Nuremberg: Cultural mecca sheds light on medieval, modern epochs

by David Ruderman 104th Area Support Group Public Affair

While it may be best known as a Christmas market destination, Americans serving in Germany should add Nuremberg to their list of must-see sights before leaving Europe. Situated in the northern Bavarian hill country, the city of half a million offers unique insights into Germany’s medieval and more recent past while serving up some of its best contemporary amenities.
Visitors to the historical center will immediately understand the source of Nuremberg’s name, which means “rocky hill,” as they negotiate the cobblestone streets leading up to the Kaiserburg. The hilltop castle dominating the old town’s north side is the former seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Today it houses an extensive collection of arms and historical artifacts. From its parapets and the surrounding old town walls, one can easily imagine the city below as the bustling medieval town of 40,000 it was when it reached its peak as a center of wealth, political power, science and the arts in the mid-16th century.
Straddling the Pegnitz River, its two halves linked by an intriguing series of small bridges, Nuremberg first appeared in the historical record in 1050. The town prospered as a pilgrimage site and was designated a free imperial city in 1219. The town gained status and wealth as a seat of secular power following Emperor Charles IV’s proclamation of the Golden Bull in 1356, which made it the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
Nuremberg flourished in the high Middle Ages as a major node on the north-south trade routes that linked a rapidly developing Northern Europe with Italy and the Mediterranean world. The city’s wealth supported a burgeoning middle class of artisans, scientists and thinkers. The golden age of its ascendance in the 15th and 16th centuries is crowned by the life and work of its best known native son, the archetypal German Renaissance man Albrecht Dürer.
Dürer (1471-1528), best known for his unparalleled skill as an etcher and engraver, was recognized in his own lifetime as one of the all time masters of painting and engraving. Visitors to the Albrecht Dürer Haus, just below the Kaiserburg, can tour the house where he lived and worked during most of his adult life. The small museum affords the public a feel for the world of that time, including re-creations of Dürer’s workshop and a printing press from that time.
To see Dürer’s original work, go to the Germanisches National Museum, where some of his paintings are on display along with those of other important northern masters. The museum, one of the largest in Germany, also boasts an exceptional series of collections, ranging from the prehistoric through the Roman, medieval and modern
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays. Information in English is available on the Web at
While flourishing as a center of learning and publishing through the early days of the Lutheran Reformation, Nuremberg fortunes peaked just as the Middle Ages began to fade. The Age of Exploration diminished its importance as a mercantile center and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) sent the town into a decline in wealth and influence that lasted for over two centuries.