Saturday, 10 September 2016

My Grand Tour: Nuremberg




Nuremberg sits a way from the motorway and driving through the suburbs was as innocuous as any European conurbation, this could have been Basildon in Essex, the outskirts of Brussels, anywhere. But these suburbs nestle a dark heart. We very nearly didn't put Nuremberg on our route but i'm glad, no that's not the word, let's put it this way, had we not seen Nuremberg we would have missed another side of Europe. A side that hides in plain sight all over Europe, if not the world but Nuremberg is the home of its monument, the phantasm that is still too tangible to be called a ghost. Europe's malevolent ego, hibernating until memory is shadowed by hate, again.

Welcome to Germany
We dropped our stuff at the hotel and showered off over 500km. About 5km after the border traffic was stemmed down to a crawl for checks and a number of cars had been channelled off for inspection. We didn't tick any suspicion boxes and were waved through. These are borders that until recently simply had a sign declaring "Welcome to Germany".





Nuremberg's medieval centre was a sight but I needed to relax with a beer before we began exploring. We soon found a pavement pub. and settled in for some well-earned refreshment. The atmosphere in the pub was a little more raw than the gentile business people and tourists of Vienna. Definitely not a hipster hangout, the patrons were the young and disaffected of Nuremberg, punk by necessity not style-choice. I watched a young Muslim couple sit on a bench in the square, apart from her hijab they were no different from any teenage couple. Sitting opposite was a young German man alone with a large bottle of beer, apart from his cropped hair, no different from any other teenager. He began shouting at the couple. Despite my scant knowledge of German, I knew exactly what he was saying. The Muslim boy tried to ignore him but he wanted to be heard. He continued belligerently, waving his arms around. The Muslim boy continued to ignore but by the time the other was standing over him punctuating his words with the bottle he had no choice. They were soon standing toe to toe.



A bull skinhead with a pitbull and mutton chops bowled into the pub and sat at a table behind us. He was obviously a bit of a face as he was enthusiastically welcomed and spoke loudly. The others sat and listened as dutifully as his dog.

The boy with the beer bottle backed down and the young Muslims made to leave. The boy followed with abuse and got on his phone. The next day we learned of the knife attack on a train in Wurzburg, the next city.


Nuremberg is a magnificent medieval citadel that straddles the river Pegnitz. Much of the old architecture is well-maintained and the newer buildings are for the most part sympathetic. The castle sits up above the town commanding a picture postcard view but it is not Nuremberg castle that dominates, it is the church. St. Lorenz and St. Sebald are twin sisters and big girls they are too. The type of churches designed to put the fear of god quite literally into the townsfolk, I felt quite humbled by its huge dimensions and dark foreboding stone. As a Briton I'm just not used to such overbearing ecclesiastic architecture. I think after Henry VIII the shift went to the dominance of the crown over the church so our cathedrals are quite weedy compared to Europe's. Gothic buildings on such a scale are, well Gothic!

I could go on about the sausage shops and the cuckoo clocks, the twee little shops full of beautifully crafted souvenirs, but I won't. I will, however tell you about a conversation with a lady in one of these shops. My wife struck up a conversation with her, it was her who first informed us of the attack in Wurzburg. We introduced ourselves as being Greek and British and Brexit came up. "Good luck to you." she said. I took this defensively as an affront to the British decision, that we wouldn't make it without the Germans (and the EU). "If you pull it off and control your borders, i'll be moving there for sure!"


Inspired by this sublime example of Teutonic life and values, a certain failed Austrian artist declared it The most German city and chose it as the backdrop for his new Rome that he would build complete with Colosseum and Cathedral of light. Of course, the failed artist was Adolph Hitler and much of his Rome still stands, in stone and hearts.

The Colosseum, full of stories and lessons 
Just 10 minutes from the medieval citadel stands the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände as big and imposing as its name. I had intended to have a stroll around the grounds and get an idea of what it had been. I'd looked it up on the net and just saw some ruins, but we arrived as the museum opened and decided to go in. The museum is housed in the main building, this was to be his Colosseum. Built despite resistance from the soft ground that tried to defy support for this huge edifice. More and more forced labour was brought in to sure the footings by the Großer Dutzendteich lake. Eventually Hitler won and continued his plans.


View from the podium
The museum is a grim reminder of one of humanity's darkest hours but I couldn't help seeing it as a masterclass, it laid out the rise of the Nazis from a workers party channelling popular resistance to the terms of the treaty of Versailles to a hate for the injustice of its neighbours. Those neighbours were the British, the French and the Russians who had imposed such harsh reparations on the Germans after the Great War (the war to end all wars) but they started a little closer to home with their own neighbours who for one reason or another were a little less German than them. They whittled out the weak and the disabled then moved to the dissidents and any group who did not fit the great plan. Let us remember that the Jews were not the only group victimised and exterminated by the Nazis, it was also the Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, anyone who was easy to hate.As a psychopath starts with domestic animals, Hitler began small.

The Cathedral of light in its heyday
The exhibition tells of how Hitler gained political power and began levying membership on the workers which he used to stage festivals and rallies. At these rallies Nuremberg was overrun with over a million visitors and he made sure there was beer for everyone. This combination of carrot, stick and common purpose is still a familiar tactic.


Once he gained momentum, he took the positions of Chancellor and President to be the supreme dictator and the carrots stopped.

Debranding
The Zeppelinplatz was his podium, now debranded, and at its height was a cathedral of light designed for over 400,000 rank and file who were integral to its architecture. A 2km road was built for parades and a monument to the fallen Germans to maintain the hate and purpose to regain German pride and place at the top table of world powers. The site would have been on the scale of the Acropolis, maybe bigger but don't get me wrong, the buildings were obviously thrown up in a hurry, their function was big-picture. Inside the Dokumentationszentrum the rough brick and concrete work shows no attention to detail. The Zepplinplatz podium is at best soviet era concrete utility. There is none of the finesse and artistry of Rome or Athens, this was broad stroke art to be seen and feared from a distance. 


Some of the buildings were destroyed after WWII and others remained unrealised but what still stands is a monument to megalomania. I pondered what should have been done with the site, should it have been razed? No, the reminder warns of what mankind is capable of. Should it be maintained? No, this would pay homage to its architects. The site sits between these two, a little dilapidated and re-purposed. The Zepplinplatz is the starting grid for the Nürnbergring race track (not to be confused with Nürburgring). The irony is that Hitler always intended it to be used as a sports centre for Aryan athletes, now it is a boating lake and football stadiums, the dream lives on. 


A private company took over Prora, a beach resort on the island of Rügen. It was to be a huge holiday resort for good Aryans but was never completed. His legacy may have tripped in the bunker in Berlin but that was not the end of anything.


See the journey so far


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