kings, but became a centre of revolution as well as a home for arts, industry and travellers enjoying the good life.

● Germany’s largest museum, Deutsches Museum, and some of its richest art museums

● The city’s extensive palaces and palace gardens are featured

● Almost 30 museums of history, art and culture

● 30 historic sites in and around the city

● Information on major performance groups including orchestras and opera

Accommodation, food and a guide to essential services including transport links and urban transit services and fares

● A choice of city tours and some of its finest views

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites