The most famous son of the city would rejoice at the way that Nuremberg is constantly reinventing itself. Not least in its many museums. But there’s always time for a Bratwurst in between. And the locals always have them three at a time! A story by Dietmar Denger (text and photos)
It’s a good idea to start your exploration of Nuremberg opposite the main railway station. Not just when you arrive by train. The old city wall acts as a noise barrier to the roar of the traffic. And the medieval Frauentor gate seems like a portal into another world. The half-timbered houses behind are so cute that you wouldn’t be surprised to find them inhabited by smurfs.
Instead, real people work regular business hours in the Handwerkerhof. Behind the Frauentor wall, artisans pot and whet, hammer and cast and carve. Tin and wooden toys, gold jewellery and pewter figures were all exported from Nuremberg, and charming tourist attraction that is the Handwerkerhof, or Craft Yard, reflects this tradition. It has actually become quite historical in its own right. Around 50 years ago, the idea was mooted to fill the former weaponry courtyard of the Frauentor gate with new life.
Neues Museum, Nuremberg NMN: Middle Ages meets Warhol
Just a few metres away, the city wall is reflected in the massive glass wall of the Neues Museum, Nuremberg and appears to merge into the colourful pop art visible in the background.
The giant cube made of glass, concrete and sandstone, which was designed by the Berlin-based architect Volker Staab, makes you curious to find out more. Opened at the turn of the millennium, the city museum showcases art and design from the 1950s to the present day. Andy Warhol, Neo Rauch and Joseph Beuys are all represented alongside one of the most comprehensive collections of Gerhard Richter with 69 of his works.
One especially cosy spot is in the giant nest created by Gianni Ruffi, which is made from the fabric of military uniforms. Above it hang ten dirt-encrusted flags, whose nationality can no longer be made out. Playfulness often comes up against political messages. This is the case with Olaf Metzel’s aluminium sculpture Melilla, which is made to look like scrunched up newspaper, complete with headlines about refugee tragedies in the Mediterranean.
Is that still art or is it design? This question can be asked about many of the objects in the Mixed Zone, which helps to overcome a tendency towards compartmentalisation. Very compelling in a country that likes to think in categories. And courageous too, stresses the museum’s co-director Thomas Heyden: “When I think back a couple of years, it would not have been possible to do something like this.”
The Way of Human Rights: Light monument
From the NMN it is just a couple of blocks to the Way of Human Rights in the Kartäusergasse. There, too, Nuremberg has deliberately reinvented itself. The sun peeps out from behind the clouds and illuminates this accessible work of art by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan.
Through a white gate you enter into a row of 27 concrete columns, each one containing an engraved article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in German and a foreign language.
From the gate, the complex resembles a temple. Skateboarders fly through the air, practising their kickflips. “It’s one of our most popular places, it’s just so smooth,” says one, and sets off for his next jump. A casual scene of normality, a bright contrast to the dark history. This striking installation is one of the ways Nuremberg acknowledges its Nazi heritage.
Old Town: more than just small sausages
Our Old Town tour continues in a real and analogue format. Things get musical as we reach the twin towers of the Church of St. Lorenz. Inside, the organist is practising Bach sonatas on one of the biggest organs in the world. The corresponding volume of sound floats out of the doors into the pedestrian zone, where a busker strumming classic “Nirvana” songs on her guitar finds it hard to contend with the monumental sound carpet of 12,156 organ pipes.
Classical music is probably a more fitting accompaniment to our city trip than grunge, as we are now treading in truly historic paths. We cross the Karlsbrücke bridge, which has stood for more than 500 years, and head to the Trödelmarkt. This small square on the Pegnitzinsel island is hemmed by pretty little shops in three-storey houses, which are just a few metres wide.
Hidden behind the leafy curtain of an ancient willow, a young couple are canoodling by the river, while in the Café am Trödelmarkt, guests are enjoying “Zwetschgen-Blootz” on this late summer’s day. For newcomers to Franconia: Zwetschgen-Blootz refers to plum cake.
And when it comes to Franconian idiosyncrasies: the Association for the Protection of Nuremberg Sausages is also based on the Trödelmarkt. And that’s not a joke: while the people of Franconia are generally quite laid-back, when it comes to their sausages they get very serious. It’s all about the size: their speciality sausages are between seven and nine centimetres in length, a stipulation laid down 700 years ago.
Drei im Weggla: the Franconian snack
“Drei im Weggla” means three sausages in a bread roll, and is the most popular snack in Nuremberg. And if you want to really annoy the sausage stand grill staff, simply order some ketchup.
Any self-respecting Nuremberg local will only ever add mustard or horseradish to their sausage bap. Culinary dishes featuring Bratwurst sausages are becoming increasingly popular, whether it’s a potato and sausage bake, sausages in potato soup or with a green asparagus salad. This is where the local gastronomy shows real creativity.
Left and right of the River Pegnitz, Nuremberg becomes totally picturesque, with its half-timbering, towers, gables and bay windows. It’s the kind of Bavarian scene that makes tourists - and especially Americans - go into raptures, and wonder whether it’s all for real.
Weißgerbergasse: Nuremberg’s most beautiful street
To get to the other side of the Pegnitz you have to cross bridges that have been in use since the Middle Ages: over the covered Henkersteg, for example, or the Maxbrücke, dating back to the year 1457 with its surprisingly elegant sandstone arches. The Kettensteg, a chain bridge with a real sway to it, is Germany’s oldest iron chain bridge.
From the 70 m long Kettensteg it’s just a couple of metres to the Weißgerbergasse: Nuremberg’s most beautiful street is an ancient half-timbered dream. If you ignore the hipster dads pushing their designer pushchairs along the cobbles, you could almost forget what era you are in.
Tiergärtnertorplatz: Dürer’s chill-out zone
A short ascent leads to the city’s most famous landmark. As well as an excellent museum, the Kaiserburg offers the best views of the city. And some charming little hideaways: in the 16th century, bastions were built along the west side, and gardens were later planted on their rooftops. On individual tiers, rose gardens, boulevards and circles of trees make wonderful picnic sites with great views.
The house of Albrecht Dürer is located right below the castle itself. The Renaissance painter, who is known for his almost photo-realistic drawings and self-portraits lived and worked here from 1509 to his death in 1528. The spruce half-timbered building is one of just a handful of town houses from Nuremberg’s heyday that were not destroyed, and is the only artist house still in evidence from the 16th century in the whole of northern Europe.
It’s not hard to imagine how the genius with the flowing hair would have looked down through the bullseye window panes to the street below when he was not in the mood to be a genius.
One for the road im "Bieramt"
The Tiergärtnertorplatz is still one of the most popular meeting places in the city. Just go ahead and make yourself comfortable on the steps. Here, too, Nuremberg keeps reinventing itself.
The “Bieramt” serves 20 Franconian classics, and every week it adds two new creative beers to the menu. Beer has a long tradition in Nuremberg and Franconia and, with around 300 breweries, has the highest density of breweries in the world, according to Bieramt manager Boris Braun.