Nuremberg: Toys and Trains, Dürer and Lebkuchen

Diminutive though its trademark sausage may be, Nuremberg offers visitors and residents alike heaping platefuls when it comes to its vibrant cultural life, fascinating history, world-famous festivals, nearby outdoor recreation, and other aspects of its high quality-of-life. As Bavaria’s second largest city, the center of a metropolitain area of some 2.5 million people, Nuremberg is the economic and cultural hub of the Middle Franconian region, easily reachable from Munich (106 miles) and Frankfurt (140 miles).

Franconian Metropolis

Christkindlesmarkt Enlarge image Thanks to a cold snap, the stalls of the famed Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt were already covered in snow on December 2, 2010. (© picture alliance / dpa) Renowned worldwide for its Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany with around two million visitors annually, the old town of Nuremberg buzzes with holiday cheer—and visitors—during late November and December. This is the time when the spicy-sweet aroma of lebkuchen, the gingerbread cakes synonymous with Nuremberg for centuries, can be inhaled as it wafts through the air, mixing with the scent of glühwein. Nuremberg’s distinctive regional cuisine, array of world-class museums, fascinating history and regional attractions, however, make it a city worth visiting at any time of year, in any weather.

 “Why is the Nuremberg bratwurst so small?”

Since the official recipe for the Nuremburg bratwurst (Nürnberger Rostbratwurst) was established by law in the year 1313, many legends have arisen to answer this question. One has it that the Nuremberg butchers of the 15th century had to make the bratwurst small enough to fit through a keyhole, so as to be able to continue selling the bratwursts after the curfew.

Nuremburg bratwursts (Nürnberger Rostbratwurst) Enlarge image Traditional serving of Nuremburg bratwursts (Nürnberger Rostbratwurst). (© picture-alliance / Rainer Hacken) Another, perhaps more authentic version says that Nuremberg, as a wealthy medieval city at the crossroads of major trade routes, and imperial meeting place over hundreds of years of the electors of the Holy Roman Empire, developed a taste for smaller, more delicately-spiced sausages than other places, where the emphasis lay on quantity.

Beyond question is the high status of the finger-sized wurst in the hearts of Nurembergers today. The unique size and taste of the miniscule sausage, often consumed “Drei im Weggla,” meaning “three in a roll,” is ensured by an EU Protected Geographical Indication label (PGI), meaning it can only be produced in Nuremberg according to a single recipe.

Learn more about the Nürnberger Rostbratwurst

Visitors to Nuremberg can experience the culture of the Rostbratwurst on a city tour highlighting key locations in the wurst’s illustrious history. But there are many ways to experience Nuremberg other than from the “bratwurst perspective.”

Imperial History on the Hill

The Pegnitz River meanders through the old town of Nuremberg, largely surrounded by the medieval city wall, built between the 12th and 16th centuries. Seventy-one towers along the wall remain standing, many of them used today by organizations, clubs and private individuals as museums, meeting rooms, and even student housing!

Kaiserburg Enlarge image The medieval Kaiserburg is the emblem of the city of Nuremberg. (© picture-alliance / dpa) Atop the hill at Nuremberg’s historic center is the Kaiserburg, or Imperial Castle, embodying the political importance of the medieval city. From 1050 to 1571, all emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation resided here for at least part of the time, leading to Nuremberg being dubbed the empire’s unofficial capital. During a period of economic and cultural flourishing in the late 15th and early 16th century, Nuremberg was one of the three largest cities of the empire, along with Prague and Cologne. Visitors to the Kaiserburg can get a sense of this storied past as they view the large collection of weapons and armor, explore the extensive labyrinth of underground passages, and take in the magnificent panorama view over the red rooftops and steeples of the old town from the so-called Sinwellturm, the castle’s defensive tower constructed in the 13th century.

City of Dürer

During 2012, Nuremberg is celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, the oldest art academy in German-speaking lands, founded 1662, with a range of exhibitions showcasing the artistic and creative excellence of Nuremberg past and present. Long before the founding of the academy, Nuremberg was known as a city of artistic greatness, Albrecht Dürer House and Museum Enlarge image The Albrecht Dürer House and Museum are located near the Nuremberg castle. (© picture alliance / dpa) thanks to the first-ever “international superstar” of the art world and probably Nuremberg’s most famous native son to this day, Albrecht Dürer.

Born in Nuremberg in 1471, the ingenious painter, engraver, mathematician and theorist of the Northern Renaissance developed a European-wide following thanks to his prints, which were distributed across the Continent. Just steps from the Kaiserburg, the Albrecht Dürer House, where Dürer lived and worked from 1509 to 1528, provides a glimpse of how well-to-do burghers lived at that time. A tour through the four-storey, half-timbered house, the only largely preserved artist house of the Northern Renaissance, presents the world-famous artist through many facets of his life and work.

Learn more about the Dürer House

A short stroll from the Dürer House lies the Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg’s central square and main market place. The square is dominated on the east side by the imposing Gothic brick Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), with its triangular form and spires a symbol of the city. Männleinlaufen Enlarge image The Männleinlaufen, a mechanical clock on the gable of the Frauenkirche, commemorates the Golden Bull of 1356 and its promulgator, Charles IV. (© picture-alliance / Rainer Hacken) The Männleinlaufen, a mechanical clock on the gable of the Frauenkirche dating to 1509, attracts onlookers every day at noon. The glockenspiel was commissioned by Emperor Charles IV, promulgator of the Nuremberg Code, later known as the Golden Bull, of 1356, which governed the selection and crowning of the Roman-German kings for over 400 years. On the first strike of the clock, a gate opens and figurines representing the seven electors of that imperial diet or Reichstag, come bearing the imperial regalia, circling the emperor three times and bowing before him. It’s a whimsical attraction with deep historical roots that delights people of all ages.

In front of the Frauenkirche stands the 62-foot-high Schöner Brunnen, or Beautiful Fountain, constructed in the late 14th century in the form of a Gothic spire. On three levels, 40 allegorical figures of stone represent the weltanschauung (world-view) of the time. But the fountain is perhaps most famous for the golden and iron rings within the protective fence, added in 1587. According to legend, it is not known how they were attached to the elaborate fence without a welded joint. Turning the rings is said to bring good luck and fertility.

City of Museums

The Dürer House is just the beginning of Nuremberg’s world-class ensemble of museums, several of which focus on special, “only-in-Nuremberg” aspects of the city. Germanisches Nationalmuseum (German National Museum) Enlarge image The Germanisches Nationalmuseum, the largest museum devoted to the cultural history of German-speaking peoples. (© picture-alliance / Rainer Hacken) Among the must-see museums are the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum), highlighting Nuremberg’s centuries-old tradition as a center of toy production; the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, founded in 1852 and Germany’s largest museum devoted to the cultural history of German-speaking peoples; and the Deutsche Bahn Museum, Germany’s oldest railroad museum opened in 1899 and featuring around 40 historic trains including the Adler, the first locomotive to be used for commercial transport of goods and people in Germany. Built in 1835 in Newcastle by the British railroad pioneers George and Robert Stephenson, the Adler (Eagle) was delivered to the Bavarian Ludwig Railway, which in 1834 had received a concession to build the first railway from Nuremberg to the nearby town of Fürth. The success of this line, on the busiest commercial corridor in Bavaria, helped usher in the steam railroad age across Germany.

Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Enlarge image Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, completed 2001. (© picture alliance / Daniel Karman) To learn about the tragic 20th century history of Nuremberg, visit the Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, located a short distance southeast of the city center in the unfinished shell of the Congress Hall designed by Albert Speer. Opened in 2001, the center features exhibits on the National Socialists’ exploitation of mass spectacle as a form of visual propaganda. The National Socialist Party selected Nuremberg as the “City of Party Rallies,” held each September from 1933 to 1938, due to the city’s history as the seat of imperial diets. Nineteen exhibition areas cover the history of the building of the Rally Grounds, the “Nuremberg Race Laws” of 1935, the Nuremberg Trials held in the war’s immediate aftermath to prosecute the major war criminals, and the sensitive issue of what to do with the massive stone buildings, among other topics.

Learn about the Documentation Center

Nuremberg has a key place in the history of international human rights law. Starting in November 1945, seven months after the city was liberated by the US army, the Allied forces of World War II held trials to prosectue the major surviving war criminals of the National Socialist regime. Unlike the show trials or “victor’s justice” that occurred in the Soviet zones of occupation, these trials relied on evidence, fairness, and the principle of the rule of law. The first-ever international tribunal to try individuals for “crimes against humanity” set a legal precedent influential in the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2002. To learn more, visit the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, a municipal exhibit in the famous Court Room 600 in the Palace of Justice, a short distance from the old town.

From "Franconian Switzerland” to the “Garlic Country”

Fränkische Alb Enlarge image The town of Hersbruck, 22 miles east of Nuremberg in the Fränkische Alb (Franconian Jura) region. (© picture alliance / Arco Images G) Numerous regional tourist destinations, as well as natural areas for relaxation and recreation, can be found on all sides of Nuremberg, from the hill country of the Franconian Jura (Fränkische Alb) to the east, to the "Franconian Switzerland” (Fränkische Schweiz) in the north, to the Franconian Lake District (Fränkisches Seenland) in the southwest. The Franconian Forest has for centuries been a protected preserve at Nuremberg’s doorstep. It once served as a source of wood for the free imperial city and is now a local recreational area and the region’s “green lung.” The Nuremberg Zoo, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, features a recently-opened, one-of-a-kind dolphin lagoon—a major attraction all on its own. The knoblauchland or “garlic country,” Bavaria’s largest contiguous area of vegetable cultivation, is located north of the city and contributes to the population’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Young manatee with zoo keeper Enlarge image Herbert, a young West Indian manatee, was raised by Nuremberg zookeepers after his mother rejected him. The Nuremberg Zoo is known for its dolphin lagoon and manatee house. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) The high quality of life enjoyed by Nurembergers has contributed to the city’s growing international population, which today stands at more than 17 percent. Generations of American military men and women have also experienced the pleasures of the region, given the presence of five US Army garrisons at Hohenfels, Grafenwoehr, Bamberg, Ansbach, and Schweinfurt. Other international connections maintained by Nuremberg stem from its world-class universities and research institutions, globally active businesses, prominent trade fairs (the world’s largest toy fair is held here), sister city partnerships (including one with Atlanta, Georgia), and of course, the millions of tourists that visit each year.

So, whether you would like to meet the Christmas Angel, see medieval toys, experience how Dürer lived, or learn more about why the Nuremberg bratwurst is so small—the Franconian metropolis is waiting for you!


Nuremberg Fast Facts

Population: around 500,000

Federal State: Bavaria

Area: 186.5 square kilometers (72 square miles)

Key economic activities: communication and multimedia, traffic engineering and logistics, energy and environment, power electronics and service industry; 50 specialist trade fairs and conferences, including the world's largest specialist trade fair for toys.

Tourism: more than 2.5 million overnight visitors annually 


Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) is one of the largest universities in Germany with more than 33,000 students. The universities of the cities of Erlangen and Nürnberg were united in 1961.

Georg Simon Ohm University of Applied Science: 10,500 students

Sister City in the U.S.: Atlanta, Georgia, since 1998


Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)