Road Trip Through History: Nuremberg*, Pt 1. The Castle

One thing you can count on if you travel to a city that important during the medieval period is that it will have a castle: a big hunk of masonry on a hill overlooking the city.** The condition will vary, depending largely on how badly the city fared in World War II.*** You can also count on said castle being a museum. Nuremberg is no exception.

The central exhibits at the castle dealt with Nuremberg’s role as an important center of the Holy Roman Empire, and consequently how the Holy Roman Empire worked. The castle also has small excellent exhibits on the development of arms and armory and on the excavation and restoration of the castle. Here are the bits that captured my imagination:

  • I knew that the Holy Roman Empire was a shifting alliance of semi-independent feudal entities in what is now Germany, Austria, northern Italy and eastern France. I didn’t realize that it did not have a settled capital until the reign of Karl V in the sixteen century. Instead the imperial government traveled with the emperor from one strategically critical castle to another. This particularly caught my attention, because the fact that the Mongol horde did not have a fixed capital is always treated as being fundamentally different from European traditions. While it is true that the Mongols did not have permanent cities, the moveable nature of government does not seem to be as different as I previously thought. (Feel free to weigh-in, people. I am spit-balling here.)
  • Nuremberg was one of three imperial cities given a defined imperial role in the Golden Bull of 1356—a decree issued by the Imperial Diet at Nuremberg under the leadership of Emperor Charles IV that set the constitutional structure of the empire for the next 400 years. The bull defined the college of seven electors responsible for choosing the emperor, known as the “pillars of the empire”. It outlined the principal of majority voting for the first time in the Empire, making it impossible for three electors to hold up the choice of the next emperor. (The drafters of the Golden Bull were serious about keeping things rolling. If the electors had not agreed on the new emperor within thirty days, they were to be put on a diet of bread and water until the choice was made.) The Golden Bull also detailed that the election should take place in Frankfort, the coronation should occur at Aachen, and the first imperial diet of the new reign should take place in Nuremberg.
  • The invention of the crossbow around 1150 CE was the first step in the gradual decline in importance of armed knights on the battlefield. Contemporaries (by which I assume the curator means contemporaries from the knightly class) considered the crossbow “unchivalrous, ignoble and insidious” and at various times papal councils banned its use “against Christians.” Those bans were generally ignored because the crossbow could be used from a distance, it could penetrate mail shirts and steel plates, and, unlike its ancestor the longbow, it did not require great strength or serious training to use. From the perspective of a medieval commander, what’s not to love?

Next up in Nuremberg:  Nazis.

*Or Nürnberg, if you prefer.
**Why on the hill, you ask? Defensive Architecture 101: It’s always easier to defend the high ground.
***In the case of Nuremberg, pretty badly. As you will see in a future blog post, Nuremberg was a symbolic center for the Nazis. Don’t touch that dial.


Travelers’ tips:

1. Unless you read German easily, take the audio tour. We decided not to use the audio tour for Nuremberg Castle and regretted it.

2. If you’re interested in traditional German food, try the Pilhoffer Gasthof on Konigstrasse near the train station. Definitely our favorite among the several traditional German restaurants that we ate at during our visit.

3.  Try the gingerbread and the Nuremberg wurst, even if you don’t expect to like them.

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