Sunday, November 13, 2016


The trip to Nuremberg was indeed a bit surreal. It helps to understand a bit of the historical context of the city.

Nuremberg was essentially the capital of the Holy Roman Empire from 1050 to 1571. It was the city where the Reichstag, the Imperial Diet, was held by the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire—which was neither holy nor Roman, but that is a different story.

Nuremberg was long considered the most German of German cities, which is why the Nazis looked to it as a symbolic hub and place to hold their enormous rallies.

When I arrived on Thursday, I made my way to visit the Kaiserburg, the castle on the mountain top that served as the medieval parliament. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to visit the museum but got a spectacular view across the city as the sun was making its descent.

On a rainy Friday, I visited the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. I was going to visit the Nuremberg rally grounds but given the rain I thought it best to punt that trip to Saturday in the hopes it would be nicer. The museum, which was founded in 1852 even prior to the unification of Germany, was enormous. It was established to be a cultural statement of the German nation-state.

I first visited the exhibition on King Charles IV, the Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor. The exhibit was quite interesting, on the life and time of King Charles IV, who established Charles University in Prague. The period of his reign in the 14th century was a particularly tumultuous time due to the ravages of the Black Death—as usual, blamed on the Jews, and also a small bout of climate change. It looked a bit apocalyptic at the time, which came across in the exhibit.

Meanwhile, in the permanent collection, the museum had floors of paintings, relics and the hull of an old Carthusian Monastery and cloisters—which the museum was constructed upon. I toured past old reliefs, and amazing collections of astrolabes, sun dials, pocket-watches, medical instruments and globes. There was even the oldest round globe, the Behaim globe, dating back to 1492 but without the Americas as it was created prior to Columbus' voyage. Also, lots of excellent paintings including Albrecht Durer's large scale Charlemagne. And per my favs, I found a self-portrait of a young Rembrandt. I spent hours in that museum, and could have spent hours more.

I spent the afternoon hanging at the hostel before I ventured out in the cold to find some falafel. It was near freezing, so I didn't want to get falafel outside at a stand, but all the indoor places seemed to only sell kebabs. Yet I spent longer in the cold, looking for an indoor restaurant than if I had just eaten the outdoor falafel and been done with it. But no matter, I did finally find a lil restaurant spot for some falafel that was just fair but hit the spot. I chatted with the fellow who ran the place. He was a Kurd from Suli. I gushed over my love of Kurdistan, and we spoke of my work there. He had been a soldier in Saddam's army, and had fought against Iran but ultimately left because he didn't was to be part of it any longer. He was warm and friendly, it was an interaction that I needed. Love the Kurds, even if they make the worst falafel in the Middle East.

Saturday came, and with it a reprieve from the rain. On a cold, grey day I got a transit day pass and hoped the tram out to the Dokumentationscentrum Reichsparteitagsgelande,or Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The museum, built into the Kongresshalle—a huge Nazi piece of stadium architecture that was never completed, was fascinating.  
It charted the Nazis rise in Germany, and the role of Nuremberg in the Nazi history. Nuremberg was where the Nazi Party held giant rallies in 1927 and 1929, and the annual Nazi Party rallies from 1931 to 1934. The rally grounds served to propagate the Nazi cult and demonstrate Nazi power and ability to mobilize the masses.

The museum discussed the designs on the grounds by Albert Speer—Hitler's favorite architect who would plan designs for other Nazi cities. It also went through the Nuremberg laws, and their application on minorities within the Reich.

Finally, it outlined Leni Riefenstahl'Triumph of the Will, the famous propaganda movie epic that showed Hitler's arrival to adoring masses in Nuremberg. Her film, which featured a film crews of more than 180 assistants and the finest camera, lighting and editing equipment at the time, was a propaganda piece like no other. It was shown all across Germany, in schools and public squares and helped cement the cult of the Fuhrer.

After touring the museum, I wandered the immense party rally grounds, Zeppelin Field and Zeppelintribune where Hitler would address the rallies.

After this, I hopped the metro over to a punctuation on the period: the Memorium Nuremberg Trials. The fascinating museum in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice explained the process of the war crimes tribunal in the context of international law.

The museum charted the history of international law, from the rise of the Geneva Conventions through the League of Nations and onto the Nuremberg trials against the Nazi top brass. Their trials, for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, where held in Courtroom 600 in the building, which I got to see from above.

The museum offered a thorough, if exhausting, understanding of the war crimes trials for the Nazi heads such as Goring, Ribbentrop and others. It explained the role of the tribunal, and the differences in the victors' desires to conduct justice (Stalin: take them out back and shoot them; Churchill: give a them a quick trial and shoot them; Roosevelt: give them a trial), and the roles of the different prosecutors from the British, American, French and Soviet sides.

The museum explained how those involved in the process went to long ends to make sure these were real trials, and not just “victor's justice.” Also, how the Nuremberg trials created a further system of international criminal justice.

In this regard, I just began East West Street by Phillipe Sands about the origins of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" in regards to the Nuremberg trials.  It is fascinating, and worth a read.

Now, on to exploring through Weimar as the train there passes giant yellow castles on hilltops, and forests of evergreens in their first dusting of snow.  

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