Today was the day of the big ship switch! I’m disappointed that I didn’t get a picture of all of the suitcases outside of our rooms, lined up for yards along the narrow hallway. We were up early, wanting to eat breakfast before the bus ride to the city center of Nuremberg, and the cleaning staff was literally waiting outside of our door. They had to clean all of the rooms and have them ready for the passengers of the Viking Vili, who were coming later in the day to take our places on the Viking Mimir. Let’s just say that it was a bit frenetic on the ship. We did manage to find our housekeeper and make sure she got a nice tip. The entire ship staff was also lined up to say goodbye to us…only the ship director was to come along with us.
Nuremberg & World War 2
If you are a World War 2 buff, Nuremberg is a gold mine. Probably best known as the location of the Nuremberg Trials, this is where Nazi war criminals were tried by the Allied forces from November 1945 thru October 1946. Viking offered a tour (for a fee) that focused on the trials, including a tour of the actual courtroom where it all went down. But Nuremberg was also infamous before the war, as it was the location of huge Nazi rallies and conventions that took place every year. They constructed a colossal, multi-storied Nazi Congress Building in a horse shoe shape, and a vast zeppelin field where massive rallies were held, looking every bit like scenes of the Empire in the Star Wars movies. Viking offered specific tours taking you on tours of these buildings, but because of the change of ships, they had to be cancelled. As a favor, our bus driver did drive us past the Congress building and the zeppelin field so that we could get a glimpse.
For the most part, these Nazi structures are empty ruins at this point, and I can only say that just looking at them from afar makes you feel uncomfortable. The architectural style of the buildings is like a minimalist/brutalist version of neo-classicism. Beyond the style, there is a haunted aura about them. It’s similar when you see photos of old, abandoned mental hospitals or prisons. The blank facades and dark windows let your imagination go into overdrive as to what went on within the walls. In the case of these Nazi buildings, you can only think of the hate filled speeches and evil plans that were made, and it is shocking to think that this took place only a generation or two ago–my grandparents and parents were living within these war years.
Recognizing, acknowledging and coming to terms with the past is not always easy, but it has been happening from the Southern US States all the way to Germany. In the US, the removal of statues celebrating Confederate heroes, altering of state flags bearing Confederate symbols, and highlighting both the plight and importance of slavery and slave labor at historic sites is a long, overdue movement. Similarly, Germans have had to unpack the closeted shame of the Nazi era and face the facts. In Nuremberg, they took such steps by creating the Documentation Center Museum which is located in the north wing of the (unfinished) Nazi Congress Hall. The permanent exhibit at the museum is titled “Fascination and Terror” and aims to explore how and why National Socialism took hold over Germany, what took place in this dark era, and the consequences of it all. I wish we had the opportunity to visit and I would put it on the list as a “must see” on a visit to Nuremberg.
On a lighter side note, just 10 years after the end of the war, the Zeppelin field hosted the Rev. Billy Graham who delivered quite a different kind of message– an evangelical call to biblical fundamentalism to the German crowd of 65,000. And in 1978, Bob Dylan gave a concert here as did Billy Joel in 1995. Billy Joel’s father (who was Jewish) was actually from Nuremberg and fled the country when the Nazi’s took power.
Nuremberg and its citizens paid heavily for their role in the war. Besides being the host to the Nazi Party, this is where legislation revoking citizenship for Jews was drawn up, and where tank engines, airplanes and submarines were manufactured. It was a symbolic target for the Allied forces and the city was bombed dozens of times between 1943 and 1945. The most intense attack took place in January 1945 when about 90% of the medieval core was obliterated by air raids in about an hour. Nearly 2,000 civilians were killed and a month later another series of bombings killed another 4,000.
In the years following World War 2, at least half of the old Medieval structures were rebuilt and/or repaired. In all of our travels thus far, we’ve been to countless cathedrals, churches, and old towns that were nearly destroyed during the war, and out of pride, tradition and determination, the citizens re-build. This is why, when I watched in horror as Notre Dame went up in flames in April 2019, I knew that whatever was lost in the fire could (and would) be re-built. There is the obvious devastating loss of hundreds of years of history, but buildings can rise again! Looking at the vast destruction of Nuremberg after the war, the citizens could have easily swept the rubble aside and started fresh by constructing new buildings in a contemporary style, and in some cases, they did, but luckily for us, they were able to replace some of the medieval structures.
Viking offered free group tours with local tour guides, but we decided that we could see more of the city on our own and at our quicker pace, so we split off and began to explore. We started our tour where the tour bus dropped us off. Looking at the map above, we were dropped at #6, the Kaiserburg or Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. The old walled city sits on a hill, and the Kaiserburg is at it’s highest point. Starting up here means the rest of the tour is all downhill (literally, not figuratively).
A few of the towers (including the round Sinwell Tower) survived the bombings of WW2, but much of the castle was heavily damaged and had to be rebuilt. The grounds were lovely to walk around, but not terribly interesting due to the fact that we didn’t really know what we were seeing. Sometimes, when you are traveling, it’s fun to just explore a town or city with no particular agenda–this is when you often find the unexpected. But there are times when you may want to book a tour so that you can get the most out of your experience (for example the guided tour of Marksburg Castle was really a must to understand the history of the place). However, for touring Nuremberg, we were only given a set few hours and we wanted to see as much as we could– so we went out with little knowledge and when we were back on the ship, we googled info on what we had seen that day.
After finishing our tour of the Castle, we started the descent down into the city’s center. The cobble stoned lanes zig zag their way down the hill…I can only imagine how unfriendly these surfaces were for the older folks on our cruise.
As we were walking down from the Castle, we passed an impressive and ornate facade. This structure, the Fembohaus, happens to be the only surviving late Renaissance (1590’s) building in Nuremberg. It was originally built as a Merchant’s House and now houses the City’s museum. I regret not taking the time to go inside. Apparently, it gets good reviews for the many period rooms, and provides an interesting telling of Nuremberg’s history. They also have a wooden scale model of the town.
Fembohaus official site: https://museums.nuernberg.de/city-museum-fembo-house/
A little further down the hill, we approached St. Sebaldus, one of the three largest churches in Nuremberg. The church was named for Saint Sebaldus, who was an 8th century hermit and missionary and also the patron saint of Nuremberg. The original Romanesque core of the church was finished in the late 1270’s and then additions took place in the 14th century, as well in the 15th century when the two towers were built. As with everything else in Nuremberg, the church was heavily damaged in WW2, but the towers survived, as did much of the stained glass and the 16th century shrine to St. Sebaldus. To enter, there was a donation request of a couple of Euros at the entry, which we were fine paying–these old buildings cost a ton of money to maintain.
Having visited churches all over Europe, it’s interesting to see the subtle differences in architecture, statuary, ornamentation, wood working, etc. There was a definite German flavor to this church, most notably in the large, ornate, hand-carved wood shrine to St. Sebaldus.
The shrine to St. Sebaldus was created in 1519 by Peter Vischer and his sons, who had been influenced by the Renaissance style when they were in Italy. A silver sarcophagus from 1397 holds the remains of the Saint.
My wife and I love coffee. Preferably, a good cappuccino, or a very dark roast… and for me, in the warm weather, I love a cold brew. Unfortunately, I have to report that there isn’t great coffee aboard the Viking River Cruise ships. You can’t get a good espresso/cappuccino/latte, at all. In all fairness, they do offer such beverages, they have machines outside of the lounge that make coffee beverages, but they are pretty weak and lacking in any intense flavor. Living in NYC, we have little coffee shops all over our neighborhood that make delicious cups of strong java. At home, we use a Nespresso with super strong coffees. About the 3rd day into the cruise, we really started to crave a “real” cup of coffee–something that packs a jolt. And finding this much-desired cup of coffee was on our to-do list in Nuremberg. There were a few different choices, but we decided to stop by Bergbrand_Roesterei.
We received no endorsement fee from this place….but if you are wandering around the touristy part of Nuremberg, this is a great little coffee spot where we got a delicious cappuccino and had a place to open our maps and figure out the next stop. Not that we were homesick, but it definitely reminded us of home…it had a NYC coffee shop vibe to it.
Having been fortified with caffeine, we were ready to continue our stroll through town…we seemed to be following a path along the Pegnitz River that divides the old part of town…we passed over a few different bridges and stopped in a little shop selling glass art.
The photo below is the Weinstadel, or the Wine Depot. At 157 feet long, this half-timbered structure is the longest in Germany, and was built about 1447 to house lepers, who were allowed into the town for Holy Week at Easter. They were lodged, fed and given medical care in this building. In the 1570’s it was made into a storage house for wine, hence it’s name. And over the years, it also served as lodging for the poor and a workhouse. In the 1950’s, the interior was gutted and it was made into student housing.
We then came across a pedestrian covered bridge crossing the river. What we later learned was that is the Henkersteg, or Hangman’s Bridge. Apparently, until the Age of Enlightenment (after 1715) every town had their own hangman who were typically socially excluded from the rest of the citizenry, as they were considered to be unholy and un-Christian. No one befriended or made contact with the lonely hangman. In Nuremberg, the open covered Hangman’s bridge (which was from 1457 but rebuilt in the 1950’s) leads to an enclosed portion of the bridge and connects to a stone tower, which is the Henker Haus, where the hangman lived (with his family) over the river. I’m pretty bummed that we didn’t know that you could tour the house and learn all about Nuremberg’s most famous hangman, Franz Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt performed over 390 executions and about the same number of punishments/torture sessions, and kept a diary in which he gives all of the details of his long, 45 year career. I’ve since gone down a worm hole and read a biography about Schmidt….he was feared, respected (and well-paid) for performing his violent job. Link to Henker Haus here: http://www.henkerhaus-nuernberg.de/
We only had until 2PM to explore…when we were supposed to meet up with the rest of our shipmates outside of the Heilig Geist Spital for a special lunch. So, at this point in our visit, we only had about 2 more hours to see Nuremberg…and I must say that in hindsight and in doing research for this post, I realize how very little we saw of the town. Essentially, we did a “drive by” visit hitting a few of the main attractions. Nuremberg definitely merits a full day or two to see all of the sights.
For the rest of our walking tour, I will reference the map below with the stops we made (labeled 1-7). Basically, we started outside St. Lorenz (#1) and then followed the Königstraße down to the city wall opposite the train station and back up to the main market outside of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady).
(#1 on map). Just opposite St. Lorenz church is the Nassauer Haus which was built as a medieval residential tower. The lower floors were built in the 12th and 13th century and the upper floors added in the 16th century.
And across from the Nassauer Haus is the Tugendbrunnen, or the Fountain of Virtue (still #1 on the map). This fountain was built during the Renaissance in about 1584 and features the seven virtues: Justice at the top, and below a mix of cherubs (putti) and the other virtues of faith, love, hope, generosity, temperance, and patience. It’s an interesting mix of Christian and pagan symbols, and the teenager in me had to chuckle at the virginal statues spewing water from their amble bosoms.
Next we went into St. Lorenz, which at 266 feet tall, looms over this part of town with it’s twin, pointed towers with a green patina. The church was started in 1270 and construction took place over the next two hundred years with a completion date in 1477. I know I sound like a broken record, but St. Lorenz took quite a few devastating blows during the WW2 bombing campaign. The two towers survived as did the main structure of the nave…and it was all restored and rebuilt in the 1950’s.
St. Lorenz is a beautiful gothic church, and it has an impressive front facade and rose window, but overall, I would say that the interior decorations stand out more than the architecture. For example, St. Lorenz possess the beautiful “Angelic Salutation” which hangs in the center of the choir.
The piece was carved out of linwood by Veit Stoss in 1518 and tells the story of the angel Gabriel visiting the young virgin Mary to tell her that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit…that he will named Jesus…and that he’s also the Son of God. The face of Mary looks pretty chill despite this rather heavy bit of news.
I realize that I always go off on historic tangents, but I find this tidbit to be really fascinating. Very soon after this Angelic Salutation piece was installed, literally months later, the German Reformation took hold and one of the big tenants of the reformation was the idea of iconoclasm–which basically meant that religious icons such as this massive piece were considered to be false idols–icons–and were heretical. This piece was nearly destroyed by church officials, but it was determined that one of the wealthy parishioners commissioned and paid for it, so it was essentially someone’s private property. Though not destroyed, a compromise was made and the piece was covered with a green cloth from 1519 until the late 19th century–the only times is was made visible to the public was on high holy days.
Besides the Angelic Salutation, there is another rather monumental sculptural piece at St. Lorenz…the 60 foot tall Tabernacle created in the 1490’s by sculptor Adam Kraft. This piece was also commissioned by a wealthy private citizen of Nuremberg. The massive sculpture, made to look like a gothic spire, depicts the passion of Christ.
Luckily, a lot of the original late 13th century stained glass survived the war and can still be appreciated 700 years later.
After leaving St. Lorenz, we continued down the Königstraße, stopping for a pretzel along the way. I have been looking for an authentic German pretzel since we arrived in Germany. Honestly, I thought finding a pretzel stand would like finding pizza or bagels in New York…something you could on any corner in any town. But that has not been the case. At all. We looked when we were in Cologne, Bamberg, Miltenberg and Rothenberg…and we’ve found lots of other German treats and specialties, but no pretzels. Maybe they are not considered street food? Maybe they are eaten as an accompaniment to the meal? I don’t know. But in Nuremberg, we passed by a little octagonal booth selling pretzels–Brezen Kolb. I have to be honest and say that it was not a super impressive pretzel, just a “meh”. I think Brezen Kolb might be a large franchise, so maybe its the equivalent of getting a donut at a Dunkin Donut in the US vs. getting one at a local bakery. In hindsight, I should have asked a local…but I DID accomplish finding a pretzel in Germany.
At about #3 on the map above is the Mauthalle, or customs building. This originally served as a tollgate when it was built in about 1500. It also served as a granary for the town (one of 12) and even later served as offices. Today, the cellar has a brewery and restaurant. And yes, the building was heavily damaged in WW 2, including the loss of the attic and much of the roof.
(#4 on the map) We also came across the very small, obscure church of St. Klara. Built in 1270, it’s one of the oldest sacred buildings in Nuremberg. It was originally built as a monastery church (Catholic) and then a protestant church after the reformation. Today it is an “open church” and serves as a place for people of all faiths to worship. Nurembergers or tourists can also go into the simply adorned church and meditate, relax and cleanse the mind from the hustle bustle of every day life.
(#5 on map) We finished this portion of our tour by walking down to the south east end of the old town (Altstadt) where there is a lovely round tower, the Frauentortum/Frauentor (not sure which is correct). It faces Nuremberg’s Central (train) Station, the Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof. At the base of the tower is a little medieval craft village, the Handwerkerhof, where they sell traditional, hand-made German items…there’s glass blowing and goldsmithing and toy making. I am not going to judge whether the items were authentic and/or well-made, but it may as well have had huge red flag billowing from the tower reading “FOR TOURISTS” because it felt like a tourist trap for sure. It had a “Ye-olde-European-Street” theme park vibe about it. We politely left the area and headed back up to meet with our ship group for lunch.
Lunch was at the Heilig-Geist-Spital, or the Holy Spirit Hospital. The building (pictured above) was built in about 1332 and was formerly a hospital for Nuremberg’s elderly and needy. The ground floor now houses a Bavarian restaurant and I think the upper portion is a retirement home (not far off from it’s original purpose).
I’m not super crazy about these Viking provided lunches…I would prefer to find my own spot for lunch, but for the amount of money we paid for this trip, we took the included meal! We had previously had a Viking-provided lunch in Rothenberg, but it was a very small group of us (see blog post about Rothenberg). However, today’s lunch included all 110 passengers at the same time. As we entered, the wait staff “greeted” us decked out in their traditional German bar maid and lederhosen outfits. There was a little hesitation in their faces, but frankly speaking, if I worked there, I would be annoyed with 110 tourists all coming in at the same time. That being said, I’m sure they are used large tourist groups since Viking comes here throughout the year as well as many of the other river ships. We were herded past the regular customers to a large room in the back. Shortly after sitting down, the waiters and waitresses came around with trays of beer and local wine shouting “bee-uh” and “vine” and sort of sloshed the glasses in front of us. A plate of (cold) potato salad sat on every table. At this point in the trip, we were not new to bratwurst and sauerkraut…we’ve had it at several places. But apparently, Nuremberg has unique and special bratwurst.
Nuremberg bratwursts are smaller than other German/Bavarian bratwursts–they are about the size of a finger. They are are grilled over an open beech-wood fire, served in even numbers and presented with sauerkraut. They have been serving them this way since 1313! Nuremberg was even granted a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union, so basically, you can only refer to a Nuremberg Bratwurst if it was made within the town limits and according to the prescribed method.
I’m just going to be honest and say that besides the smaller size, I didn’t detect anything particularly different about the bratwursts we had in Nuremberg, but that is not to say that they weren’t delicious. Personally, I think that unless you particularly love a food item or are an avid connoisseur of something, then you don’t always detect nuances. I’m pretty certain that when tourists come to New York, they may have a bagel at a few places, or even a New York slice of pizza, and to them it probably all tastes the same. But a true New Yorker knows a good bagel or a good slice vs. a crappy bagel or pizza.
After lunch, our Cruise Director gave us a certain amount of time to find our way back to the buses to begin our 3 hour trip to the new ship. There was a tremendous amount of repeated information because a lot of folks were anxious about the long bus trip and what to expect when we arrived at the new ship. We were pretty sure in the directions, and we wanted to take advantage of every minute, so we made one more stop on the way as we passed through the main market. We stopped at the Frauenkirche, or Church of our Lady.
I thought this was a little gem of a church. Sometimes visiting huge cathedrals can be overwhelming due to the sheer scale of the behemoths. This was the perfect size church to be able to admire all of the architecture, the sculptures and stained glass, etc.
Built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV between 1352 and 1362, this church sits on the site of a former synagogue that was destroyed after the Black Death massacre in 1349. Many sources actually refer to the events as “riots”, but in fact, it was an outright slaughter of Jewish citizens throughout Germany. After an outbreak of the Black Death, the Jews were blamed for the spread of the disease and in Nuremberg alone, 560 Jews were burned at the stake and those not killed fled the town and/or were kicked out. The Jewish homes and business were pulled down to make way for open markets and the synagogue was demolished and replaced with the Church of our Lady. Ironically, the loss of the Jewish population, who were taxed heavily by the government, were soon missed and welcomed back into town and given protection (although they had to live in certain areas and were still highly restricted).
Besides being old and beautiful and occupying a prominent spot on the main market, the Frauenkirche is also famous for its Männleinlaufen, or mechanical clock, which does a little ditty every day at Noon to onlookers in the market below. Created in 1509, the clock depicts the Golden Bull of 1356. Despite how it sounds, this was not an event involving metallic livestock. What this event actually was, in a nutshell, is that Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV made a written decree outlining how things were going to be run in Germany, particularly with princes and electors. A “bulla” is latin for “seal”…so “Golden Bull” really means “Golden Seal”. In the case of the clock, at Noon the 7 electors come out and bow to the Emperor. It’s not terribly exciting, but for some reason we (as a global people) are still fascinated by a mechanical clock.
And that was the end of day in Nuremberg. As I said, in retrospect, we barely saw much of Nuremberg in the short time we were there. Besides missing many sites in the old town, we didn’t get a chance to see any non-touristy areas, we didn’t venture past the old walls, and besides the coffee shop, we didn’t eat at any local and/or interesting restaurants. We may have even benefited from joining the tour offered by Viking…but I doubt it. Had we been traveling on our own, I think Nuremberg deserves an entire full day for exploration, and I would suggest doing a little research before you get there so you know what you want to tour.
Next up for us was a 3 hour bus (or as the Viking folks say “coach”) ride on the Autobahn to Passau in southeast Germany. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad…we are used to a 4 hour bus ride that we take to our in-laws back in New York. To break up the journey, about half-way, we stopped to stretch our legs at a gas station/market which resembled any roadside gas station in the US. I think everyone took too long going to the bathroom and getting snacks…Gary, the tour director was visibly annoyed and ready to get back on the road. And to delay matters even more, we had keep re-doing the head count on the bus (we had a couple who went MIA but were later found). On the bus with us were some young, college-aged men in Viking polos who escorted us to our destination (and did the head counts). Over the loud speaker they told us about the rules of the Autobahn and how seriously Germans take road rules. Apparently, they have very stiff fines and penalties if you break the law.
Towards evening, we finally arrived in Passau, which is on the German/Austrian border. We found our new ship, the Vili docked on the Danube and we were greeted by our new ship staff. We made our way to our suite where our bags were already waiting for us. Honestly, the room looked identical to the one on the Mimir, down to the flower arrangement. I’m not even sure we would have known we were on a different ship besides the fact that the staff was different. We unpacked, got dressed, and headed to dining room for dinner. Tomorrow, we will spend the day exploring Passau.