Strolling down the broad, granite-paved Great Road, I was overtaken by a young inline skater wired for music and as she cruised past the mindless graffiti, the discarded drink cans and decrepit landscape, I imagined that, had he seen this, Adolf Hitler would have gone ballistic.
The Great Road (Grosse Strasse) was once the backbone of the barely pronounceable Reichsparteitagsgelände, the 24.5-hectare Nazi Party Rally Ground just south of Nürnberg (Nuremberg) where six massive rallies between 1933 and 1938 saw hundreds of thousands of swastika-adorned supporters gather to pay homage to a ranting Führer.
It was to be the “Temple City of the National Socialist Movement” with vast parade grounds, the Great Road, an arena and a Congress Hall modelled on and much larger than Rome’s Colosseum. Interrupted by World War II, the project was never fully completed.
Hitler regarded Nürnberg as the “most German of German cities” and the birthplace of the Third Reich so, on March 30, 1944, Allied Bomber Command dispatched 795 aircraft to Nürnberg forming a stream 110km long to deliver 3000 tonnes of bombs which killed more than 6000 people and destroyed countless historic buildings. Reconstruction was meticulous and took decades.
Once again a beautiful city in the Franken (Franconia) region of Nordbayern (northern Bavaria), Nürnberg is famous for its quality wooden toys, its Lebkuchen (gingerbread), for Europe’s best and biggest Christmas Market and for its tasty Bratwurst sausages the size of your index finger.
But Nürnberg will inevitably be remembered as the city that passed the anti-Semitic Nürnberg Racial Laws of 1935, as the ideological home of Nazism and the place where the War Crimes Tribunal at the Nürnberg Palace of Justice tried 21 of the worst of them with 11 sentenced to death.
The 315-day trial was conducted in Courtroom 600 which has remained a closed and working court but in 2002 it was opened to the public on weekends for guided tours that include a half-hour description of the trials and a documentary film.
Attached to the Rally Ground Congress Hall, an ultra-modern Documentation Centre opened in 2001, a museum detailing Nürnberg’s intimate connection with the rise and collapse of Nazism in a brilliant and brazenly honest multi-media exhibition “Faszination und Gewalt” (Fascination and Terror) that should leave most people feeling a little queasy.
Nürnberg’s less confronting history lurked within the thick walls of the reconstructed Old Town dominated by the 11th century Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle), for 500 years the residence of Germany’s kings and emperors.
The painted ceilings and great oak beams of the Imperial Hall and Great Knights’ Hall have hardly changed since the monarchs moved out in the 15th century.
From the Kaiserburg it was all downhill. Where Albrecht-Dürer-Strasse joins Tiergärtner Square was the splendid former home and studio of Albrecht Dürer, one of Germany’s most acclaimed Renaissance artists.
A typical 15th century half-timbered home of Nürnberg’s wealthy burghers and one of the city’s most visited sites, it’s worth a peep if only for the artworks and the original furniture.
I wandered through the castle quarter along Füll, an ancient street lined with half-timbered and pink sandstone merchant houses and the Alte Küch’n Restaurant serving traditional Franconian cuisine in a 14th century monastic cellar.
I passed the busy Bratwursthäusle (sausage house) Restaurant and discovered the colourful Schöne Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain) rising 19m above the Hauptmarkt, the main market square, like a Gothic steeple carved with 40 stone figures.
In the shadow of the 14th century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), the market stalls were full of organic fruit and vegetables including the new season’s Spargel, big fat stalks of white asparagus that look like ivory dildos, selling as quickly as the Lebkuchen and grilled Rostbratwurst (Nürnberg Roast Sausage), a product name protected by EU regulation as exclusive to Nürnberg.
From Advent to Christmas Eve, the Hauptmarkt hosts Germany’s biggest and, some say, the best Christmas Market when the fragrance of freshly baked gingerbread and mulled wine fill the chilly festive air.
From the Museum Bridge over the Pegnitz River, I photographed the lovely 14th century Holy Spirit Hospice perched on the riverbank as teenagers sat on the bridge walls slurping ice cream in the 26-degree sunshine.
Nürnbergers filled the main pedestrian shopping street, Königstrasse, with big name fashion boutiques, street cafes, quality china outlets such as Villeroy and Boch and street stalls selling quality hand-hand clothing.
In Lorenzerplatz I bought a crusty bread roll with the regulation three Rostbratwurst and doused them with mustard as the locals did. Then I bought another as I sat and admired Lorenzkirche, the huge 13th century St Lawrence Church that still looms over the square, rebuilt after it was hammered to bits by Allied bombs.
Had Germany won that war, would Nürnberg still be the most German of German cities and would the Rally Ground have been completed to become the centrepiece of a vast German Empire?
I wondered about that as I stood among the rampant weeds at the Rally Ground beneath the graffiti-daubed dais where Hitler once stood to shriek and revel in the adulation and hysteria that once roared through this now desolate place. But all I could hear was the irritating clatter of skateboards.
Story and Images ©Copyright David May 2013 (Copyright Agency Limited)