Nuremberg is a city I've long wanted to see, and I finally got there and spent some time. The city has long fascinated me as the location of 2 moments in history that shaped German identity and Europe.
Nuremberg is a relatively small city compared to Munich or Berlin. It was never large, but it was very rich and important from about the 13th century to the middle of the 16th century. The city long straddled a number of major trade routes going north and south out of Italy, and east west between France and central Europe. Nuremberg had its moment in the sun as a major city of the Renaissance from about the mid 15th century to about the mid 16th century when the warfare arising out of the Reformation became too much of a threat to the city's peace and prosperity. Humanist scholars in Nuremberg did textual criticism and editing of ancient writings inspired by the efforts of Italians like Petrarch and Lorenzo Valla. This kind of criticism and editing would have explosive effects when scholars began applying them to Christian Scripture.
During the Renaissance, humanistic studies flourished with rediscoveries of ancient classical texts, inspired by ideas coming out of Italy along the trade routes. For the first time in Germany, artists in Nuremberg claimed the status of intellectuals beyond the role of higher craftsmen traditionally assigned them. Albrecht Dürer towered over the city as the first internationally famous German artist, but he was hardly the only major artist working in Nuremberg at this time.
Most of these pictures are mine taken with my trusty little digital, and are freely available. There are a number of historical pictures which are smaller in size.
Nuremberg is a Protestant city in the region of Franconia, now part of Bavaria thanks to Napoleon. Both of the city's largest and most important churches are Lutheran, and have been so since the city decided to become Lutheran in 1525.
This painting bears witness to the long resonance of the Renaissance moment in Nuremberg. Not only did Germany emerge as a leader in international art in Nuremberg, but German nationalism -- the idea of a German identity that transcended all the political and regional divisions of the Holy Roman Empire -- had its first stirrings in Nuremberg. The first German parliament, the Nuremberg Imperial Diet, met in Nuremberg Castle in the 14th century. Humanist scholars like Conrad Celtes and Wilibald Pirckheimer rediscovered the long forgotten works of the Roman historian Tacitus. In writings such as the Annals and the Germania Tacitus describes in detail the Germans who defeated the Roman legions in the Teutoborg Forest in 9 CE. Tacitus favorably compares the warrior culture of the ancient Germans with the urban culture of Imperial Rome. He also describes the first German national hero, Arminius/Herman, a former soldier in the Roman Army who returned to his people to lead their resistance against Roman aggression. Celtes in particular used the writings of Tacitus to promote the idea of a specifically German identity and character, a character that was superior to that of Rome. These ideas had an impact on Martin Luther the great reformer, and on Ulrich Von Hutten the nationalist rebel against both Pope and Emperor.
The rise of German nationalism at the same time that artists like Albrecht Dürer created a kind of German art by adapting Italian influences and memories of the High Middle Ages to new purposes would have a lasting impact down to the 20th century.
Dürer was a very fine painter and even won the grudging respect of Venetian painters. But, if Dürer had never painted a thing he would still be remembered as a great artist. Dürer took the print, then considered the lowliest of art forms, and made it into fine art. The newly invented printing press made Dürer internationally famous. Prints were cheap to make and cheap to sell. The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker could each afford an original work by Dürer. Dürer was the first major artist to work for a mass audience. His prints were frequently big commercial and critical successes and spread his fame across the continent.
Because prints were so inexpensive to make, Dürer was one of the few major artists of the day to make major works of art on his own initiative without a patron commissioning and financing a major project.
If Dürer's only accomplishment was quantity of production and sales, he would probably be forgotten.
Dürer was the first great bridge between Italy and northern Europe. He was keenly aware of developments in Renaissance Italy and made 2 trips to Venice to personally acquaint himself with them. Far from wanting to ape Italian art, Dürer adapted Italian ideas and forms to his own purposes. His attitude toward things Italian could be admiring, and frequently could be skeptical. Italian ideas about the artist as a kind of inspired genius certainly played a role in Dürer's claim for himself as a kind of public intellectual instead of simply another form of higher craftsman. And yet, in so much of his work, including this self-portrait, he could cast a very critical and skeptical eye on the whole idea of genius and its worth.
Dürer fully participated in the humanist classical studies and revivals of the day in Nuremberg. One of his closest friends was Willibald Pirckheimer, an accomplished scholar from a wealthy and powerful mercantile family who probably financed both of Dürer's trips to Italy. Dürer knew other major thinkers of the day like Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Ulrich von Hutten, and they sought his friendship. Dürer's work articulates and participates in that expanding enterprise of exploring the phenomena of the world while reconciling that with millenialist expectations and an increasingly anxious and doubt-ridden religious faith.
Dürer's works, and especially his prints, would have an enduring influence on artists from Titian to Rembrandt to the 20th century German Expressionists.
And that reminds us of something we should keep in mind when looking at a lot of German medieval churches. Much of what we see today are rebuildings and restorations after war damage.
In the distance, you can see the heavily damaged bulk of Sankt Lorenz, the city's other great church.
The Nazis knew symbolism and how to exploit it. Nuremberg was the birthplace of German nationalism in the Renaissance, and for that reason they chose it as the location for the annual party rallies that took place every September.
Peter Meyer says that Nuremberg was not a sympathetic city for the Nazis, that it was a Communist city throughout the 1920s and that the Communists won big in Nuremberg in the 1932 elections. But, since Nuremberg was a small city, it hardly made a dent in the Nazi sweep that year.
Nuremberg may not have been a Nazi friendly city, but that hardly mattered when every September hundreds of thousands of people descended on the city for the September Reichsparteitag. Party members, members of Nazi youth organizations, and the military were required to attend. Thousands of others were enticed to attend with free rail passes, free accommodations in barracks and hostels, and especially free meals that could be lavish; a big enticement in Depression era Germany. People in the countryside and small villages who were usually the Nazi's most faithful supporters travelled in droves to Nuremberg. For many of them, this was the first time that they had ever travelled. Rail transport, radio, and telephones made rallies of a million or more people possible in the modern era.
For the party faithful, these rallies were the equivalent of rock concerts and raves. For others, they were a scout jamboree in hell. Huge tent cities of Nazi youth and the military surrounded the city every September for the rally. Part of the enormous SS barracks in Nuremberg still stands. It functions now as temporary housing for immigrants.
The Nazi government spent lavishly on these events and other pageantry, almost bankrupting the treasury. The otherwise chaotic Nazi government with its duplicated and competing departments held itself together through charisma, and especially Hitler's charisma. It remains an amazing sight to watch on film as Hitler holds in thrall thousands upon thousands of people assembled in these once vast places.
This huge boulevard was oriented straight toward Nuremberg Castle which was once visible at the north end of the Grossestrasse. The trees planted on the site of the Luitpold Arena where the SS held its rallies now block that view. Remember that the first German parliament met at Nuremberg Castle in the 14th century. As I said, the Nazis knew symbolism and how to exploit it.
The Allies chose this building because it was undamaged, and because it had a secure corridor between the courtroom and the jail. The symbolism of the place was an added bonus.
The locals in Nuremberg don't know what to do with the parade ground ruins. The ruins are simply too haunted to recycle. Attempts to turn the Kongresshalle into a shopping area and the Zepplin field into a race track ended in failure. The parade ground ruins are the city's biggest tourist draw and important historical evidence, so there's not much enthusiasm for tearing them down. On the other hand, people are ashamed of these things. There's no desire to restore any of these places. The city repairs the Zepplin field tribune only enough to prevent injuring visitors, but otherwise they are content to let it slowly crumble away.
Hitler does the Lambeth Walk in Nuremberg; I first saw this at the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück. More about him later.
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