Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Nuremberg


In a summer so severe as the one which is now something more than past, the ardour for Alpine climbing flags, except in the very hardened tourist. Yet the long vacation and the recess of Parliament have to be bridged over, and travel of some sort must be accomplished. It is of importance, therefore, to find places in Europe where one may be dry and yet interested; cities, for example, like Nuremberg, which, lying a little out of the main track, are, exactly in proportion to that deviation, less visited by summer pilgrims in their annual search after health and relaxation, or their flight from ennui.

Nuremberg, or Nürnberg, is far from being beautifully situated. Its entourage is flat. The level landscape, however, allows the tall spires of its churches to be seen from a distance, and, on a nearer approach, displays the towers which protect its wall, one hundred and twenty in number, as well as the castle, and the buildings of inferior height. Neither has Nuremberg, within, that picturesque crowding together of houses which is necessitated in many walled towns, and which imparts to Rouen such antique
Dormer Window, Nuremberg.
beauty and Prout-like effect. It is better to make these two preliminary remarks, lest when visited for the first time by those who think they know the appearance of the city well by report, a slight feeling of disappointment be felt, a hidden want, arising from the open and scattered plan of the town, compared with fancy’s more romantic presentation. It is with architecture as it is with pears. There is an hour of perfect ripeness. After that is attained, the fruit rots and drops—the building becomes a ruin—

—— whose only business is to perish.”

It is difficult to lay the finger on the exact line of demarcation, because none exists in reality. Who, for instance, can say precisely when the imperceptibly increasing embonpoint ceases to add fuller beauty to woman? Who can tell the very measure of love, when—

Altho’ it could not live with less,
The heart would burst with more?”

We cannot decide theoretically, but we know intuitively; and, knowing, we desire to arrest that mellow stage of the pear, the abbey, the figure, and the affections, which is æsthetically the best.
Oriel Window, Nuremberg.

Now it is the especial happiness of Nürnberg to have arrived at ripeness, and to have had the agency of decay arrested. Time looks kindly on this dry Venice, and the shadow of his hand pauses on the dial of Ahaz. Venice has changed much in the last twenty years from the decay of buildings, the erection of new houses, and the introduction of railways. If, unhappily, it should be her fate to undergo a siege or bombardment in the approaching struggle, how will her remaining glories be quickly dispersed!

“Death seems to have forgotten us,” said the younger of the two French octogenarians. “Kings have forgotten me,” Nuremberg whispers. And truly the iconoclast has made a strange omission, and with an unwonted tenderness has spared both public and domestic architecture, and left them to their own calm decay.

It greatly redounds to the honour of the late King of Bavaria, that he did so much to prevent the inroads of modern Vandalism in this ancient city.

The same care is continued at the present moment in the conservation of this great memorial of past ages. The railway station is placed out of sight from the town, and, whilst it is excellently adapted to its proper purpose, it is made to harmonise and almost to sympathise in its careful architecture with the city to which it conducts. The journey hither from Frankfort, passing Würzberg and Bamberg, occupies nearly eight hours. There is a delay at the latter place of almost an hour—a stoppage too long for mere purposes of refreshment, whilst it does not afford time for the tourist to go up to the town and see its cathedral. The first part of the route produces a very agreeable impression of Bavaria, the old Hercynian forest clothing hill and dale for many miles, and pleasant villages and sun-inviting vineyards giving a changing interest to the journey. The scenery from Aschaffenberg to the tunnel at Laufach is particularly fine. The wide plain through which the Maine runs being reached, the beauty of the country is lost, only, however, to give place to pleasant anticipation, as the venerable spires of churches and the towers of the castle of Nuremberg begin to appear on the horizon. Then we ask ourselves whether we shall feel the usual disappointment which the first sight of a real object produces in displacing the image of it previously formed in the mind, and long cherished there. Will the houses be high enough, the streets sufficiently close, the stones properly crumbled, to identify the reality with our picture? In fact, will the peculiarities and beauties which we have heard for years to exist, be sufficiently compact and without interval to allow us to say at once, “Yes! this is the Nuremberg of our fancy’s limning.” With the majority of visitors, the response to such questions will be in the affirmative, as they drive through the gates into the town, and are immediately presented with gables and tourelles, oriels, and roofs rough with dormer-windows, sufficiently crowded together in this locality and unmixed with any modern buildings.

It is quite clear that the patrician and inferior burghers of this once proud and powerful free city had their dwellings built with a direct view to beauty; and used ornament, not as the humble handmaid of utility, but as an equal or a sister, walking with her hand-in-hand. What, for example, led to the erection of such an oriel as that belonging to the house opposite St. Sebald’s church, except an abstract love of the beautiful in art? It was the residence of the Nuremberg poet Pfinzing, author of the “Theuerdank,” and is now occupied by the pastor of the parish. His two fair daughters were sitting in their bower—“not unseen,”—as we scanned its outward enrichment of bas-relief and its interior vaulting; and they formed by no means an unpleasing feature in the picture. Ornament, indeed, appears to constitute a part of all the houses. Enrichment of form had become endemic in the city, and could not be omitted in the construction of public and private buildings. In the courts and galleries of the Rath-haus are many interesting specimens of carved wood, and we found almost the same patterns, having certainly the same date, in a second staircase of the antiquated but comfortable hotel, the Red Horse (Rother Ross). The house is indeed a good instance of a domestic building of the 15th century. Its corridors are decorated with numerous large pairs of deer’s antlers. Its front is very plain and unattractive, but the house has the advantage of commanding a view of St. Sebald’s church.

The river Regnitz, running through the city, divides it into two pretty equal parts or quarters; and these take their names respectively from the two great churches, St. Sebald’s and St. Laurenz. The stream is spanned by numerous bridges, and is parted into two channels by an island, occupied by the Trödel market, a sort of permanent fair, the stalls and booths of which seem innumerable. The market has existed there from ancient times; and, no doubt, the fluttering of its cheap ribbons, its toys, and comestibles, have from age to age drawn thither the same crowd of purchasers which frequents its rows and alleys at this day. Whether the wares were good we cannot say, but the prices of commodities struck us as decidedly moderate, and as if those inland chapmen had been universally seized with the determination “to meet the times.” At other parts of the river’s course high wooden houses overhang the water, and their picturesque fronts, reflected in the stream, show double, house and shadow.

Nuremberg has long possessed the distinction of being the great toy manufactory of Europe.[1] One feels surprised, therefore, at the small number of toys visible in the town. A single London street would make a greater display than the whole city. But thus it is with most things in which huge London comes into competition with other capitals; its proportions are so gigantic that it eclipses its competitors even in their own specialities. But Nuremberg has not confined its inventive reputation to toys. Its eggs, as the first watches were named, made it famous for ingenuity. Here was erected the first chain bridge. Playing-cards were invented, or at any rate made, here, in 1380. The first European paper-mill was set up here in 1390, perhaps to facilitate the card manufacture. The first canons were cast in Nuremberg in 1356; the first wire-drawing machine set up in 1360; the first gunlocks made in 1517; the composition now called brass, was discovered here in 1550; the air-gun invented in 1560; and Denner produced the first clarionet in 1690.

Street in Nuremberg 1860 (OAW).png

Street in Nuremberg.

For several centuries Nuremberg was an Imperial residence. Even now, the suite of rooms fitted up in the castle for the King of Bavaria, would not be a despicable residence for a monarch making short visits, without a large and costly retinue. In the Middle Ages, this important Free City was governed by an oligarchy; and a Council of eight seems to have lorded it over their fellow-townsmen, not without a spice of arrogance. Power and secrecy made them cruel; and the dark passages and chambers of the Rath-haus must often have listened to helpless and agonising groans of prisoners subjected to torture, and afterwards consigned to the Oubliettes. Subterranean ways led from this same town-hall beyond the city walls, for the unobserved exit and entrance of the council, or of prisoners.

In walking through the town, denuded now of pride and power, rich only in memories and material relics, the visitor will be struck by a peculiar duality about it. Its two great churches have a considerable similarity. Each has two spires of equal height, and both have the peculiarity of the chancel being much higher than the nave. The churches belong to the Lutheran congregations; and owing to the great moderation which here marked the coming in of the Reformed Religion, altars, and roods, and triglyphs, niches and saints, and many of the other symbols of the Roman Catholic faith, remain untouched. The Roman communion occupy the Egidienkirche and the Frauenkirche: the latter possesses a magnificent west front and doorway, and near it, in the market-place, stands The Beautiful Fountain, a high and elaborately carved cross, decorated with figures of the world’s worthies, and supplying water to that quarter of the town. It is to be regretted that round this noticeable church there is a parasitic growth of shops and stalls, clinging to its lower walls, which detracts much from its beauty. It would require the strong file of public opinion to scrape away this rust of prescriptive rights.

The two great churches create a rivalry of interest in the visitor’s mind. St. Laurenz, on the south side, is the larger, as well as the older edifice. It is particularly rich in its glass, and possesses the remarkable work of Adam Kraft, the Sacraments-Häuslein, a spiring canopy in stone, climbing upwards, as it were, against one of the pillars, and then gracefully bending its extreme point at the springing of the arch, like some tall grown plant that has reached the roof of a greenhouse. The same conceit is seen in the canopy of the pulpit in Antwerp Cathedral. Equal in beauty, perhaps, though of less size, is St. Sebald’s Church; and according to the principle of equality we have mentioned, it encloses Peter Vischer’s Shrine of the Saint to whom the Church is dedicated, a design in bronze and silver, of elaborate workmanship and rare beauty. The outsides of these churches are adorned with carvings of Crucifixions, Assumptions, Marriages of the Virgin, &c., and the so-named Bride’s door of St. Sebald’s represents in the mouldings of either side the five wise and the five foolish virgins. There is a well-preserved specimen of A. Dürer in this church.

The Lutheran religion, which has appropriated these highly decorated edifices, as the hermit-crab ensconces itself in some rich voluted shell, is singularly stiff and unornate. A marriage in St. Sebald’s church illustrated this. A young soldier in his blue regimentals dragged in his betrothed by the hand. She was plainly dressed in black silk, with a black head-dress. The pastor, standing before the altar (on which, by the way, were lighted candles), had nothing white about him except his bands. On one side stood the presumable father-in-law, in sable suit, on the other a sexton or official, with a black funereal cloak reaching from the neck to the heels. No ring was given and received; the clergyman united his address and prayer in one unkneeling speech, and then the husband dragged his bride into the outer world in the same manner as at their entrance.

House of Albert Durer 1860.png

House of Albert Dürer.

The Burg, or castle, and the Rath-haus are the two most important buildings of the secular order. The castle is highly irregular in design, conforming itself to a rock which forms part of the outline of the town, and it holds a commanding position. In its court-yard is a lime-tree which has seen out seven centuries. Its top has been lost, and its bole is plastered over to keep it from further decay. Round it have recently been set up four well-executed figures in bronze. Here, too, is a well, in depth 300 feet, and on which the garrison in the castle depend entirely for their supply of water. A chapel in the tower, of Transition-Norman style, and another chapel superimposed on it, the latter used by the Imperial occupant, are highly interesting. The Rath-haus covers a large space. Its façade is in Renaissance, but it encloses the older hall of the city. Here the tendency of the place is seen,—always eminently conservative. This hall is a very fine room, and is adorned with some frescoes of A. Dürer and an imitator.

The most cherished names connected with Art in Nuremberg are those of Wohlgemuth, and his greater pupil, Albrecht Dürer; both painters, and the latter a carver in wood and stone besides. Dürer’s house is carefully preserved, and though not handsome or interesting externally, is one of those lions which a visitor had better die than not go and see. The city also honours the name of Adam Kraft, a sculptor of great power and wonderful diligence; Peter Vischer, who worked in metals; Hans Sachs, a cobbler and poet, who produced, inter alia, more plays than any writer except Lope de Vega; and who was consequently always going beyond his last: and Melchior Pfinzing, who sat in the pretty oriel at St. Sebald’s, mentioned above, and wasted a good deal of time there (at least this is our opinion) in writing the long poem called “Theuerdank.” Also is entitled to great praise the anonymous inventor of the Schöne Brunnen.

The churchyard of St. John’s, outside the town must be visited, and the Dolorous Way leading thereto from the Pilate’s House within the city. How Martin Ketzel travelled to Jerusalem twice to take measurements of the true Via Dolorosa, and employed Adam Kraft to execute the Stations, can be read in Murray. The way terminates in a Calvary, also the work of Kraft. Six of the Stations are in tolerable preservation, but somewhat weather-worn: others have been defaced or taken away.

St John’s Church in the cemetery is a small and beautiful gothic building. In the burial-place are about 3,500 graves, covered by thick masses of stone, on most of which are bronze tablets, effigies and inscriptions, with dates and armorial distinctions; whilst wreaths of living flowers and of immortelles are plentifully strewed on the tombs. Some of the dates reach back 500 years. Among this crowd of dead lies Albert Dürer.

Visiting God’s Acre on a September afternoon, and walking slowly back to the walled city, some impressions of tenderness stole into the heart. That city, which was once so “full of stirs,” now quiet, still industrious, descended from its proud, defiant throne, stood there with its gates stretched wide,

“Open unto the fields and to the sky.”

Age has, with hoar hairs, bestowed on it the greater blessing of a calm and peaceful decadence. It seems to have attained “the philosophic mind.” Its children love it, and dwell with honest pride on the deeds of its manhood, the trophies of which are piled around. Let us hope that the great captains and conquerors of our own and of every future day will leave Nuremberg in its well-merited repose; and that

—An old age serene and bright,
And lovely as a Lapland night,
May lead it to its grave.”