April’s Adventure took us to Nuremberg, a smallish town about a 90 minutes train ride North of Munich. Beloved’s work has been a bit chaotic and a longer trip wasn’t possible, at least this weekend.
If you know Nuremberg, it might be for one or several of the following reasons:
- Mandated to be the Official Convention Center of the Holy Roman Empire Leadership, at least until Nuremberg went Lutheran.
- Hosts the mother of all Christmas Markets.
- Is the homeland of both the gingerbread heart cookies and the Nümberg Sausage, a little Bratwurst.
- Hosted the National Gatherings of the Nazi Party pre-WWII
- Got nearly leveled by WWII bombing runs, and still resisted several divisions of the US Army for a few days.
- Hosted the primary trials of the Nazi leadership.
- Still has (mostly) the original medieval walls and a very charming downtown.
- Continues to host significant conventions, most especially toys.
We packed one suitcase between us and took the train north. Because its a regional train, most folks don’t reserve a seat. If the seats are all filled up then people either stand in the aisle, like they’re riding a city bus, or sit on the floor along the corridors. On our train, a group of American students settled in, on the floor, at one end of our car.
Did you know that Americans are loud? I didn’t really notice how loud till I started living here. The students talked loud, laughed loud, and then proceeded to play a card game with a less then polite society name. Everyone else in the car tried hard to ignore them but I started keeping a score sheet on the number of dirty looks I noticed heading their way. One of the reasons I was annoyed, besides feeling embarrassed by my country compatriots, was that I couldn’t zone it out as babble like I can zone out the German. This may become an increasing issue as the American Tourist season opens up again.
It could also be a sign warning me to start pulling in my boundaries. Those students are loud and I don’t have to take on the emotional reaction others are having about that loudness.
The best thing about traveling by train? We walked off the train, out the front door of the station, walked about four blocks and into the front door of our hotel. Dropped off the suitcase in our room and bim bam boom, we were walking down Königstrasse with the Nuremburg pages of Rick Steves ripped out of his 2010 Germany book in our hand. I don’t like dragging a whole R/S print book around a city. Paper is heavy and why haul 400 pages when you’re only using 12 of them? Except that those 12 pages fell out of my pocket somewhere along the way. Then it was time to do our new style: download the e-book version to our smart phones.
The Rick Steves traveler is almost a cult. We recognize each other by the tour book in our hands. Following R/S’s personality, we like to feel a bit superior to the other tourist sheep, capable of finding our way around the city by public transportation, not those mega-busses that isolate the traveler from the travelee. I have used his books, his restaurant and his hotel recommendations in the past and they’ve been reliably good. The hotel we stayed at was a Rick Steve’s recommendation (correlated with research on Trip Advisor of course….) and it was perfect for comfort, price, and location. I even have R/S luggage although I feel a bit embarrassed by the logo. It was honestly the best gear for a price point that couldn’t be matched by anything else in the store. When a zipper broke (it might have been under a little too much pressure, I donno), the store shipped the bag back to Rick Steves Land and I got a rebuilt, good as new, in exchange. So, I walk around Europe with a Rick Steves logo on my luggage. At a certain level I need folks to understand that I might be confused about what is going on around me.
Nuremberg is another one of the German cities that was once very ancient but had to be almost completely rebuilt in the 1950’s to the 1960’s. Some buildings are rebuilt as if they had never disappeared, some buildings are rebuilt to sort of look like what was there originally, and some buildings were built because it was cold out and folks were living in ruins for years already so lets just get these walls up now. Some other buildings were built in a modern or post-modern style and some buildings, new ones, are built in a thoughtful style that is both contemporary and in conversation with the past. The cathedrals will often have display boards up with photos of the building post-bombing and sometimes an emotional narrative about the decision to rebuild. I like that the religious institutions are trying to help everyone remember what had happened. I’d like to hope that religious communities can be places to hold and heal, to provide context for these stories.
Before this trip, I was talking to a German friend who said that for most Germans now alive today, these kinds of memories are hard to confront. Especially the Nazi era. She said that her generation has to take a look in short bursts or else it becomes too much. I understand this. I’m not a big fan of taking long looks at the history of slavery in the US, the devastation of native peoples, the interment of Japanese-Americans, the ongoing tragedy of Guantanamo, and…
Our first stop was at St. Lorenz – roughly 700 years old and beautiful. Simple. Ancient. Bombed out and reconstructed. The art was pulled before the bombs fell thought so there is ancient religious art that is both alien and familiar. Some of the older churches are so heavy, so encrusted with the rococo, with saints upon saints, and most especially a high density of the crucified and suffering Christ, that it is just plain oppressive. St. Lorenz holds its religious architecture and decoration lightly and in a welcoming and open way. I felt the centuries of worship but in a way that continued to welcome worship in the 21st century with all our ambiguity about theodicy and salvation.
We found lunch at the Bratwursthäusle – a Nuremberg sausage factory just off the market square. Its a restaurant that specializes in serving up some sausages fast. The sausages are good. The dining experience is another cultural encounter. We could eat outside (it was cold), we could stand in line for the takeout window, we could eat inside but we had to shove past the takeout window line. Which was confusing, as we didn’t know exactly what was going on. An American in the line overheard our confusion and explained a little about the one line but an employee saw our entry-way blocking confusion and beckoned us into the inside dining area. Which was crowded. She took us to a corner where walls had been set up to enclose a table large enough for four (easy) or six (comfortably) or even eight (ha!) diners. To our surprise, there was another couple already seated and who were finishing up their food. We started warming up our German when another couple was also escorted to our table.
In the United States, you own your table. In Europe in general and in traditional Bavarian dining, expect company. Which can be awkward if your food shows up before your neighbor’s food. Still, we managed to navigate our way through both the dining experience and simple conversation in German and more complicated conversation in English. We got biking advice for Munich! We’re pretty excited to be gaining competency in German. And by competency, I mean perhaps talking like a two year old. Still, we count our successes!
After lunch, we crossed the street to the Old Town Hall building which had a display up narrating a flood in 1920’s in a nearby town. Which might be a suburb by now, I have no idea because I had no context. It was both interesting and also marking us as “outsider” as we don’t know the location, didn’t know there was a flood, and could only partially read the information signs. To travel is to continuously encounter the outsider/insider boundary, which is marked by story telling. If I were to move to Nüremberg, I think I’d try to translate all the text so I could learn the story of my new place. But I’m just passing through so I allowed the story slip through my fingers. “The past is a foreign country,” L.P. Hartley once wrote. “They do things differently there.” There’s only so much cultural transitions I can manage in a day.
We walked to the other side of the old town and up the hill to the castle. The castle made Nümberg a very important city in medieval Europe. In the mid-14th century, Nümberg was mandated to serve as the official meeting spot of the Holy Roman Empire political leadership. This made Nümberg very attractive to the growing Nazi party as they manipulated myth and history to justify and strengthen their rise to power. The buildings (reconstructed) are grand and Beloved was fascinated by the moat. I continued to walk around the space trying to figure out how it might have looked way back in the day. How it might have felt to walk through the big doors and into the courtyard as a servant, as a lady in waiting, as a nobel. My imagination could not stretch far enough.
The castle is built on sandstone and several faces of the stone are exposed, especially at the head of the street leading to the castle. We watched small children climb on the rock and slide down foot deep trenches that had perhaps been worn into the rock by countless generations of small children’s butts going down that same chute. I like looking at worn steps too. How many people have to press down and lift up before the rock starts to remember the shape of their feet?
The next day we went out to the Congress grounds. Remember Triumph of the Will? It was filmed here. The Nazi’s used to organize gigantic, week long rallies on massive pieces of Greek and Roman inspired stages. It was part of the process of getting folks to buy into the big group-think, to release our sense of being an individual and yielding ourselves to the leadership of the wise and anointed savior. The Nazis set up an in-group (Aryn Nation) and the out-group (everyone else).
It is about those boundaries.
- I was concerned about the American students behavior on my train because I believed we belong to the same common experience (American) and if these students are being judged, then I’m being judged too. I honestly felt like it should be my responsibility to go explain to those students that they were being too loud and thus redeeming my country (conflated at the time with “myself) from all those judging looks.
- Rick Steve Americans wouldn’t make that much noise. We’d be carefully studying how to “be a temporary local,” and we’d all be not only cooler then the noisy Americans, we’d be redeeming our kind.
- It really doesn’t matter what kind of an American we are, we still made several social/cultural goofs as we navigated our own path through this city and land. (Including one that was a doozy but I’m not going to write about that one yet. Let’s just say that I now have complete freedom to try anything out because it can’t get any more awkward then that particular moment. )
- Maybe that idealistic 1960’s training as a child really was trying to get at this: we’re really are all humans with different colorful native folk dances and its never okay to draw that insider/outsider boundary line. People suffer and die when that happens.
If you come to Europe and you if want to know how WWII came to pass then I strongly recommend setting aside a day for the Documentation Center and the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. It was helpful to understand how this particular disaster came to pass and how we all need to remain alert for the seductive powers of insider/outsider. It is a constant call in our lives as we seek meaning and community.
It was a great weekend away. Beloved and I will come back because we left several sights and museums unfinished and because its an easy day trip. First, however, May’s Big Adventure will take us back to the West Coast for a graduation, a visit with family, and for Beloved to attend a professional conference. It will be interesting to see how much six months will have changed how we view “home.” In the meantime, the Atlantic Jet Stream has finally flipped up over England and we have jumped from snow to t-shirt weather. The Windows Are Open! The bikes are calling our name!