Trip Start Nov 25, 2010
17Trip End Feb 23, 2011
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But there was a time when the German people did not know quite so much in the way of human rights and compassion for one’s fellow man; it was a little historical event you may have heard of called World War II. Excellent segway aside, Nuremberg is practically drenched in pure, unadulterated, sopping wet history; world renowned not only for its markets and medieval old town, but for the unfortunate claim to fame of being the site of Hitler’s little Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Yes, yes; we strolled the cobblestone streets lined by steepled rooftops and old Germanic architecture, marvelled upon the wonderful feats accomplished at the German National Museum and toured the Kaiserburg castle complex perched proudly upon Nuremberg’s hill top, but when in Germany, it always seems to come back to Hitler, doesn’t it? On the outskirts of Nuremberg sits the Documentation Centre, the last remaining structure of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds turned museum documenting Hitler’s rise to power, the use of the grounds themselves, the propaganda that changed German history and the atrocities committed from Dachau to the Final Solution. Both fascinating and sickening, the Centre covers in great detail an aspect of World War II history that had long remained ambiguous to myself, in just how a man like Hitler came to be such a political powerhouse, with an unprecedented number of supporters - most museums of such nature seeming to focus primarily on, and with good cause I might add, the Holocaust itself. It was equally disturbing, via the various media and documented footage of rallies throughout Nuremberg, to see the streets we had been walking down not hours earlier, literally crawling with Nazi’s; parading through the very same cobblestone streets, swastikas raised high amidst the very same steepled rooftops.
It’s not difficult to see why Nuremberg was chosen as a backdrop for nationalistic extremists, though. Described as ‘the most German of German cities’, the place is certainly that. Everywhere you look within the confines of the city’s old town wall, Gothic and Baroque architecture stands neck and neck between the timber-framed structures almost synonymous with Germany. In fact, all the destinations we’ve encountered thus far in Bavaria have shared this imagery of the classic, picturesque German town, each with immaculately preserved, picturesque old Germanic buildings and historic centres. The first of these little side trips was the town of Bamberg, easily likened to Bruges in some ways for its quaint atmosphere, stores and townhouses decorating the riverfronts and canals. The Altes Rathaus - or Old Town Hall - is a bit of delightful eye-candy in itself, having become something of a town landmark that blends timber-framing style buildings of old with magnificent mural work of pastel oranges and reds, seemingly teetering atop the middle of the Regnitz River. Likewise, with a rather pretty cathedral, palace and Christmas market to call its own, the streets beckon you to explore, often finding ourselves lost in our explorations and many pleasant walks. It even had yet another medieval themed market; a curiosity I hope for us to see more of on our travels, as they are ridiculous fun. This particular market carried a variety of fine quality bows, quivers, leather pouches and even ocarinas for sale, warm cider in clay mugs making the experience all the more pleasant as a quartette of buxom babettes serenaded us with string instruments and song.
The gem of medieval German towns, however, is that of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Barely touched during the war, the town’s historical Aldstadt centre remains completely in tact surrounded by its undamaged fourteenth century town wall
However the highlight of Rothenburg for me was the Criminal Museum which documented crime and punishment - well, mostly punishment - of the Middle Ages. Torture devices galore in the dank cellars of this one-time prison, including thumb screws, stretching devices, iron maidens and generally things of a sharp, pointed nature. If nothing else, the museum convinces you that people of the time were actually stupid. As in, its a wonder they weren’t all still just flinging faeces at one another. It seems if one or more witnesses suspected you of a crime, that was enough to warrant imprisonment and torture until a confession was received, followed by the inevitable execution. There were many actual executioner’s blades on display as well, carrying with it the disturbing subtext that each and every one of them had taken possibly countless human lives in the upholding of shaky laws. Indeed, it seems nothing was legal during those times, with absolutely everything - and I mean everything - carrying with it its own unique ‘fitting’ punishment. Without going into too many details, there were laws dictating that a baker must not bake is bread to light, little or large and punishments offered for ‘bad musicians’. You couldn’t drink too much, and telling a quote ‘lude joke’ would certainly land you in a rather sticky situation. The majority of these punishments, although by far certainly not the worst, involved being chained to a pillock in the town square with an uncomfortable, metal ‘shame mask’ attached, among other things, to make you look the fool, whilst passers by were encouraged to humiliate and belittle you
Throw onto all this a terrific schnitzel or two, potato dumplings and market food and you’ve got yourself some good old fashioned Bavarian memories in some of Germany’s most historical cities. But with all said and done, it’s time once again to move on to bigger and better things. In the thick of the markets by night, we wave goodbye to Nuremberg’s astronomical clock, snow falling heavily overhead. It’s time to prepare ourselves for big-city adventures ahead in Munich, capital of Bavaria, nestled moments away from the Austrian alps. Until next we write...