After the sleepy-times and metropolitan feel of Munich, it was thrilling to hop off the train and find ourselves enclosed in high medieval walls. Even though much of the city is reconstructed, Nurmburg has an old world charm that makes it seem much smaller than it really is (the second-largest Bavarian city after Munich). The city has a thriving arts and underground scene, and we saw metalheads on every street corner.
We were only in Nurmburg for two nights, so can’t claim to have seem all of the city – in fact, we missed out on all the interesting WWII stuff in the area, but here’s my guide for interesting and alternative things to do in Nurmburg.
Underworld Nurmburg (Nurmburg Felsengänge) run daily tours starting from the Brauereiladen der Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, (Bergstr. 19) pub and brewery, at the foot of the castle. But this isn’t any old walking tour – you descend below the city to explore underground beer cellars, water conduits, bastions, and the famous Art Bunker, where the city stored priceless artworks to protect them from the air raids that destroyed much of the city during WWII.
The company run English tours on Sundays, but we were going to be in the depths of the Bavarian countryside on Sunday, so we opted for the German tour of the day, about the underground beer cellars. They provided us with audio guides in English and we followed the group into the bowels of the city.
The cellars have been used for centuries to store the beer in the many breweries above (this IS Bavaria, after all). The natural formations in the rock keep the beer cool and the ingenious ventilation system kept fresh air circulating. In some places, the cellars extend for four levels. After refrigerators were invented the cellars fell out of use, until the city’s people needed somewhere to hide during the air raids.
On the tour you’ll see everything from banks of cellars to rodent traps, water conduits, and even a bit of a brewery tour. I have a particular fascination with underground spaces, so I loved this tour, but I warn you, if you’re not blind like me, you may find the lighting quite dim and the spaces quite narrow.
While we were waiting for our tour to begin, we trudged up the hill to investigate the castle. As you walk up towards the main buildings, you encounter several later buildings within the castle proper that appear to be people’s homes, as well as the Kaiserstallung (built in 1495, it served originally as a storehouse for grain, and is now a youth hostel). After getting the dude behind the counter to do a fantastic impression of Bruce Dickenson (gotta love metalheads), we grabbed our tickets and headed to the castle museum, not expecting much.
What a surprise! The museum housed a unique collection of arms and armour from all periods of history, including some impressive suits of armour, lances, some wicked halberds, early examples of the blunderbuss and, my favorite, a great display of hand grenades. Unlike many armour collections in Germany, photographs were allowed, so we snapped away and chatted in loud, kiwi voices about the different features of the armour, much to the amusement of the lady on duty, who followed us from room to room and pointed out items of interest.
During the 17th century, the castle became an important centre of astronomy, so several rooms of the museum were dedicated to astronomical instruments.
At 4pm, we got a special treat. A lady led us into a secret room where the castle well resides. Lighting four candles, she lowered them down into the well until they reflected in the water – it was an awfully long way down (42 metres, in fact!). Next, she let people take turns tossing a jug of water into the well and listening for the splash – you could count all the way to ten before you heard it.
Eat and Drink like a Bavarian
Many Germans – especially in the North – don’t consider the Bavarian’s real Germans. They certainly seem to be cut from a different cloth. True or not, when it comes to good food and good beer, the Bavarians top the nation – and that’s no easy feat. In an entire year I will not drink as much as I did in the two weeks we spent in Bavaria, but oh, it was glorious!
We had dinner at the Altstadthof pub, where I had veal sausages in red wine and a couple of weissbiers. CDH had some kind of sausage covered in meat jelly thing, which was tasty but visually unappealing, and more bier, and for dessert we tried a local specialty – snowballs. These were honestly kind of blah, but after another beer, you don’t really notice …
Underground is a UK alterantive clothing a footwear chain who stock Doc Martins, Queen of Darkness, Lip Service, and other popular gothic / alternative labels. We found an Underground store in Nurmburg and proceeded to spend an hour or two there blowing our budget on my new purple boots, socks, and a purple dress so short none of you will ever get to see it (I wonder who chose that item, aye?) Although a lot of the clothes were overpriced, they had a great selection and one of the best collections of kick-ass boots I’ve seen in a long time. And the kindly folk there gave us a tip to head to Boganstrasse for a …
Drink at the Black Hole
We hiked along Boganstrasse (what an appropriate name!) looking for a metal pub. Finally, we located the address and walked past the door twice before noticing it. “Is it open?” CDH asked, peering inside. “All the lights are off.”
I cupped my hands on the glass. “Yeah, lights are definitely off,” I said. “But the sign says it’s open.”
I tried the handle, pulled the door open and stepped inside the Black Hole, to be greeted by Frank, the laughing owner and barman, who’d seen our bemused faces peering at him through the glass.
The Black Hole is a great little bar – dark and intimate, with dark wooden tables, mead on tap, great décor and metal on the stereo, but not so loud you can’t hear yourself. Frank owned the place of eight years, a feat unheard of in New Zealand (our metal bars usually close after a year due to inactivity), and was a great host. After a few too many meads, we staggered back to the hotel.
Other fun things we did in Nurmburg – went to the DB museum and looked at trains and got to play with a tube machine.
This made me ridiculously happy … possibly on account of the beer.
So, yes, Nurmburg will definitely be a city to return to. I love the laid-back arty vibe, the cool street art, the medieval walls that seem to enclose everything in a giant bad-ass hug, and, of course, the Bavarian beer, meat and hospitality.