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Nuremberg: City of German History

City of German History  Much of medieval Germany is still preserved in the old quarter of Nuremberg. (Nürnberg in German.) It is large enough to be a major commercial center, yet small enough to give you an idea of a country German town. The Holy Roman Emperors loved the city, calling it the "emperor's jewel box." They were referring, not just to the material wealth of the city, but also to its outstanding craft work and popular arts. One of the greatest skills was choral singing, a tradition participated in by citizens high and low. The most famous of these Meistersinger (Master Singers) was Hans Sachs, a mere cobbler, yet a poet as well as a musician and a man of great intellectual force. Richard Wagner celebrated Hans Sachs and the way of life he represented in his most popular opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (the Master Singers of Nuremberg). The opera is based in part on actual events taking place in the medieval city, including contests to see who could sing the sweetest.

Another type of singer from the city is immortalized in a Wagner opera, the Minnesanger (Singers of Love), of whom the most gifted was Tannhauser, after whom the opera is named. Instead of standing for the solid, practical virtues of the urban middle class, which the Meistersingers did, the Minnesanger stood for the more romantic, chivalrous tradition which had originated from the rural aristocracy. The dreamy, lyrical poetry of the Minnesanger wasn't "solid" enough for the growing merchant class in the new cities, who wanted a more sober and restrained style. This is why the Meistersinger tradition rose to new heights in Nuremberg after the older Minnesanger had disappeared.

City of Nazi Rallies  Since the city was associated with German culture and tradition, it was inevitable that Hitler would select it for the largest Nazi rallies in the 1930's. Hitler was capitalizing on the still-medieval appearance of the town, and the air of historical "legitimacy" it gave his movement. Most Americans are familiar with these rallies from the film, Triumph of the Will, originally a Nazi propaganda film made by Leni Reifenstahl, but which is still widely shown in the U.S. as a stunning documentary. Hundreds of the steeply-sloping gables and roofs of the town were festooned with banners and flags, and thousands of party members encamped — like modern followers of Charlemagne — on fields just outside the city.

World War II: Unfortunately for the city, the Allies also had made this association between Nuremberg and Naziism, and this brought heavy air raids. The pilots were concentrating on the industrial works ringing the city, but a number of bombs fell in the historic old quarter, and many of the medieval houses were damaged beyond repair. But the Gothic Cathedral, Town Hall, and other priceless landmarks were spared, and are the most popular places to visit today.

War Criminals: After the war, the Allies reinforced the Nuremberg-Nazi association by holding the famous War Crimes Trials in the city. The leading figures of the Nazi movement were put on trial, generating thousands of pages of horrifying testimony. Nine of the leaders were hanged, but the most famous of them, Goering, escaped the hangman by ending his own life with arsenic.

Nuremberg Today  These dismal associations have thankfully melted away. Modern prosperity and a restoration of historic monuments have all erased the memory of the war. Nuremberg is again the "emperor's jewel box:" its tradition of choral singing continues in the churches. The city's art and handicraft have again made it a town of "inventive tinkerers."


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