Nuremberg: The Imperial City

Nuremberg: The Imperial City

On 2o April, 1945, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions of the 15th Army Corps of the 7th US-Army liberated Nuremberg from the rule of the National Socialist regime. The official victory celebration was held on 21 April 1945, on the Main Market Square. At a further victory celebration of the 3rd Infantry Division on 22 April 1945, on the Zeppelin Field, five soldiers were awarded the highest military honor for bravery in combat, the “Medal of Honor”. US American soldiers were stationed in Nuremberg until 1994. Memories of those years of respect and friendship are still vivid today.

Saturday 18 March 2017:

I arrived at the Nuremberg train station just past noon on Saturday, 18 March 2017. What struck me immediately upon my arrival was the town wall. It’s amazing that after all the destruction the city saw during the war, the wall remained largely intact. Originally a “vacation stay” for royalty under the monarchy in Bavaria, Nuremberg is home to an old castle in addition to its relation to WWII era history. The castle explains the reason and intent for having a city wall in the first place, not something you typically see when touring modern European cities. The city wall is practically the first thing that meets your eyes the moment you step foot outside the Hauptbahnhof (train station).

From my research I learned that there were basically two separate zones of the city that I wanted to visit in my short amount of time. Of course I would explore the city center, the castle, some old churches and a few museums. But I also wanted to see the Nazi Party Rally Grounds which are located about 4km from the city center. So my plan was to visit the Rally Grounds and Documentation Center on Saturday afternoon and save everything in and around the city center for Sunday before I would catch a train back home. This logic, I believe, turned out to be best, because I had the entire afternoon and evening outside the city center, allowing me to experience this unique and surreal cultural opportunity exactly the way I had hoped to.

My afternoon started with me catching the tram outside the city center to take me to Kongresshalle, or the Reichsparteigsgelande. The exhibition, which I spent more than three hours exploring, details the rise, influences, and successes of the NSADP (National Socialist Workers Party) in Nuremberg. The city was chosen specifically early in the twentieth century to play a key role in the development of the NSADP, outside of headquarters in Berlin. Walking through the museum you can’t help but sympathize with reasons many Germans accepted Hitler as a symbol of a better tomorrow. After suffering humiliation and shame at the close of WWI, many, like Hitler himself, were embarrassed by peace negotiations signed in Paris in 1919. To top it off, an entire population slipped into a disastrous recession, leaving the door wide open for someone to come in and change the direction of Germany’s future.

Still, at the end of a long day, there’s apart of me that’s completely incapable of understanding how an entire populace could simply turn a ‘blind eye’ to the horrors that were well underway by the mid-1930s. And although I left Kongresshalle feeling depressed about the course of a nation’s past, I’m glad I made my way out there and I’m very glad I took my time throughout the entire exhibition, learning a bit more about the history of the National Socialist Party leading up to the days of WWII.

Reichsparteitagsgelande: Kongresshalle is not the only piece of construction that makes up the Nazi Party Rally Grounds though. Actually my tour through the Documentation Center exhibition was just the beginning of my self-directed walking tour of the Rally Grounds. Much of the construction projects were never completed, despite their fervent and speedy construction orders prior to 1939. Still, there was so much to see surrounding Kongresshalle that I knew I couldn’t let a tad bit of less-than-desirable spring weather hold me back.

Luitpoldhain: After my tour through the Reichsparteitagsgelande I wandered over to Luitpoldhain and visited Ehrenhalle. During the 1929 Party Rally, the Nazis for the first time incorporated the then unfinished Hall of Honour in their staging of the cult of the dead. The “Fuhrer”, commemorated the fallen soldiers of WWI and the Martyrs of the NS movement. The ritual was intended to commit the “party soldiers” present to sacrificing their lives for the “Fuhrer” and for National Socialism. In 1933, Hitler had the Luitpold Grove Park remodelled into the Luitpold Arena for the Party Rallies. Opposite Ehrenhalle, a grandstand for guests of honor was installed.

Grosse Strasse, or the “Great Street”: According to the plans of the architect, Albert Speer, the Great Street was to be the central axis of the Party Rally Grounds. It is sixty meters wide and was to be 2,000 meters long. Only 1,500 meters were completed though. For this street, 60,000 granite slabs were laid. Speer, in his designs, aligned the Great Street with the Imperial Castle in the old town, to create a symbolic link between Nuremberg as the city of the imperial diets and Nuremberg as the “City of the Party Rallies”.

Grundstein Deutsches Stadium: Only a few hundred meters from where I stood visiting this prospective place, the German Stadium was supposed to be built, as the world’s largest arena with a capacity of 400,000 spectators. The foundation stone for the German stadium was laid on 9 September 1937. The works did not proceed further than excavation though, so now in its place is Silbsee Lake, after the excavated grounds filled with water.

Zeppelin Field and Zeppelinetribune: “On 20 April 1945, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions of the 15th Army Corps of the 7th US-Army liberated Nuremberg from the rule of National Socialist Regime.” To read this utterly brought tears to my eyes. Already my day was full of emotional and I was simply left speechless by the next stop on my tour. From 1933 the National Socialists used the area for their party rallies. The Zeppelin Field was the central venue for staging the party’s rallies. Speer, again the same architect responsible for the entire Nazi Party Rally Grounds construction chose the ancient Pergamon Altar as a model for the grandstand. The building was made of concrete, brickwork and faced with limestone slabs, and “is considered representative of National Socialist State architecture” to this day.

This location is where one finds those epitome black and white photographs of the “Fuhrer” addressing his crowds. Today the complex remains largely intact. In fact, I was actually able to stand out on the slab where Adolf Hitler once stood, only this time my audience didn’t greet me with cries of cheer and excitement. To be there, in a moment in time, sharing foot space where one of mankind’s most evil once stood was incredibly upsetting to me. Honestly, I can think of no other way of describing how I felt at that moment in time than simply saying, “Holy F**k”.

On 22 April 1945 the US Army held a victory parade at that very same grandstand though, so I pictured myself in the footprints of the liberators of freedom and a peaceful world instead. This helped curb my anxiety a bit. After said ceremony, the swastika once perched atop the complex was blown up to make the entire world aware of the end of National Socialism.

Sunday 19 March 2017:

First on my agenda for day two was to visit the Imperial Castle on the edge of the old city. On my way there I stumbled upon the Town Hall building and the first of two churches visited. The walk through the old town to the castle was just lovely. And despite not really seeing the sun at all in the sky, it didn’t rain today unlike yesterday, which was a pleasant treat. The old town is filled with narrow cobble stone streets, sandstone masonry (building materials local to the region), half-timbered houses and countless bridges crossing the river that runs through. Upon my arrival at the castle I took many pictures and I wandered around the vast grounds. This castle is one of the main unique attractions in Nuremberg, drawing visitors as early as the thirteenth century. While I opted against paying the entrance fee, I still feel as though I gained a sense of its importance and charm by just touring the outside grounds and courtyards.

From the castle I made my way over to the famous artist, and Nuremberg native, Albrecht Dürer’s house. Now a museum where many of his original works are on display, again I only admired this beautiful half-timbered house from the outside. Located almost next door is the entrance to the historic Felsengänge underground cellars. I’d say this tour was the surprise highlight of my weekend! Not having anticipated a visit here during the “planning” of my trip I’m glad I stumbled in at just the right time for the only English tour available all week. Ninety minutes later I learned so much more about the history of the imperial city, the beer brewing process in Franconia, as well as the details of the underground city of Nuremberg during the Allied bombing raids of WWII. The tunnels far pre-date their practical uses during the war though.

As far back as 1303 cellars were dug underground in the sandstone to store and house beer. These cellars over time grew into an expansive network both horizontally but also vertically. As time progressed and eventually the first “ice house” was built, the cellars’ purposes gradually changed. By the time of the outbreak of WWII and the subsequent Allied air raids their purpose evolved into a network of escape routes and evacuation centers for civilians of Nuremberg. An alert system was developed giving residents a ten minute heads up prior to the bombing raids. Families would layer clothes, grab valuables, and pack their one-alotted suitcase to take with them as they sought refuge and safety beneath the city.

Not only did they serve civilian purposes. Nazi and Wehrmarkt (German Army) leaders set up permanent offices and work spaces beneath the city, taking advantage of the safety and durability of such a location. Even more, cellars were used to house both German art and foreign pieces seized by Nazi soldiers (think of the movie “Monuments Men”) of which their entrances would be concealed from the general public’s knowledge and accessibility. An absolutely fascinating tour beneath the city streets!

Afterwards I headed outside the city wall and made my way towards the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, located at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. This is the building home to the infamous Court Room 600, where the actual trials took place back in 1945. Twenty-four different men were brought to trial in front of an international court of justice and held accountable for the indecencies and horrors committed by the Nazi Party against humanity. Luckily for me the courtroom was available to the public for viewing; as it is still a working court room in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, at times a trial is in session thus access is restricted to visitors. Walking around in the courtroom was as surreal as my visit to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds the day prior. To be in the presence of such revolutionary history is a blessing beyond words. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt standing inside those four walls, but I am grateful to experience such adventures in life.

Located a floor above Court Room 600 in the Palace of Justice building is the Memorial Exhibition to the trials. Another hour and a half spent with my ear glued to an audioguide, overwhelming emotions, and an expression of deep consternation across my face.

I have learned so much in the span of forty-eight hours. I visited beautiful churches, saw unique architecture, but above all I learned the value of owning one’s past. The city of Nuremberg impressed upon me deeply an overwhelming sense of appreciation, respect, and an endless amount of gratitude for every effort made towards peace in our world’s past. May we continue to let these lessons remind us all of the powerful greed that threatens humanity; and yet share an appreciation for the even stronger forces of commitment, compromise and courage that serve to protect and preserve it.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. -Winston Churchill

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