Since I am kind of a 20th century history nerd, some of the sites that I wanted to see involve the Second World War, which led me to this trip to Nuremberg, the former stronghold of the NSDAP (The Nazi Party). It was also a change from what I was usually seeing: castles and churches, or in Deutsch, schloesser und kirchen.
I would have gone to Nuremberg with the friends I’ve met here, but none of them were as excited about it as I was, so I went alone. Going on trips alone as its advantages. The main one being that I can decide on where I want to go, rather than have to compromise with the group.
Before I left the house this morning, I made sure to check the weather. If it rained, or it was too cold, I wouldn’t go. Luckily for me, Google Weather told me that the temperature in Nuremberg would be 0 to 6 degrees. That’s warm enough for me.
Along the way, the train stopped at a few stations and when I saw the people outside, I had a suspicion that it was colder than what Google told me. Seeing the people all bundled up in toques, scarves, and big jackets, it had to be cold. Every time they exhaled, I’d see a thick fog. Later on, I even saw a lake that was completely frozen over. Hopefully the weather warms up this afternoon. In the meantime, I’ll be on the train, where it’s heated.
Looking outside the window, I got a really good view of the German countryside. In some parts, all I saw were farmlands and a few small houses. The grass sparkled as light passed through the morning dew. I guess it was warming up after all. I also saw some wind turbines and forests in the distance. I didn’t even see any paved roads until I got closer to the town. The view was made especially better with the bright blue sky and the light of the early morning. Some people took advantage of such a good day by going horseback riding on the dirt roads by the farmlands.
The usual routine for visiting a new city for me involves going to the main station (Hauptbahnhof) and then following the signs there to the tourist information center to get a free city map. Usually the step that follows is going to the old town (Altstadt). However, in this city, there was one place I had to visit. It was the National Socialist party rally grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelandes). On the site was a documentation center that recorded the history of the origin of the Nazi Party and their story up until the Nuremberg Trials. Also on the site was the area which the rally itself was held (Zeppelinfeld) and the incomplete Kongresshalle.
My first destination was the documentation center. Since all the descriptions in the museum were in German, I got an English audio guide. The documentation center also had little to offer in terms of material items to display, but they did offer a large amount of information through text.
The exhibits began with the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. At the time,many Germans were used to being governed by the German Empire and did not approve of the Weimar Republic that replaced it after the end of World War I. The exhibits moved on chronologically and discussed the origins of Hitler’s paramilitary groups such as the SA (Sturmabteilung) and the SS (Schutzstaffel). There was even information about the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and how the educational system at the time taught children about the Nazi’s anti-Semitic values.
An item I saw on display was an original copy of Mein Kampf, a book Hitler wrote during his time in prison because of the Beer Hall Putsch. Others were a bronze sculpture of Hitler’s head, propaganda posters and a broken helmet of a German soldier.
While walking around the museum, there was an old man taking his grandson (assuming their relationship) to this place. I don’t think the kid knew just how serious it all was, but the grandfather looked like he was tearing up a little bit. He looked old enough to been around during the Nazi State.
Other exhibits showed the history of the party rally site itself such as the architect, Albert Speer. There was also information about how Hitler came to power, the anti-Semitism that he instilled in the minds of the people and the terrible deeds against the Jews that he was responsible for.
The history of the war itself was brief, and focused more on the events before and after. There were clips of Nazi propaganda films, such as “Triumph of the Will” and of documentary films such as footage from the Nuremberg Trials. One of the clips spoke of a song that many Germans sang. The sole purpose of the song was to spread anti-Semitic ideals. The lyrics in the song spoke of Moses parting the Red Sea. But the lyrics involved the sea flooding Moses and the Jews while they crossed to enact the “Final Solution“.
The documentation center was constructed inside the incomplete Kongresshalle, where its purpose was to be a congress center for the Nazi party. However, due to the war, the building was never completed. If completed, the area would have been larger than the coliseum in Rome.
After exiting the documentation center, I walked around the rally grounds and found that it had been converted into a park. An artificial lake that was created as a water reservoir in the 1900’s still existed there. I walked around it and saw the Grosse Strasse (Great Road). The 40 m wide street pointed in the direction of the old town and represented the relationship between the role of Nuremberg within Third Reich and its role during the medieval times. Walking further I reached the rally grounds, known as Zeppelin Field. I recognized it immediately when I saw it. It is the site of where the iconic video of American soldiers destroying the swastika at the top of the building was filmed. I walked up the steps and took a picture of the entire area near the spot that Hitler once stood to make his speech. I walked on to the platform where he made his speeches and tried to visualize what it would have been like at the time. At the rally there would be a million people listening, watching the military demonstration by the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe and the cheering of “Heil Hitler”.
Since the war, there was little use for the area and since then, the spectator stands have grown grass. The field itself was converted to a football field and a bike track. Part of site is even used for motor sport events.
Since the entire area was converted into a park, there were lots of cyclists, and joggers. I saw people walking their dogs too. One dog got started shaking all of a sudden and I joked to myself that maybe the dog was afraid of Hitler. But really, the dog just got excited when another dog came by. I also saw swans on the shore of the lake and tried to take as close up of a shot as I could. If the lake wasn’t frozen, there’d be kayakers too. I hoped the ice was hard enough for me to walk on but unfortunately, the ice cracked when I stepped in it. It would have been cool to walk around on a frozen lake.
Further from the rally grounds was an old SS Barracks. It is now a government office that manages immigration. These buildings are a few of the last remaining structures that followed the Nazi style architecture.
After visiting the rally grounds, I moved on to seeing the historical European monuments, AKA schloesser und kirchen. There is no shortage of them in Germany. Out of the three churches in the old town, I only managed to get to two of them. The third one, St. Sebaldus Church, was closed when I got there. The Kaiserburg Imperial Castle was also closed, so I only managed to visit the lower levels of the castle and couldn’t make my way to the top. At the bottom of the castle was a church, and as I walked past it while heading back to the main station, I could hear a church choir singing. I would have stayed to listen to it, but I had a train to catch.
Despite the fact that there are so many churches in Gemany, the fact is that each one has a unique design. The two churches I visited were called the St. Lorenz Church and The Church of Our Lady
One thing I always enjoy when I visit the old parts of town is that there are always street performers. The music they play always sounds like it’s vintage and retro and really gives the city a historic ambience.
In addition to these attractions, Nuremberg also has the Germany National Museum, a toy museum and a Deutsche Bahn Museum. Since I only took a day trip, I didn’t have enough time to visit them all. One of the points of interests that I am quite disappointed in missing is Courtroom 600, the courtroom that the Nuremberg Trials were held.
At the moment, I’m riding the train back to Stuttgart and writing this. I look out the window and see only the reflection of the inside of the train due to the darkness of the night.
My Picasa Album for Nuremberg