With a history that stretches way beyond its 20th century notoriety Nuremberg has a wealth of ancient buildings, castles, restaurants and microbreweries to discover for the intrepid explorer. Yes, there are nods to its past and rightly so, they have not been brushed under the carpet of time but this city is bursting with creativity and life that deserves to be discovered.
Nuremberg is one of those quaint, untouched Franconian towns with cobbled streets, old churches and a castle that dominated the skyline. Built in 1105 it is a fine example of Bavarian medieval architecture. Some of the restored buildings (much was bombed during the war) the castle is now used as a youth hostel.
I arrived late afternoon (it’s only 90 mins from London by plane) and walked the quiet streets with half-timbered houses. The old market square was at the centre of the town and I enjoyed a fine steak at Block House where you’ll receive a typical Bavarian welcome with staff in traditional costume. This happened all over this region.
The next morning was beautiful with a clear blue sky. I called into the toy museum on Karl Strasse (a wonderful place to take today’s children to show them how life was before PS4) it was only a short walk from my well-placed hotel; Dürer-Hotel. The museum has a comprehensive history of German toys and their influence. They also have an enormous train set that will delight young and old.
Lunch was at the Michelin recognised Wuerzhaus offering a contemporary take on regional food. It’s very good with a simple interior and excellent food I particularly enjoyed the pork with rosemary potatoes. Wines are also regional and well matched.
I had heard that unbelievably the Reich Party Congress Grounds that Hitler had used so effectively for the Nuremberg rallies in the 1930’s was still here. I took a trip to see for myself. It is a site of some 11 square km just south east of the city. Known as the Zeppelin Field the platform that Hitler used between 1933 – 38 to address the party faithful was still there although the giant swastika on the grandstand it is long gone (blasted away with a tank by the Americans). The space has an eerie power about it, now run down but over the intervening years it has housed public events and rock concerts from U2 to The Rolling Stones. Built with a capacity of 400,000 it was designed for the Third Reich to address their people as a whole and remove the ‘individual’, representing a ‘monument of might’. There is a superb museum covering this part of the city’s varied history.
Nuremberg is as busy in December as it is in July due to the hugely popular Christmas markets. The river Pegnitz divides the city; to the north are the castle and the old streets, these are great to walk around with plenty of good restaurants, bars and antique shops. To the south is the newer part with the largest car free shopping district in Europe.
When you’re in this part of the world it’s hard not come across two local obsessions, sausages and gingerbread. Each town or even village has its own version of ‘the best sausage’, be it longer, wider, spicier etc. It is no more than local rivalry but expect to give an opinion and expect to eat a few while you’re there.
Gingerbread on the other hand is a far more serious business. This is not only highly competitive in Germany but Nuremberg produces more of it than any other part of the country. They bake all sorts from Christmas, summer, Easter you name it they will make a gingerbread for it. One of the finest ‘lebkuchen’ or ginger bread makers can be found at Neef Confiserie Cafe. With secret ingredients passed down from father to son it’s best to go hungry. If the gingerbread doesn’t take your fancy there are hundreds of other pastries to choose from, a real slice of Bavaria.
Durer’s house and studio (just round the corner from my hotel) is worth a visit. Albrecht Durer was an artist, printer and philosopher of the German renaissance. Known for his high quality woodcarvings and prints he was on talking terms with Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci. The museum has some brilliant state of the art interactive screens that bring to life his work and surroundings, a must for any art lover and those curious about the history of the city. Just along the road is an ‘art bunker’ created by the locals from disused beer cellars during the war to protect the city’s art treasures. Guided tours are available daily.
And talking of beer it’s very much a way of life in Nuremberg. The city sits on porous rock that has been carved away to create cellars under all the public houses. Many of these still produce beers. There is something of a renaissance is brewing at the moment and this can been seen (and tasted) all over town. But don’t expect to be able to buy the beer in the shops they strictly brew for consumption on the premises, just like the old days. The beer (and food) at Altstadthof Brewery restaurant is very good and they are even branching out into whiskey as well. Try a beer tasting course of five small glasses.
20km from Nuremberg is the Playmobil Fun Park. For just €11 your child can have all the fun they could ever imagine for the day. Offering a landscaped garden with giant pirate ship, tree houses and even giant shells that spurt water and small shells and creatures (Playmobil toys of course) that the children can keep. If the weather isn’t up to much then the enormous glass roofed interior with cafe and play zones will do the job. A must for those with younger children and as with everything in Germany spotlessly clean and safely run and supervised. They even have a hotel with 28 family rooms if the urge is strong to stay on for a few days.
Back in Nuremberg I checked out one of the city’s stylish restaurants, Estragon. Run with the help of people with learning difficulties it has some brilliant food and charming service with local wines and cool cocktails to quench your thirst. Try out the chilli cheese amuse bouche and the local pork.
I took a walking tour of the city with Ralf Arnold a certified guide. He knows a lot about the food and culture that help make up the history of Nuremberg. Remember those sausages I was talking about? In 1471 Emperor Fredrick III had to intervene with sausage problem, so he fixed the price. This of course only made the producers make them smaller and so the problems started all over again. Nowadays they are a fixed weight of 25g. You can enjoy a plate or two (depending on how hungry you are) at Bratwurst Röslein that sells some of the best.
I took a train to Coburg, which is only an hour away. This stunning small town was the home to Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert. Once a backwater close to the old East German border it was incorporated into Bavaria in 1920 it has a large cobbled square and the ‘castle of honour’ where Queen Victoria stayed (and is said to have used the first flushing toilet in Germany) it a Baroque masterpiece of a town with historical buildings around every corner. Martin Luther stayed here for six months translating large sections of the bible into German. Another historical note is that Prince Albert introduced the now familiar ‘on the balcony’ appearances of the royals.
I dined at my hotel Romantik Goldene Traube in the Michelin starred restaurant Esszimmer. This was a real treat. Chef Stefan Beiter and sommelier Markus Troll along with maitre ‘d Marco Mula have created an intimate dining experience with food bursting with flavour and local wines matched perfectly. The food really is outstanding Beiter is a modern cook with a nod to the classics, so everything is not always as it seems. The food is playful but respectful the ingredients. Allow a couple of hours and order the tasting menu. You’ll get many courses and a smile on your face.
Bavaria has shown me the value in leaving things alone. Where the likes of Berlin are all things modern and fast (and brilliant for it) Nuremberg and Coburg hark back to a previous era, one of a slower pace, regional food and wine, old fashioned standards that mean something. With its charming buildings and polite inhabitants it’s hard not to like. Nuremberg suffered during the war as the spiritual home of the Nazi party and then the ignominy of the groundbreaking trials that saw international justice served for the first time. It has ridden through all this and become in my view a splendid place to drive through of stay for a week of two. With super restaurants, food and shops, plenty to occupy the family and more history and scenery than you could imagine (not to mention the romantic castles that adorn the region) a wonderful place to call your next holiday destination.