Germany Holidays: Nuremberg’s war history

Nuremberg is a city with a long and illustrious history. It was the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, hosting the Imperial Diets, and was a major trading centre on a number of pan European trade routes. However all this has been rather overshadowed by the city’s more recent past when Germany was governed by the Nazi Party.

Precisely because of the association with the Holy Roman Empire and its rail links with the rest of pre-war Germany, it hosted the first Nazi Party Rallies in 1927 and 1929. These were rather small-scale affairs, as the party had yet to come to national prominence. However the rally that took place here in 1933, after the Nazis had come to power, was the first of what were to become increasingly grandiose events.

The Nuremberg Rallies subsequently took place each year until the start of World War II and were a huge part of the Nazi propaganda machine. Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will, which depicted Hitler as a Messiah coming to save Germany, was filmed there during the 1934 Rally. The following year the Reichstag was convened during the Rally to pass the laws which removed German citizenship from the Jewish population, known as the Nuremberg Laws.

The size of the whole complex, known as the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, which was designed to last for 1,000 years, is truly breathtaking. It comprises the Zeppelin Field, the Kongresshalle and the Große Straße (Great Road)

The size of a dozen football pitches, the Zeppelin Field is where Hitler delivered his speeches to hundreds of thousands of his supporters. It is possible to stand in the exact same spot on the tribune and take in the same view as he had.

The Kongresshalle is the biggest remaining building left from the Nazi period and is listed for its historical significance. It was never properly completed but the North Wing now houses the excellent Nazi Documentation Centre which charts the rise of the party and how it maintained its grip on power. The permanent exhibition Fascination and Terror looks at the causes and consequences of national socialism.

Between these lies the Große Straße which was designed to act as a parade ground for Wehrmacht soldiers, but was only finished in 1939 as war broke out and was never used for its intended purpose. Symbolically it is directed towards Nuremberg’s castle to highlight the link between the Holy Roman Empire and Third Reich.

Other parts of the site were either destroyed by intensive Allied bombing or were demolished after the war. Some, such as the Deutsches Stadion (German Stadium), which was designed to hold 400,000, never made it much beyond the planning stages.

Downtown

Nuremberg has a somewhat ambivalent attitude to these close links with the most notorious period in German history. For many years the city authorities were loath to spend the money required to maintain the complex, which was hardly a source of civic pride. However 250,000 domestic and foreign tourists visit the Rally Grounds every year and those numbers are hard to ignore. As a result a major programme of restoration was agreed by the city and federal government.

With the educational nature of the Documentation Centre and the rather eerie atmosphere around the Zeppelin Field and tribune, a good balance has been struck between preserving Nazi monuments and using them as a means of ensuring the horrors and megalomania of that period are not forgotten.

The sheer size of the Documentation Centre and Rally Grounds means that their location isn’t very convenient, sitting just south of the city centre. Many visitors to downtown Nuremberg find plenty to do in the form of the castle, the Altstadt, the museums and of course the Palace of Justice, which hosted the post-war Nuremberg Trials. In addition, Nuremberg’s Christmas market is one of the most celebrated in Germany. – Mark Arrol

Looking for more? See other destinations in Southern Germany

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