I always mean to research the cities we will visit before the Ramblers leave on their trip. This sounds good, and would be very good, but usually it never happens. Life intervenes and instead I find myself knowing only what we have learned from our guides and the handouts provided by Uniworld. Obviously the quality of the information on our tours,depends on the knowledge of the guide, and while most are at least good, some could be better at their jobs.
The first part of our tour, which had featured a drive through the ruins of Hitler’s grandiose rally grounds, really was almost self explanatory. And the rally grounds were still there, in pretty bad shape to be sure, but recognizable. The second part of our day featured a walking tour of the historic old town of Nuremberg , and it looked looked amazing. Looking around as we walked on the cobblestone streets, the Ramblers could imagine that nothing much had changed since the middle ages. Our guide mentioned that the whole area had been heavily bombed during WWII, but it wasn’t until I got home and did some research, that I realized the extent of the damage. Those same beautiful medieval buildings, not to mention the castle, had been reduced to rubble, or in the case of the Frauenkirche, merely a shell of their former selves. However, the people of Nuremberg were determined to rebuild them and rebuild they did, using bricks from the debris, although half of the old imperial city was lost forever.
For the sake of accuracy, I must mention that the castle was crumbling in the 19th century, and they had already done some restoration work before WWII. However afterwards, the buildings were almost flattened.
On 2 January 1945, the medieval alstadt was systematically bombed by the RAF and the USAF and about ninety percent of it was destroyed in only one hour; 1,800 residents were killed and roughly 100,000 displaced. In February 1945, additional attacks followed. By the end of the war, about 6,000 Nuremberg residents are estimated to have been killed in air raids. Why did the allies rain terror and destruction on the heart of this beautiful city known mainly for its manufacture of toys before the war? Of course, the fact that Hitler had chosen it as his special city didn’t help. In addition, during a bombing raid in 1944, the allies suffered their heaviest losses to date, losing a hundred planes to the defenders of the city. Six months later, the Germans had run out of fuel and were only able to offer a token resistance. Thus the allies could bomb the city almost unopposed.
Obviously, the historic center was not a military target, and so the raid did not have a military purpose.
We were glad that the Nurembergers had worked so hard to restore their city as it provided us with an enjoyable visit to the past. Our bus dropped off the Gentle Walkers at the entrance to the Nuremberg castle grounds. This was one stop where it was impossible to get out very close to our tourist target. As we know, castles are almost always built on the highest ground for strategic reasons, and the sandstone Nuremberg castle, first built in the 13th century, was no exception.
We followed a long, winding, uphill path, which led past the moat, now dry, and seemed almost endless to this Rambler as I started to puff and wheeze. Determined not to give up, I finally made it, at the very tail end of the Gentle Walker group, but it was worth it. The view of the alstadt from the castle walls was beautiful!
We did not go inside, the castle but instead enjoyed walking around the grounds on a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.
From the castle, we had a long stroll downhill on lumpy cobblestones, but now we were on our own. The Ramblers could take our time, and even stop, although there were no places to sit down. I eventually regained my lost breath, and began to enjoy our surroundings. We walked down a maze of cobblestone streets past the four story Albrecht Durer house, which is now the home of an interactive museum on his life. Most people have seen his etching of the”praying hands,” but his work is much more complex and interesting.
Our downward stroll eventually led us to the market square which was faced with shops and restaurants on three sides and the Frauenkirche which took up the fourth. The market square is also the location of the “beautiful fountain” but unfortunately we were unable to appreciate it as it was under reconstruction and hidden from view.
In the square, market vendors had on display a beautiful, multi-colored selection of fruits, vegetables and flowers which were tempting. However, since we were very well fed on the Maria Theresa, it did seem silly to purchase any, especially since our room didn’t have a refrigerator. I couldn’t help myself though and eventually selected some giant fragrant raspberries. Unfortunately the pricing was somewhat mis-leading and I ended up buying the most expensive berries I have ever eaten. The cost was 7 Euros a box,holding less than a pound. Ouch! Not wanting to say that they were too expensive, I paid up. Oh well, next time I will ask about the cost before I buy. At least they were delicious.
Our final stop was the Frauenkirche, built in the 14th century as a Catholic church and still Catholic church today, unlike many medieval churches in Germany which converted to Lutheran during the Reformation.
. Unlike the larger, highly decorated baroque churches, the Frauenkirche is quite simply adorned on the interior. Many of the statues looked like they dated to medieval times, and had probably been restored after WWII along with the church itself. Tired from our long walk, the Ramblers took advantage of the seats available inside the church, enjoying a rest after our long ramble down from the castle.
I took the opportunity to light a candle for travelers and those at home while we were there.
The Frauenkirche is famous for a large mechanical clock, the Mannlienlaufen which springs into action once everyday at noon. It is supposed to have done so every day for centuries without fail, but I doubt it was operating in the days after the horrific bombing in 1945.
Although the Ramblers were still in the square at noon, when the bell began to toll, we were at the far end, so we really didn’t see much of the medieval figures who came out, paraded around and rolled back inside the clock. It would have taken very good eyesight to see them without binoculars from our location. And because my excellent camera has a fixed lens, I was unable to zoom in on the clock.
Here is a video from You Tube that shows the Mannlienlaufen in action complete with the ding dong of the church bell that accompanies it. Just highlight the link and it will play. The entire sequence takes 5 1/2 minutes, as the Frauenkirchen Bell chimes first then the trumpeters and drummers spring to life and finally the electors parade.
As it was, we were supposed to meet our bus at noon, and Chad, our program director, busily rounded us up for the buss ride back to the Main Canal and the Maria Theresa. Nuremberg was a wonderful stop, truly a city of contrasts.
Finally, I have included a photo of the Frauenkirchen from the preceding post which shows the church in 1946, one year after the bombing. Some vendors have already set up shop in the central market.