Saturday, March 10, 2012


My brother Baldy sent along a brief brochure explaining the etchings, by Johann Adam Deselbach, that illustrate a box of gingerbread from the firm E. Otto Schmidt of Nuremberg in Germany. A friend of his had gotten the box and wished to know what the sheet said. We got to talking about the city, one of the great places in Bavaria where we’d begun our life as immigrants just after World War II. “Around here,” Baldy said, “it’s only known as the place where the Nuremberg Trials were held.” That’s probably right on—and it suggested to me that it might be well to say something more about this very splendid medieval city. It was founded around 1000 AD; the illustration I am showing is dated 1493, but the modern place remains as splendid to this day as it appears to be from the fifteenth century image.

Curious place, Nuremberg. In a way it has always been quite central in Germany without being in any way, officially, its governing center. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) and a favorite residence of its emperors. Kaiser Friedrich II established it as a free imperial city in 1219. The Imperial Diets were regularly held at its castle—and for that reason the city came to be known as the “unofficial” capital of that famous realm. For this reason, evidently—Hitler’s ego here played a part—the city came to be the place for massive Nazi propaganda events, held annually from 1927 through 1938, the Nuremberg rallies. And for that reason later, when the Allies had overcome the Third Reich—and because the Palace of Justice in the city was large, suitable, and undamaged by allied bombing, plus having ample prisons attached—it was chosen as the right symbolic location for the trials. Nuremberg today has 500,000 inhabitants, so it isn’t some small place hidden among pines, only its crumbling towers showing above the tree-line.

I for one, having my own peculiar perspectives, have always viewed Nuremberg as Albrecht Dürer’s place of birth, a great artist whose work transcends all that other stuff. Come to think of it, he was also a great etcher, so this business begins and ends with references to the copper plate.
Images from Wikipedia (link). I think that the tower in the modern image corresponds to the right-most tower in the central cluster of the old illustration shown above it.

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