Friday 30 December 2016

PHOTO DIARY: Nuremberg, Germany, December 2016

Steve and I always visit a city in Germany come December, for the Christmas markets. Our very first date was at the South Bank Christmas market so this is how we celebrate our anniversary every year. This year we decided to make a beeline to Nuremberg. I'd heard that the Christmas market was one of the best in Germany, plus who doesn't love Bavaria in the winter? We set off on a Thursday night after work for 3 days of Christmas joy.

We stayed at Hotel Elch, a well situated boutique hotel in the centre of town. The hotel was fine, the room was generously sized and the shower was one of the most powerful I've ever experienced. But there was something about the bed I just couldn't get used to. It wasn't overly uncomfortable but I did toss and turn all 3 evenings, leading to me feel exhausted every single morning. Topped with the fact that our room was overpriced compared to other boutique hotels I've stayed at. Breakfast was included but nearly €500 for a 3 night stay in Germany isn't what I'd call a good deal. Yes, Bavaria does have a reputation for being expensive and yes, the Christmas market is hugely popular but I've stayed in better places and paid less. I booked the room months in advance without fully realising the price, with the intention of looking for somewhere nicer (and cheaper) but alas I forgot so we just had to roll with it. Lesson learnt for next time.

Day 1:

Up reasonably bright and early on our first day we made a beeline to the town square for a quick look around the Christmas market. We knew we wanted to do a fair bit of sightseeing so we picked up Nuremberg Cards from the tourist office. A 2-day card costs €25 and includes entry into the majority of tourist attractions as well as giving you free access to public transport.

Our first big sight of the day was Nuremberg castle, which we were able to visit for free using our Nuremberg cards. The castle grounds include several different buildings including the residential wing, the 48m deep well (more exciting than it sounds), and Sinwell tower which offers great views of the surrounding city.  The castle dates back to the 12th century and it's intimidating presence over the city really highlights the medieval might of Nuremberg.

Close to the castle grounds you'll come across Albrecht Dürer's House, the home of Nuremberg's most famous Renaissance artist. Interestingly, historians don't actually know the details of how Dürer lived in the building therefore they have had to guess what rooms might have looked like. Despite this it was still fascinating to walk through the house and get a feeling for what life in 16th century Germany was like.

We also visited the Stadtmuseum Fembohaus but the craft fair that takes place during December meant you couldn't really appreciate the exhibitions.

Next door to the city museum is the City Hall where you can go on 30-minute guided tour of the underground prison cells. Unfortunately our tour was entirely in German so we didn't have a clue what was being said. Nevertheless, you can use your imagination whilst walking around the macabre dungeon to guess what might have happened down there. The torture chamber was particularly creepy.

Nuremberg is famous for it's sausages. The city is the supposed birthplace of the bratwurst and it even has it's own special variety. Nuremberg sausages must be no longer than 9 cm or weigh over 25 g. We stopped at Bratwursthäusle, which is located next to the city hall, to grab a take away sausage sandwich. Three little sausages are plonked into a bread roll and you can add as much ketchup and mustard as you desire. These ended up being the best sausages we had over the weekend and we returned to the stall many times to grab a sandwich. For only €2.50 it was the perfect snack.

Nuremberg is also famous for it's pretzel. Local chain Brezen Kolb has stalls scattered all over the city. We stopped at one of the stalls to grab a Camembert filled pretzel which was absolutely delicious. The pretzels here taste a little crunchier than the dark brown variety that's more widely available. As with the sausage stall we ended up procuring many more pretzels over the course of the weekend as they were just too delicious to pass by.

After lunch we went on a little tour of the Nuremberg art district. The first stop was Kunsthalle followed by Kunstvilla around the corner and concluding at Kunsthaus. Exhibitions change every few months but during our visit there was an insightful portrait photography exhibition across the galleries.

I really enjoyed our visit to Neues Museum, Nuremberg's contemporary art and design centre. The permanent collection of 20th century design was a real highlight for me. The building itself is a minimalist beauty with a huge glass facade.

Our final stop of the day was to visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. The museum is absolutely enormous and it would probably take the best part of the day to visit everything. However, we were just interested in getting a little insight into German history so we checked out the area with the world's oldest surviving globe and some paintings by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. Next to the museum you'll find outdoor sculpture, The Way of Human Rights. The sculpture consists of 30, eight metre high pillars, with each one being engraved with one article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in German and a second language.The sculpture was designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan and is part of Nuremberg’s effort to become a city championing human rights, moving away from it’s dark Nazi-era history.

On our way back into the centre of town we stopped at Wurstdurst for more sausages, and beer. The curry wurst here was really tasty and made a great dinner for a cold, December evening. Around the corner we stopped at beer hall Barfüßer for some local beer. I've only become a beer drinker in the last year and I really enjoyed the stuff in Nuremberg. It didn't taste too strong, similar to a blonde (I think) so it's a great option for fellow non-experienced beer drinker.

The rest of the evening was spent at the famous Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. The market is held in the main square, in the shadow of Frauenkirche. You can climb the church for great views over the market. I wish we'd done this during the day as the big flood lights really buggered up my pictures. But that's besides the point. The Nuremberg Christmas market is lovely. The stalls sell lovely, traditional decorations and gifts as well as the normal glühwein and sweet treats. The market is huge so it'll take a decent amount of time to do a full lap of all the stalls. But that's all part of the charm. There's traditional choir singing as well as a children's market around the corner with rides and Santa. Whilst I really loved the traditional element of the market in Nuremberg I have to be honest and say that I preferred the markets in Cologne from our trip the previous year. Whilst they were much smaller, I thought the lighting was a lot more impressive, especially considering that canopy of fairy lights at the cathedral. Cologne just felt a little more magical to me. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the Nuremberg market because I really did and I absolutely think it's a place worth visiting come December.

Before heading home we stopped at Cafe Bar Katz for a beer. I was feeling a little peckish so ordered a beetroot and goats cheese salad. This came served in a pint glass, with 80% of the contents being beetroot. Beetroot overload but still tasty!

Day 2:

Day two started with a visit to DB Museum. Steve and I have a bit of a thing about trains so the train museum was always going to be top of our must visit list. The museum is impressive, with a huge display for locomotives old and new. It really is a trainspotters dream. If you're interested in WWII history then the Third Reich section is of particular interest.

Keeping with what I called our 'Nazi Day', the second tourist stop was the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände. Set in the location of the Nuremberg Rallies, this museum extensively covers this period of history with a fantastic exhibition and audio guide. The building is the enormous unfinished Congress Hall, you only realise the scale once you've done a lap of the huge museum and realise that it only takes up a fraction of the entire building. Next to the Congress Hall you'll find the Zeppelin Field, the only part of the rally ground that was ever completed. The size of this area is absolutely enormous and it's not difficult to imagine the sheer volume and scale of the rallies as well as feeling incredibly insignificant at the same time. This is of course what Hitler intended but it's hard to deny just how incredibly grand this entire complex feels like. The Zeppelin Field is in a state of disrepair now and I think the future of the place is still unknown. Previously it has been used for outdoor concerts and the like but now it's visibly falling apart. I can imagine it's difficult deciding what to do with a place like this. On one hand you want to restore a historical building from a design point of view but on the other hand the history attached to the building is so bleak that many people would rather just forget about it. 

Before we reached our third and final Nazi stop of the day we took a little detour to visit the Jewish Museum in nearby Fürth. I was hoping the museum would be an account of Jews in Nuremberg during the war but instead it was about Judaism in general. Whilst it is an interesting little place it's not exactly a Nuremberg highlight. However, the town of Fürth is charming with a cute little Christmas market of it's own.

On the border of Fürth and Nuremberg you will find the Gostenhof area. This is what I like to call hipster Nuremberg as it's the part of town you'll find all the vintage shops and cool cafes. This is also the area where you will find Memorium Nuremberg Trials, the site of the famous Nuremberg Trials where surviving WWII war criminals were tried. The Palace of Justice was chosen as the site of the trials because it was almost undamaged, offered sufficient space and included a large prison complex. The trials took place in courtroom number 600 which is part of the exhibition space even though the courtroom is still used today. The exhibition is fascinating and a must for anyone interested in this period of history.

Once our cultural spots for the day were finished we went on a pretty fantastic bar crawl around the city. Starting in the Gostenhof area our first stop was Salon Regina for a bite to eat. We shared a huge meat ball and delicious potato salad. Unfortunately the chocolate and cherry cake we thought we were ordering turned out to be some sort of carrot cake concoction. Nevertheless the cafe was a lovely spot, full of vintage furniture and the perfect all day cafe-car vibes.

Our next stop was Schanzenbräu Schankwirtschaft for a glass of local beer. This small traditional beer hall is a great place to drink with the locals.

Next up was slightly more upbeat Palais Schaumburg. The vibe was more German style wine bar. We were getting peckish again so ordered a mac n cheese to share. Decadent is an understatement for the amount of cheese in this thing. It was delicious!

A short walk away led us to Café Mainheim, another all day cafe-bar spot. More beer and a slice of passion fruit cheese cake did the trick here. The cafe does vegan and veggie food so it would be a great place to visit during the day as well.

We stopped at Treibhaus in the town centre for another beer. The bar has a real local hangout, cool but relaxed vibe. We sat at the bar, enjoyed the excellent music selection and wandered why there aren't more of these all day casual bar type places at home.

We squeezed into trendy Kloster for a quick drink. The tiny bar was absolutely rammed but it was still good fun. There was a DJ, disco lights and a much more party atmosphere than our previous stops.

The last place we visited was Mata Hari Bar, a late night bar conveniently situated around the corner from our hotel. It was so rammed in here that we could barely move. We had a quick Jägermeister and decided to call it a night. Our bar crawl was excellent and I was really impressed with the night life in Nuremberg, something I wasn't really expecting before our visit. The beer is cheap and the bars are friendly places with a great atmosphere.

Day 3:

Day three started with a walk down Weißgerbergasse, the prettiest street in Nuremberg. Even in the rain it's pretty cute looking.

We made our way to the station, passing the creepy looking Ehekarussell fountain. Nuremberg has quite a large shopping area that I didn't really notice until this walk to the station.

We caught the train to Bamberg, a small city situated 40 minutes away from Nuremberg. After a wonder around the lanes of pastel coloured building we stopped for lunch at Gasthaus zum Sternla, the oldest restaurant in Bamberg. This tavern serves traditional Franconian food. My roast goose with cabbage and potato dumpling was absolutely delicious.

After lunch we stopped at the magnificent town hall that has been built on a man-made island in the middle of the river. On one side you have a stunning frescoes whilst on the other side you'll find an adorable looking Bavarian house. It's the perfect photo moment.

Our next stop was Bamberger Dom. The cathedral is a lovely Romanesque-Gothic creation and full of artistic treasures such as a life size equestrian statue of the Bamberg Horseman, whose true identity remains a mystery. Next door to the cathedral is Neue Residenz, an 18th century palace. To visit you need to book yourself onto a 45 minute guided tour in German. Instead, we walked through the main entrance to check out the rose garden. Being December, there wasn't much going on in the garden but the palace does have nice views over the city which we enjoyed.

We headed back to the station, via the Christmas market to spend our last few hours in Nuremberg. Bamberg made a great little day trip. It's easy to get to, and doesn't have that much going on therefore a day is more than enough time to visit. We had a bit of a problem with train tickets i.e. we didn't know what we were doing, but I think a return is around €20.

Back in Nuremberg we has a few hours to kill before our flight so we visited the Christmas market one last time as well as a few more cafe. Ziet and Raum has a really cosy vibe and a great happy hour cocktail menu and Ludwigs is a cool all day bar.

I really enjoyed our weekend in Nuremberg, for such a small city there's an awful lot to see as well as enjoy the terrific cafe culture. I don't feel the need to ever visit again as I did everything on my list but I do recommend visiting if you've ever been. Food and drink is relatively cheap and even though there is a three line metro you can more or less walk everywhere. The cobbled streets are extremely pretty and as with most places in Germany, everyone speaks English. It had been a long time since I'd visited Munich and this trip made me realise just how much I love Bavaria and how I'd love to see more of the region. It's a very traditional part of the country but as I discovered on our bar crawl, there's a ton of trendy cafes serving food to suit most tastes. Whether you're veggie, vegan or something else, you'll find something you enjoy in Nuremberg.

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