December 22, 2014. We’re not done with Nürnberg yet, folks! In three days, we tried to squeeze in as much of the old city in as possible, but we definitely need to go back. We had only a few hours for a too-brief visit to the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle) and its stunning grounds. Just taking in the magnificent views over the city from different vantage points requires at least an hour, then there’s the vast castle itself, the burgrave buildings, towers, stables, and so on … and on. You really need a full day to appreciate the enormity of the site.
I can’t stress enough how incredible the Medieval architecture is — it looks like the inspiration for every depiction of Bavarian Germany you’ve ever seen, but the real thing is so much better than you can possibly imagine. And the museum itself is absolutely terrific. Honestly, I barely remembered much from history class about the Holy Roman Empire, other than it began with Charlemagne, who united most of Western Europe. But the exhibits were great, detailing the how the government functioned with a system of elected kings and princes that seems surprisingly “modern” for the Middle Ages. Only wish I’d had more time to take it all in ….
One of my favorite stories from our quick tour involves the famous double chapel. (The Emperor had his own upper private chapel with a hole in the floor so that for certain masses, the crowd could come into the lower chapel and eavesdrop on his service.) Four beautiful columns support the roof above the aperture, and it’s said that the builder made a deal with the devil in order to get their construction done on time. If mass couldn’t be held before the last column went into place, then Satan won the builder’s soul. But the crafty builder was secretly a priest, and he quickly scurried through mass while the devil still had the final pillar in tow from Rome. Furious, Satan smashed the column to the ground, and today it’s held together in the middle by a ring.
After leaving the castle, we strolled along its impressive fortifications and headed to the house of Albrecht Dürer — Matthew and I love woodblock prints, and his are truly fantastic, and surprisingly almost 3-D in their perspective. Top-notch historic interpretation here, too. The audio tour was narrated by “Mrs. Dürer,” who gave a really fascinating perspective not only on Dürer’s life, but on the role of women in society and how a typical household functioned in the Middle Ages. Even more impressive was that the house itself is one of the few Medieval buildings to survive WWII intact. Because of Nürnberg’s history as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, it became the emotional heart of Hitler’s Third Reich, so about 90% of the city’s Medieval core was obliterated (in only an hour) by the Allies on January 2, 1945.
At the end of the day, we sped through the Neues Museum for a quick peek at the Gerhard Richter exhibition — a thoughtful retrospective of his work featuring paintings from a private collection. Then we grabbed supper at a place we’d discovered the day before: the Brauerei Altstadthof, at Bergstrasse 19. Can’t say enough great things about this place. A brewery and whiskey bar with their own craft beers and blends, they also serve up a terrific menu. I recommend the traditional Nürnberg rotes bier (red bier), although getting a flight allows you to taste all of the yeasty, hoppy goodness the place has to offer.
Another great dining experience, was the Bratwursthausle at Rathausplatz 1. We went for the “famous Nürnberg sausages served five different ways” — grilled, boiled in wine, etc., — and not one of them disappointed us. Afterwards, we walked back across the street to the Christkindlemarkt and imbibed in a cup from the Feuerzangenbowl (Fire Tongs Bowl.) With a name like that, you know it’s gotta be good. Just imagine setting a rum-soaked sugar loaf on fire and letting it drip over a bowl of mulled wine. It’s both a performance and a precursor for a dreamless night’s sleep. Too bad we couldn’t take this stuff home with us ….