Ask people who have traveled all over Germany and they will tell you that while they love metropolitan areas like Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt — the smaller German towns and villages provide the most authentic experiences. Nuremberg is certainly no exception! A charming riverside city easily accessible by train, with a walled-in Old Town, beautiful castle, and steeped in World War II history, it makes the perfect side trip from Munich, or a destination of it’s own! While we visited in the summer, and loved every bit of it, Nuremberg is known for it’s famous Christmas Markets and would make a perfect winter city break!
History is what attracted me to Nuremberg. While Germany is tarnished by it’s Nazi past, I believe “those who do not remember the past, are bound to repeat it”. While living in Europe, I’m making a point to see as many historical sites as possible. Nuremberg was a perfect choice, as it is home to the Nuremberg Trials held from 1945-1949, trying the Nazis for their war crimes. The German Justizpalatz, or Palace of Justice was chosen as the site of the trials because not only was it one of the few complexes with a courtroom and prison system that was not damaged from Allied bombing campaigns, but it was also a symbolic choice — the city of Nuremberg was host to many Nazi propaganda rallies, a site you can still see today though it was not preserved and is starting to fall apart.
“The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory, and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.” – Justice Robert H. Jackson
As I stood in Courtroom 600, a wave of emotion washed over me. It was a surreal experience to being standing in the very spot where history was made, and justice was served, particularly since I had visited Auschwitz 8 months earlier and witnessed the horrors the place held. We were lucky to be able to visit room 600, as it is still an active court room, and visitors can only enter when a trial is not in session. The Palace of Justice also holds a large exhibition documenting the Nuremberg Trials, and the war criminals that were tried. I was there with my family, and wanted to soak up every bit of information, and we stayed almost 2 hours (I had to rush to finish), but others seemed to breeze through and have a shorter visit. The exhibition gives a thorough history of the criminals and the trials, in which 4 indictments were brought against the accused: 1) participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace 2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace 3) war crimes 4) crimes against humanity. These monumental and historical trials brought some sort of justice to all those who perished. Visiting the Palace of Justice was a must-see for me, as a small way of honoring those who suffered.
Documentation Center and Rally Grounds
It is hard to fathom how the Nazis could rise to power and have so many followers that carried out their hateful agenda. The Nazis were known for their use of propaganda, and brainwashing, much of which is on exhibition at the Documentation Center. The exhibit, titled Fascination and Terror, features actual propaganda and chronicles their rise to power and attempted take over of Europe. Depending on how much you want to see and read, you could spend anywhere from an hour to half a day here.
The Nazi Party built an extensive Rally Grounds site in the city of Nuremberg, that covers over 4 square miles. The site was used for rallies and propaganda as they rose to power. From 1933-1938, six major Nazi rallies were held there. Zeppelin Field and the grandstand encompass an area roughly the size of 14 football stadiums. The eerie remains of Zeppelin field are haunting, even on a sunny summer day. Standing amongst the crumbling stone grandstand with overgrown weeds and grass, my mind is transported to black and white film footage and I can hear the echoes of the Nazi cheers and rallies. How they could have possibly risen to power on a platform of pure evil is unfathomable, but it is still history and worth seeing in person.
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
If you made it through all my musings about Nuremberg’s Nazi history, and you’re STILL with me, thank you! I recognize not everyone is as big a World War II history nerd as I am. One of my favorite things to do when we visit a city is to tour the castle! It amazes me that some of the castles I’ve visited in Europe are 1,000 years (or more) older than any building in the United States. I’ll be honest – I’ve seen plenty of exhibits – swords, torture devices, armor, and blah blah blah. BUT, I never get sick of a tower climb because I am always rewarded with amazing views of the city. (Side note, getting up early and being in line when the tower or castle opens will often save you some wait time. However, often the view is hazy or foggy first thing in the morning so consider the weather that day.) Despite my previous comments about exhibits, the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg did have a museum exhibit worth seeing, and obviously the tower climb is a must do!
Other Sites to See
Spend some time wandering around inside the city walls, and enjoy the shops, restaurants, cathedrals, and quintessential Bavarian architecture. Much of Nuremberg was badly damaged during World War II, but buildings and churches have been restored.