Despite being barely the size of Texas, Germany is a highly populated country with a largely diversified cultural and linguistic makeup. A lot of this is historically determined and would need a semester or two to explain, but it’s safe to say that Germany is much more than the stereotypical food and entertainment present at Octoberfest. Oktoberfest isn’t even celebrated in a lot of Germany.
I am studying abroad in Hamburg, so I did not experience the twirling dirndls and huge mugs of beer. Instead, I got the tour of the Hafencity and Sunday morning fish-roll at the Fischmarkt (but yes, also a few mugs of beer). Yet, it’s easy to forget that what I experience in Hamburg is not necessarily “German.” Rather, it often belongs to the special brand of “northern German.” I generally like this special brand, but I am grateful for the opportunity to see some southern Germany as well during my study-abroad year.
For the second seminar organized by the VDAC (fondly referred to as “V-dac” by a lot of my fellow U.S. students), we were invited to spend a weekend in Nürnberg. Known as Nuremberg to non-German speakers, this beautiful, old city has a complicated, fascinating history- both good and bad. Since it is more than a thousand years old, one has to consider its significance far beyond the 1930s and 40s, though the city presents enough opportunities to remember and reflect upon the more recent history as well. Our stay here was arranged by the Nuernberger Frauenklub, and they organized a wonderful trip, including a cute welcome bag from St. Nick and a little gift in front of our doors on St. Nikolaustag on the 6th.
We stayed in the youth hostel of Nuernberg. It’s one of the coolest hostels I’ve ever stayed in… actually part of the fort at the top of the hill that gives Nuernberg it’s name. Formerly the emperor’s horse stalls, the building had been remodeled and renovated into a state funded hostel. I would chose sleeping here over a hotel in the city anytime… even if it did mean hiking up the hill to get back to the rooms from the city. Those sleeping in the upper stories of the hostel got a terrific view, but even sleeping on the second floor, I was in awe of being able to stay here.
Since it was part of the entire collection of buildings from the Burg, we were actually not far from it.
We were given a tour of the city by a very knowledgeable native Nuernbergerin from the Frauenklub. This tour opened our eyes to the wealth of history left in the buildings not destroyed by bombings in World War II. There are a lot of churches (more evangelical than catholic… surprisingly in southern Germany), bridges (Nuernberg is like the Venice of Germany), fountains, patrician houses and the house of the famous painter Albrecht Duerer. Nuernberg was an important city for the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, often referred to as an unofficial capital, since, among other things, because the Imperial Diet Reichstag) and courts met at the Burg. We had the opportunity on the second day of our stay to actually see the Burg from the inside and learn a little more about its history.
We also had many opportunities to go on the world-famous Christkindlmarkt (and I thought the Hamburger Ratshaus one was impressive!). I bought so much Lebkuchen for family and friends back home. I think at least five kilo of my luggage weight came from the weight of this delicious German Christmas cake/cookie.
I also used the opportunity to drink a hot toddy at the international partner city Christmasmarkt, and watched a traditional Feuerzangbowle be prepared at another stand (seeing as it was used with sugar burned over rum, I wasn’t about to drink it though. But I heard it tastes delicious!
As already alluded to, however, Nuernberg’s history also has a dark side. I am grateful that we were given the chance to see both, since in the States we usually think of the city as being the location of Hitler’s Reichsparteitage prior to the war and then hosting the War Crime trials after the war. My fellow VDAC students and I were brought to the Dokumentation Center where the history of Nuernberg as the location of these two events and many of the events (deportation of Jewish people, communists, “gypsies,” dissidents) surrounding them was explained in a very well-done exhibition of the German population’s participation in these events. It was a sobering experience.
Overall, the trip was wonderful and perhaps even more enjoyable than the first VDAC trip to Dresden. It was more laid back and we all knew each other better. I look forward to the next seminar and getting to know a new city in Germany!