Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

  - darkometer rating:  5 -
NurembergA city in southern Germany which is associated with the country's Nazi past probably more than any other, and in different, interrelated ways: here the Nazis' racist and anti-Semitic policies were codified, the largest party rallies were staged, and after WWII, the Nuremberg war crimes trials were held here.
For the dark tourist of today, it's precisely these vestiges of architectural Nazi megalomania which can be found here, accompanied by an excellent documentation centre, that form the main attraction, together with the memorial museum about the Nuremberg Trials. 

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: While Munich may have been the "capital of the [Nazi] movement" (quote Adolf Hitler), Nuremberg was considered "the most German of all German cities" (again quote Adolf Hitler) and was thus exploited to a particular degree in the Nazis' propagandistic mass rallies. In fact, these became bigger and bigger and moved to larger and larger areas.
Initially, the main square was used, then already from the late 1920s, the much wider Luitpold Arena outside the old town centre became the venue for party rallies. Once Hitler was in power, even bigger staging grounds were required and the huge "Zeppelinfeld" ('Zeppelin Field Nazi party rallying grounds') was adapted for just that. It was here that the most infamous images of the scarily large-scale rallies were taken, including the famous "Lichtdom" ('cathedral of light') created by powerful anti-aircraft searchlights pointing vertically into the sky. The main grandstand still stands today, but the colonnades on top were removed, as was the huge swastika on the top of the central hall – blown up for show by the US military.
Even the massive scale of the Zeppelinfeld was deemed too "modest", serving only as a temporary solution, and plans were under way for an even bigger rallying ground further south called the "Märzfeld" (March Field). But work on this was stopped at the outbreak of WWII (as were the party rallies) – likewise the plans for a gigantic stadium which would have been by far the biggest in the world (even today), with a whopping 400,000 seats. Stones for it were already cut (including at the concentration camps Natzweiler-Struthof, Flossenbürg and Mauthausen), but work never progressed beyond the digging of a massive hole for the foundations (now a contaminated lake).
However, the nearby Congress Hall, though also unfinished, stands as the largest single structure exemplifying Nazi architecture's excessive megalomania. It was supposed to hold some 50,000 people under a self-supporting roof, in a horseshoe-shaped auditorium over 60 yards (55m) high. The main U-shaped outer walls were nearly finished (save for the top floor), complete even with the granite panels on the outer facade (covering the red-brick inner structure). It's the best impression there is of what Hitler's dream of a new capital of "Germania" could have looked like. Since 2001, a documentation centre is housed in the north wing of the structure – this is the top attraction for the dark tourist in Nuremberg!

Also still in place is the Great Road, made of granite plates (originally intended for mass parades). Otherwise only a few ruins can be tracked down – but much has been built over by housing estates since the war.
Apart from the ludicrous magnitude of the party rally grounds, Nuremberg also made grand legal history: first through the Nazis' "Nuremberg (Race) Laws", which actually codified their racist and anti-Semitic policies and formed the basis for the subsequent intensified persecution of non-Aryan people.
After WWII, the name Nuremberg came to stand for the world's first large-scale war crimes tribunal, where many of the surviving top brass Nazis (including Hermann Göring) were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is now also properly commodified for tourists in a state-of-the-art museum next to the original courtroom that the trials were held in.
The city of Nuremberg has long had a hard time getting to grips with the weight of this enormously dark Nazi legacy, but all things considered it's come out rather well: the vestiges of Nazi architecture were too massive to be simply removed and swept under the carpet (as in Munich), so most of them were left standing, often nonchalantly used for other purposes. Meanwhile the old town centre, which had been almost completely destroyed in Allied air raids, was reconstructed.
In more recent years, the city's Nazi past was addressed more directly – the Great Road, the remains of the Zeppelinfeld and, especially, the Congress Hall are now listed buildings. The latter now houses an excellent modern documentation centre in which the historical legacy of the NSDAP party rallies is tackled head-on.
Overall, while the sites here may not be so numerous, their nature makes Nuremberg one of the most engrossing and at the same time difficult-to-handle dark destinations in the whole of Germany. The relaxed atmosphere of the reconstructed Old Town provides a counterpoint to all the Nazi-heavy depressingness, as it celebrates the city's other 950 years of history, which shouldn't be forgotten on balance either.
What there is to see: Nuremberg features the two largest edifices of Nazi architecture that served nothing but propagandistic monumentality (unlike e.g. the government buildings or the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, which were primarily designed as functional structures). They were deliberate statements of ideology – both in the context of the Nazi party rallying grounds, where those bombastic shows of flags, lights, marching masses and salutes and all the rest were staged.
The two remnants of this that are relatively well preserved are thus both given separate full entries here, as is the new memorial museum about the post-WWII Nuremberg Trials:
In addition to these sites, there are also remains of the other parts of the Nazi rallying grounds. First and foremost, there's the Great Road that connected the Old Town with the March Field – a 1.3 miles (2 km) long and 65 yards wide representational boulevard paved with 60,000 granite slabs (with a specially roughened-up surface so that marching boots wouldn't slip). After WWII the US military first used it as a runway. Now it serves as an overflow car park for events taking place nearby (cf. Zeppelin Field), otherwise it's simply a promenade for people to walk along …
The Luitpold Arena, where the Nazi party rallies were held before the Zeppelin Field was finished, has been restored as the landscaped recreational green area it once was – only the 1929 War Memorial (commemorating World War One dead) which the Nazis incorporated into their shows still stands.
Of the enormous March Field ("Märzfeld") at the southern end of the Great Road, which was supposed to replace the Zeppelin Field as the stage for future party rallies, nothing remains. Only 11 of the intended 24 towers surrounding the area were built, but their remains were demolished to make space for a housing development and no trace remains, except within some green bits to the north-east where a few weathered concrete remains can still be made out in the undergrowth.
Similarly, nothing remains of the former camp zone, where participants in the rallies used to be housed in huge tents – and where later a POW camp was set up and after the war a US internment and refugee camp. Today, the Langwasser housing estate covers the area. Merely a few information panels have been put up to remind passers-by of the area's past.  
The largest structure of the entire complex would have been the German Stadium, intended for 400,000 spectators on five tiers a total of 260 feet (80m) high, over 700 feet (225m) wide and a third of a mile long (540m), in a horseshoe-shaped arena modelled on the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome ... only massively bigger of course. But of this only a lake remains – where the excavations for the stadium's foundations were dug from 1937.
Part of the area was after WWII filled with the rubble from Nuremberg's bombed-out Old Town to form a hill called Silberbuck. The remaining lake, called Silbersee (Silver Lake), has been contaminated by the rubble and is now lined with warning signs "danger – bathing prohibited" (complete with the skull-and-crossbones warning emblem signalling toxic environments) … in a way, then, this has become a dark site of a very different nature than had originally been intended …
Dotted around the city and its environs are various further sites related in one way or another to the Nazi past, e.g. the former "Stürmer" publishing house, former SS barracks, and various arms production plants (some resumed business after WWII). These are generally not accessible for visitors and can only be viewed by dedicated Third-Reich tourists from the outside. A copy of the specialist guidebook "Nuremberg 1933-1945", published in 2007 in the PastFinder series, can be a useful aid for tracking those sites down.
Within the Old Town centre of Nuremberg, one particular place may be worth mentioning here: the "Kunstbunker" ('art shelter') in the rock under the castle, the Burgberg (not to be confused with another "Kunstbunker", which is an art gallery at Bauhof 9). Here, deep under the rock, the Nazis hid irreplaceable artistic artefacts during WWII in specially adapted, air-conditioned tunnels. These tunnels can now be visited on one-hour guided tours (daily at 2 p.m., 4.50 EUR, meeting point and tickets at: Altstadthof brewery shop, Bergstr. 19).
Other parts of the labyrinthine tunnels under old Nuremberg, which initially served as places to store beer, and in WWII provided efficient air-raid shelter facilities for the city's population, can also be seen on guided tours (same price and meeting/ticket sales point; tours depart daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., duration one hour – both tours can also be combined at a discount). These tours are regularly conducted in German only – for specially arranged foreign language offers contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Finally, the site of the Nuremberg Trials, courtroom No. 600 at the general court building complex north-west of the city centre, is something that (especially foreign) tourists have been particularly keen to see for many years. In the past you could only see the courtroom in its redesigned state at weekends, without any interpretation aids, as it was and still is a working courtroom. More recently, however, a new dedicated memorial exhibition called "Memorium Nuremberg Trials" has opened here (on 22 November 2010, 65 years after the trials began).
Location: In the south of Germany, some 120 miles (200 km) north of Munich.
Google maps locator: [49.455,11.078]
Access and costs: easy, not necessarily expensive.
Details: Nuremberg is a transport hub, located along the eastern north-south route through Germany, with plenty of good rail connections and also at the crossroads of various motorways leading in all directions. Theoretically, you could also get there by air, but the airline links cannot compete with the road and rail connections.
Many of the dark sites are freely accessible, those that charge entrance fees are not excessively priced at all.
On the accommodation front, there's a wide choice in all price ranges, including a youth hostel located right inside one of the city's major sites: the castle towering over the Old Town. Good budget and mid-range deals can be found for many hotels.
Getting around the city isn't a problem, trams, buses and metro (U-Bahn) provide good connections. The Old Town itself is walkable. The area of the Nazi party rallying ground complex, however, requires more walking time, but then again, only that way can you really get a feel for the dimensions of these vast expanses …
Time required: the dark sites listed here can, at a push, be covered during a single long day, but I would recommend spreading things out over at least two days to allow enough time for contemplation and really taking things in. Tracking down the more hidden, secondary relics may require longer.
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see Germany – the dark site closest to Nuremberg is that of Flossenbürg concentration camp, some 50 miles (80 km) towards the Czech border (best reached by car). Munich is an easy train ride away, and also thematically (as the "capital of the [Nazi] movement") links up well with Nuremberg.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see Germany – Nuremberg is a notable tourist destination in its own right even without all the darker historic bits, in particular the Old Town, which has been faithfully restored in places, is very popular. Outside the centre, though, the cityscape quickly gets rather dull.
However, the city's zoo, south-east of the centre, is worth a side trip for those interested in these things – I found it one of the best zoos I've ever seen anywhere!
Around Christmas time Nuremberg gets particularly popular (and crowded) as its Christmas market is possibly the world's most famous such event (though very commercialized these days … like everywhere really). The Nuremberg "Lebkuchen" (gingerbread) variety is highly prized. Sausage and beer lovers are well catered for in Nuremberg year-round …  
  • Nürnberg 1 - square in front of the castleNürnberg 1 - square in front of the castle
  • Nürnberg 2 - castle on the rocksNürnberg 2 - castle on the rocks
  • Nürnberg 3 - spires and market squareNürnberg 3 - spires and market square
  • Nürnberg 4 - idyllicNürnberg 4 - idyllic
  • Nürnberg 5 - crazy fountain sculpturesNürnberg 5 - crazy fountain sculptures
  • Nürnberg 6 - beer vaultNürnberg 6 - beer vault
  • Nürnberg 7 - evidence of the local wine regionNürnberg 7 - evidence of the local wine region
  • Nürnberg 8 - human rights monumentNürnberg 8 - human rights monument
  • Nürnberg 9 - monument for displaced personsNürnberg 9 - monument for displaced persons
  • NürnbergNürnberg


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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