At the cutting edge of German history

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Nuremberg is today a quiet town with a very noisy past. Marius Benson finds history, art and wine in abundant supply.

"Albrecht Durer must have been quite short."

That was the first coherent thought I formed as I reeled from one room to another after driving my head sharply into a heavy wooden door frame on the first floor of the German master painter's house.

The house is one of the chief attractions of Nuremberg, the town Durer called home for much of his life.

Sadly, five centuries after the artist lived there, Nuremberg has none of his works. They have all been scattered around the great galleries of the world.

But his old home, one of the classic half-wood houses that are a chief attraction of medieval German towns, gives some sense of the man.

Durer was not only a great artist but a revolutionary one. He is the bridge that links German medieval art and the Renaissance. He was the first artist north of the Alps to paint landscape for its own sake, rather than simply as a backdrop to a religious theme.

And his masterful self-portraits were also the first such works painted in the lands beyond the Alps.

Nuremberg itself has a strong claim to be at the cutting edge of German history.

In 1525 it declared all its churches to be Protestant, becoming one of the first German towns to adopt the reformation and turn away from Rome.

Four centuries later it was at the forefront of less lovely change when it, in common with the surrounding region of Franconia, took the lead in taking up National Socialism and cheering Hitler and his Nazis through the ancient cobbled streets.

That gave Nuremberg a special place in history - and in early 1945 it gave the city a special place in the cross-hairs of British and American bombers as they rained destructive revenge on German towns and cities.

Postcards on sale today show central Nuremberg reduced to a shattered shell. City block after city block of what had been baroque and medieval wonder, destroyed with only bare walls, half-demolished standing.

Durer's house was lucky. A high explosive bomb detonated outside, taking off the roof and damaging the walls - but it remained standing and restoration was possible after the war.

Nuremberg has been restored to a level where it is now one of the most visited German towns for tourists. But it is only an echo of its former glory with a mix of the old and new not really coalescing into a real sense of what was.

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