Nuremberg: Christmas and the Middle Ages
Most of us associate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Nuremberg, even if we don’t know about it (or, more correctly, don’t think about it). Why, you may ask? Because it was in Nuremberg that the storyteller Hoffmann settled the characters of his (and long ago our) Christmas story, The Nutcracker. And the Nutcrackers – classic, wooden, German – look at you from everywhere: if you wanted to forget about the fact that you came to the fairy tale city, you will not be allowed to do so. Although, of course, Nuremberg has a lot to show without the Nutcracker.
But let’s start with him – with Christmas. Because the city with a rich history, the main attraction in the winter days – the largest in Germany, Christmas Fair.
The market square (Hauptmarkt) in the center of the formerly very beautiful (but 90% bombed by the Americans in January 1945) city is no small thing. The lack of space caused the brightly decorated stalls to spill out into the neighboring streets and encroach on a few blocks. People from all over the city came to see the fair, go for a walk, listen to the orchestra, do some shopping, and get in a festive mood. We met in a restaurant (by the way, the oldest sausage restaurant in the world, peddling local delicacies since 1419) with a middle-aged couple, they were seated at our table (in traditional German restaurants, this is common practice).
It turned out they’d come all the way from Switzerland – just for the Christmas market and this sausage restaurant. “Are you also going to the Christmas market?” – They were rather polite, because the answer is obvious to them. My answer “Looking for the Christmas spirit” puzzles them a bit. We explained that after all these years in China (at that moment a couple of young people at the neighboring table got nervous, they were Chinese, maybe they thought that I was going to scold their political system) the feeling of a holiday in December had disappeared, and in general our Christmas in January… We talked, shook, wished each other a good Christmas and a happy New Year, a conversation of strangers which will probably never meet again. But it has become heartwarming, and now the Christmas spirit seems quite attainable. So, its first ingredient: good company and a hearty atmosphere. Sausages (or any other traditional dish, for Czechs, for example, carp cooked to a special recipe) do not hurt, too. Food (good and special) for a sense of celebration is a very necessary thing. It is not without reason that the supermarkets in Karlovy Vary are filled with delicacies – Christmas and New Year’s Eve are a perfect opportunity to indulge your stomach. In this respect, Europeans are no different from the Chinese.
The specialty of Nuremberg (and the aforementioned historic restaurant, which happily survived the American bombing of 1945) is the eponymous sausages (Nurnberger Brastwurst), which locals have been happily eating since 1313 (!).
Their original recipe is protected by the EU on geographical grounds – like champagne, which can only be born in Champagne, for example. So, too, Nuremberg sausages can only be tasted here. If you have been to other Bavarian cities and are already familiar with Bavarian sausages, it is easy to distinguish Nuremberg sausages from others: these are smaller (only 7-9 cm). Therefore portions start from six pieces, restaurants offer portions of 6 (from 7.90 euros with a side dish, which is sauerkraut or potato salad, if anything – take the cabbage: it, in contrast to the salad, is warm), 10 and 12 pieces. The street (and at this time of year – fair) variety is “im Weckla”, three sausages in a warm bun, cost 2.50-3 euros, served with ketchup or mustard, your choice.
Having refreshed ourselves, we go on to Nuremberg and create a feast for ourselves. We add to our ingredients mulled wine (or punch – it depends on taste, the price is 2.50-3 euros per serving). Hot wine with different flavors unites in a festively buzzing company of strangers – they warm their hands by hugging glass mugs (cardboard cups are a fashionable thing here, the deposit price per mug is 2. 5 euros, you can hand them in and get your money back at any shop selling mulled wine, but I think that most people take these mugs home as a souvenir, to look at them with a warm smile throughout the year), chat, look, smiling, at the stagecoach post, driven by a pair of strong beautiful draught horses – these days the Post moonlights with atmospheric tours of the city (incidentally, quite inexpensive – 3.5 euros, but without a guide).
Nobody among those smiling stagecoaches didn’t catch them, of course, but today it seems that you’re back in the good old days – when trees were big, grass was greener, and we ourselves were small, we believed in Santa Claus and read “The Nutcracker” and anticipated holidays… I buy gingerbread (another Nuremberg specialty, not cheap – from 1.5 euro per gingerbread, 7 and up to 15 for a pack of several).
And go on to explore the city: it’s not just about Christmas after all… Especially since the first association that comes to your mind when you hear the word “Nuremberg” is unlikely to be the Nutcracker (even if you know where the puppeteer Drosselmeyer lived).
The first association would rather be the Nuremberg Tribunal. One might also recall the Nazi marching with torches and Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will, which was filmed here. Nuremberg in general was a favorite place of the Nazis, every year they gathered here to march with torches and hold a meeting of the Reichstag. But today the inhabitants of the ancient Nuremberg, proud of their city, prefer to remember not about it, but about the “Nutcracker”. And also – to tell about their great citizens: the painter Albrecht Dürer, the poet Hans Sachs, the inventor of the globe Martin Bechheim and the creator of pocket watches Peter Henlein (how, did you not know that all of them are from here?).
And they’re also especially proud to say that the bulk of Nicholas Copernicus’ 1543 work was printed here.
By the way, quite recently, posters appeared between the city wall (almost entirely preserved) and the opera house, telling that there were thousands of homosexuals among the victims of the Nazi regime – it is not too common to talk about this until now, and in Germany such people have no status as victims of the Nazis, for example. Homosexuality was outlawed in Nazi Germany (either by omission or for some other reason, but the law remained in force until 1969), but now, the posters say, these people are “an integral part of our community.
Tolerance. The poster is set up here because the toilet at the streetcar terminus (which in the 1930s and 1940s was right there) was a favorite place for them to meet. Nearby now is the restored Craftsmen’s Quarter (admission usually costs 2.5 euros, but in December, during the Christmas Fair, it’s free)
and the New Museum, which displays works by German artists after 1945. The biggest in Germany German Museum (works of German artists from ancient times to 1945, the entrance fee is 8 euros) is literally five minutes walk along the city wall.
Nuremberg is almost a thousand years old, the official date of its foundation is 1050 when the city was first mentioned in chronicles. But archaeological excavations, as usual, show that Nuremberg is older. It was for a long time the leading city of the First Reich, as many call the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (962-1806). In 1356 Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV (whom, by the way, Czechs consider to be the greatest political figure in their history; the city where I live, Karlovy Vary, is named after him) issued the “Golden Bull”. It regulated the emperor’s election and demanded that he must spend the first day of his election in Nuremberg. The empire had no official capital, and Nuremberg became its “unofficial” capital; the Reichstag met here. After that Nuremberg prospered (though even before the Golden Bull one would hardly dare to call it a German backwater.) The symbols of imperial power (crown, sceptre and other attributes) were kept in the local castle until 1796 when, for fear of Napoleon’s invading army, they were taken first to Regensburg and then to Vienna. And the city itself, having lost its special position on the map of Germany, became less important. Until the Nazis came to power and revived its former glory.
For that greatness Nuremberg paid in full: as I said, in January 1945 the Americans bombed the old city almost completely. Until 1962, residents painstakingly, brick by brick, restored what they could. They were able – alas! – not so much: a large part of the medieval city was lost forever. This is why Nuremberg is also interesting as an experience not so much of reconstruction as of preserving (or at least trying to preserve) the atmosphere. If you do not look too closely, it is hard to tell the difference between the new and the meticulous reconstruction.
The number of stories is maintained – in the historic center of the building you will not see any protruding height, and the highest building is still the casings and towers of Kaiserburg – the old imperial fortress.
Don’t be lazy to go up to the top: from the fortress wall offers a beautiful view over the city.
And the Kaiserburg itself is worth an hour and a half of your precious time. The entrance is inexpensive: 5.5 euros (though it would be a sin to take more).
At the foot of Kaiserburg, one of the most prominent landmarks is the Albrecht Dürer House, said to be restored.
When you get closer, it looks like a reconstruction, but it’s done with great love of detail and authenticity. Tours here conducts the “wife” of the great artist – tells and shows how they lived here, what they ate, how her husband worked. She tells, by the way, only in German. This, by the way, surprised me: a tourist town, and English and other languages are very little, almost all the signs and inscriptions in German (not even the exhibition of imperial regalia in Kaiserburg).
So when we complain (at least the author of these lines complains) about the lack of inscriptions in English in Minsk and other Belarusian cities, it turns out it is not always fair. Although we must give credit to the Germans: they speak English readily, are very friendly and are ready to help the lost visitors (I checked it out for myself, you understand).
When in Nuremberg be sure to pay attention to its fountains. Right on the Market Square is “The Beautiful Fountain”, as soon as you see it, you will understand why it is called that.
The fountain is really stunningly beautiful! It was created in 1385-1392 by master craftsman Heinrich Bechheim, commissioned by Charles IV (who, as we remember, was the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor of the German Empire). This source of clean drinking water in the center of the bustling city was an achievement of medieval thought: water was supplied from springs four kilometers away through wooden pipes. In 1568 to protect these wooden structures around the fountain was installed beautiful (it has to correspond to the name of the fountain itself!) Forged grating made by another master Paulus Kuhn. One of the local legends is connected with this lattice. A young smith – a gifted, but poor man – is said to have wooed the daughter of the maker of the grille. He promised to give her in marriage to the poor man only if he could create during one night something which the master could not even repeat. The next morning, Herr Kuhn was disgraced: a bronze ring was threaded through “his” grille, and no one could detect the solder joint – it was so well polished. The master’s daughter married a talented young man and they lived a long and happy life. It is said that since then, anyone who spins this bronze ring a full three revolutions will have their wish come true.
The people of Nuremberg seem to be very responsible about their assigned work (or is that a universal German trait?). Not far from the Market Square there is a small but, in my opinion, quite curious monument – “Ship of Fools”.
Do not be surprised: it is the title of a very in its time (XV-XVI centuries) famous poem by Sebastian Brant. The author complains that a man is judged not by his merits, but by his wealth. A rich man, they say, is guaranteed a place of honor in any company, no matter what kind of man he is. “Mr. Pfennig” rules the world, and it is the greedy, the usurers, the crooks, the crooks and the beggars (and in spirit, too) who dream of getting his hands on him. Is it just me, or did someone say “very relevant”? Undoubtedly – the monument is modern. On the other hand, this is another striking example of Nuremberg cultivating precisely its medieval and German Renaissance history, without going into details of a much more recent era (although the site of Hitler’s marches is preserved as anti-Nazi propaganda).
One of my greatest personal impressions from my trip to Nuremberg was the “Marriage Carousel” fountain, which appeared in front of the entrance to the White Tower subway station for the sole purpose of covering the ventilation grate. But sculptor Jürgen Weber approached the issue creatively and, immortalizing poet and local resident Hans Sachs’ poem “Bitter-Sweet Marital Life,” showed the light and dark (it seemed to me the darker sides were more so) sides of married life:
“Marital life is the epitome of sweetness, The sour taste adds to the “bouquet.” As beautiful as you are, marital joys, So heavy, there’s no doubt.”
Christmas market in Nuremberg: Where to go and what to buy
The Nuremberg Christmas Fair is one of the oldest in the world. This is Germany’s main holiday market, and thousands of tourists from different countries come to it every year. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is repeatedly recognized as the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe. We will tell you what awaits you at the fair. We will advise you on what to do in Nuremberg at Christmas, what to try, and what unique souvenirs to buy.
If you’re planning a Christmas tour of Germany, be sure to read our guide to Berlin’s main Christmas markets.
Christmas in Nuremberg
The old German city of Nuremberg is called the capital of Christmas. At the end of November it transforms and becomes like a place from a Christmas fairy tale. Gingerbread houses, elegant windows, cozy shops with baked goods and hot mulled wine, thousands of lights – the real magic. The main event of the year is the traditional Christmas fair Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. Germans travel to it from all over Germany, and tourists from different countries dream to visit it at least once in a lifetime.
On the first Sunday of December, Germany celebrates Advent – the 4 weeks before Christmas. During this time, all cities in the country begin to prepare actively for Christmas.
It makes sense to stop by the tourist office in Nuremberg to buy a Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt card (entitles you to several free treats, drinks and entertainment). Or buy a classic Nuremberg C ard: free transportation + free museum visits for 2 days.
“Christkindlesmarkt” translates from German as “Baby Jesus Market”. This theme is played out in the traditional Christmas pageant on the opening day of the fair. A young girl dressed as the infant Christ, accompanied by two angels, greets guests and reads heartfelt poetry. The 2019 production will begin Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. – an impressive opening ceremony sure to be worth watching. The bazaar itself is open daily throughout Advent.
- Location : Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt Central Market Square and the surrounding streets.
- Dates for 2019 (Eve 2020): November 29 – December 24.
- Opening hours : from 10.00 to 21.00, the program of performances can be seen at the entrance to the fair.
A nostalgic fairy tale carousel, a beautiful Ferris wheel, a children’s train, numerous workshops – the Nuremberg Fair provides plenty of interesting activities for children. Adults will be interested to watch the performances, taste the local cuisine, drink mulled wine or soft punch, listen to Christmas music. And most importantly – to plunge into the atmosphere of the holiday, as you feel it only in childhood. Take a ride on a XIX century carriage, look at all the Christmas decorations, enjoy the twinkling lights, pass a note with a cherished wish to the Infant Christ, or whisper it in the ear of St. Nicholas (German Santa Claus).
What to Try
For food or gastronomic souvenirs at the Nuremberg Christmas Market, head to the Original Regional shops. These are the places where you can buy traditional local treats.
Before your trip, check out our article on Germany’s top national dishes, detailed guides to German sausages and cheeses, and an article on the best beers – sure to come in handy.
Top 10 treats to try in Nuremberg at the New Year’s fair:
- Nuremberg b ratwurst . Nuremberg sausages in a crusty bun with mustard or horseradish.
- Sauerbraten . Sour roast with gravy based on Nuremberg gingerbread.
- Weihnachtsgans . Christmas goose with sauerkraut, dumplings and flavorful meat gravy . The legendary gingerbread Nuremberg gingerbread, which has been baked since the Middle Ages, is the main treat at the Christmas market.
- Christkindlesmarkt cookies . Handmade cookies baked especially for the Nuremberg Christmas Fair.
- Stollen . The Christmas stollen in Nuremberg is quite popular, just like in the rest of Germany. Be sure to try this spicy and candied cupcake at the fair.
- Roasted almonds and chestnuts . It’s a real classic – rarely a Christmas in Europe goes without this fair food.
- Christkindlesmarkt punch (from Wurzelsepp). A unique Christmas punch that only Nuremberg’s New Year’s Eve bazaar makes.
- Weihnachtsbier . Weihnachtsbier is a beer with a deep red color, which you can taste in Germany only on Christmas Eve. Be sure to do so at the Nuremberg Fair.
- Glühwein . German-style Glühwein, which can be red or pale.
What to buy
For souvenirs or Christmas gifts for loved ones, head to The Craftsmen’s Courtyard, which is beautifully decorated for Christmas. Here you can watch craftsmen at work, buy unique items, and take great pictures. In the stalls at the fair itself, there is an equally great selection of interesting items – be sure to admire them and bring something to remember them by.
The 10 best things to buy on Christmas Eve in Nuremberg:
- Unique souvenirs marked Christkindlesmarkt that are only sold in Nuremberg at the Christmas Fair – nowhere else.
- Zwetschgenmännle plum men.
- Rauschgoldengel – a figurine of an angel with golden wings, which is the symbol of Christmas in Nuremberg.
- Christmas decorations, including handmade Christmas decorations.
- Made in jewelry and accessories.
- Holiday clothing, Christmas hats, handmade knitted items.
- “Official” Christkindlesmarkt mulled wine mug – organizers come up with a new design every year, so you can put together a whole collection.
- Christmas cards with views of festive Nuremberg and the fair.
- Elisen Lebkuchen – Nuremberg gingerbread in gift boxes or even in music boxes.
- German marzipan and Christmas figurines made of it (for tips on choosing marzipan, click here).
What else to do
In pre-Christmas Nuremberg, it’s nice to just stroll around. Explore all the streets of the Old Town, enjoy the festive atmosphere, and check out the local bakeries. Here are a few more ideas for a wholesome holiday.
Before your trip to Nuremberg, check out our selection of shopping ideas in Germany: souvenirs, accessories, gifts to loved ones, delicacies – you’re sure to find something you like. If you are planning an active shopping trip, save the names of German clothing and cosmetics brands for yourself – they are worth checking out first. Look for the large shopping malls on Breite Gasse, and the best boutiques are concentrated on Königsstrasse.
Nuremberg is very beautiful in the pre-Christmas season. Even if it’s not your first time in the city, at least one visit is well worthwhile. We have chosen for you 3 of the most interesting options:
. One of the most popular excursions in Nuremberg in Russian (read reviews – tourists love it). A great option for a large company or family. A walk through the charming streets of the Old Town, urban legends, the main sights, really curious facts. On Christmas Eve, you will fall even more in love with this city.
. How do Germans celebrate Christmas? What is Nuremberg famous for? Where can you find the holiday spirit? You’ll find out this and much more. You’ll see the main sights, look at the city through the eyes of the locals, visit Germany’s main Christmas market, as well as places where regular tourists don’t get to. In addition, the guide will tell you where to look for the best sausages, where they sell delicious gingerbread, and where you should go for beer.
. A great individual tour for a family or small group. In the company of the guide you will plunge into the festive atmosphere of the Christmas market, you will learn all the most important things about German traditions, and feel like “one of their own. This is an excellent chance to look at Nuremberg from the inside, to try the most delicious holiday dishes, to be in a real fairy tale come true.
You can go ice skating in Nuremberg at the Eisdisco Nürnberg. For lovers of culture we recommend a visit to the Nuremberg State Theater. Christmas performances begin in early December.