Nürnberg (Nuremberg to English speakers) is a city of half a million. But thanks to the pedestrian-only street running through the Old Town and the mostly-intact medieval wall, it feels much smaller. The majority of the Old Town was obliterated by WWII bombs, but buildings were carefully reconstructed or rebuilt in a "traditional modern" style to blend in with the historical surroundings. While you do see the occasional herd of tourists from river cruises on the nearby Danube, much of the Old Town feels more like an urban downtown than a tourist attraction.
But what most Americans associate with Nürnberg is its dark past: the Nürnberg Nazi Party rallies documented in the infamous propaganda film Triumph of the Will were held here from 1923 to 1938; the anti-Semitic Nürnberg Laws, which laid the legislative groundwork for the Holocaust, were introduced at 1935's party rally; and the Nürnberg trials, which took place after the end of WWII, held some high ranking Nazi officials accountable for their roles in the war crimes perpetrated by the regime. Today, Nürnberg's Nazi past is detailed at the Nazi Documentation Center, and you can also visit the rally grounds and courtroom.
We spent an afternoon and evening in Nürnberg, which gave us enough time to explore the Old Town and visit the Nazi Documentation Center. With more time, you could visit the sprawling Germanic National Museum, dedicated to the art and culture of German-speaking areas; the rally grounds; or the Albrecht Dürer House Museum, the restored residence of the Renaissance artist.
What to eat:
Nürnberg's signature dish is the Nürnberger bratwurst, a thumb-sized grilled pork sausage. At restaurants, they're served in orders of six or more with a side of sauerkraut, or you can get three bratwursts stacked into a bun from a street vendor. Besides the novelty of eating a miniature sausage, they're delicious, mildly flavored with a bit of marjoram.
Although pretzels are beloved throughout Germany, they are particularly plentiful in Nürnberg. There's also a greater variety than any other German city we visited: seed-encrusted pretzels for commuters in need of a quick breakfast, sliced pretzels that serve as the base for cold cut sandwiches, and even dessert pretzels, deep fried and covered in sugar. I tried a pumpkin seed pretzel for breakfast and enjoyed the hearty balance of carbs and protein.
Bratwurst Röslein (Rathaus Platz 6) bills itself as "The Biggest Bratwurst Restaurant in the World," which is probably true. It's a huge beer hall-style space catering to the tour group crowd, with long wooden tables and a gift shop. But sometimes, it's nice to order from an English menu, especially when the service is excellent and the food is decent. Also, Bratwurst Röslein deserves some bonus points for having the only clearly-marked vegan entrees I spotted at a beer hall.
In addition to the famous bratwursts, there's lengthy menu of Franconian specialties, with various cuts of pork, beef, fish, and a couple vegetarian and vegan options. I ordered a satisfying plate of Schupfnudeln (potato noodles similar to gnocchi) served with steamed carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower and topped with shredded cheese. Mike enjoyed the Jungschweinebraten, roasted pork served with gravy and a large potato dumpling.
Nürnberg's main pedestrian thoroughfare is lined with ice cream shops, but Gelateria 4D (Spitalgasse 1) is one of the most popular. An Italian chain specializing in generous scoops of "super-premium" gelato, it offers a large selection of flavors, each one with a little picture next to the German name so you can figure out what to order. I loved the rich, slightly bitter dark chocolate, while Mike opted for a refreshingly tart scoop of lemon.
What to see:
The interior of the imposing Lorenzkirche is far more ornate than I expected from a Protestant church--there's even a wooden sculpture of Mary, complete with rosary, hanging over the altar. The medieval church was originally a Catholic house of worship, and apparently no one bothered to redecorate after the Reformation. The church's showpiece is stone carver Adam Kraft's tabernacle tower, a 61-foot tall stone carving intended to store consecrated Communion wafers after Mass. Kraft's self-portrait is at the bottom of the tower--he's the bearded man holding up the tower, chisel in hand.
Nürnberg's Hauptmarkt is best known for hosting Germany's largest Christmas market, but it's still worth a visit in the off season. There's an elaborate golden fountain (sadly, covered in scaffolding during our visit) at one end of the square, while the Gothic spire of the 14th century Frauenkirche anchors the other. The bus stop for the Nazi Documentation Center (see below) is adjacent to the Hauptmarkt, and you can buy bus tickets from the friendly English-speaking staff at the Hauptmarkt's tourist information office.
The Imperial Castle hulks over the town from its perch on a sandstone rock--it's obvious why the castle was a stronghold for the Holy Roman emperors. You can pay an admission fee to take a self-guided tour of the castle, climb up the Sinwell Tower, and visit the Deep Well, or you can walk around the exterior of the castle and its pleasant garden for free. Since our time on the Rhine satiated us on castles, we opted for the latter. Besides carefully manicured lawns and colorful blossoms, the garden offers an excellent view of the Old Town and the Imperial Castle's former moat.
Crowds of tourists amass in the Tiergärtnerplatz, the square adjacent to the Albrecht Dürer House Museum. While the square is picturesque, continue on to the much quieter and more photogenic Weissgerbegasse. The street is lined with Nürnberg's largest collection of medieval half-timbered houses that survived WWII. Originally, the houses belonged to leather tanners ("Weissgerbegasse" means "Tanner's Lane"), but today many house cafes, bars, and boutiques.
As I mentioned above, Nürnberg was the symbolic center of the Nazi Party's rise to power, hosting the theatrical party rallies documented in Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will . The Nürnberg rallies, as well as the Nazi movement, Holocaust, and WWII, are explored in Nürnberg's Nazi Documentation Center. In a contrast to the documentation center we visited in Munich, the museum was dimly lit and carefully designed to evoke a sense of foreboding. The exhibit text is solely in German, but it's translated in the English audio guide included with admission.
Although some of the material is repetitive if you've visited other Nazi documentation centers, there is a unique focus on the pageantry and manipulative imagery of Nazi propaganda, particularly the Nürnberg rallies. I was most fascinated--and horrified--by a narrated clip of Triumph of the Will that provided background information about how the film was made. There's also an interesting section about the post-WWII Nürnberg trials.
The documentation center is a short bus ride from the Hauptmarkt (the staff at the Hauptmarkt's tourist information office can sell you tickets and explain which bus to take). Allow about 20 minutes transit time each way, and at least two hours to visit the documentation center.
Where to stay:
The Ibis Altstadt Hotel (Königstrasse 74) is great value, across the street from the train station and minutes from sightseeing in the Old Town. For the best rate, pre-pay for your room online and purchase breakfast on your own instead of paying for the hotel's breakfast buffet.
There's not much character--rooms are basic, with an Ikea-style aesthetic--but the bathroom is relatively spacious, there's free and fast WiFi, and the well-designed storage spaces and writing desk make the room feel bigger than it is. If you check in online before you arrive, you can notify the staff of your arrival time. We were able to get our room as soon as we arrived in Nürnberg, three hours before the official check in time.
More posts about my trip to Germany: