Nuremberg As A Medieval City
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In spite of all changes, and in spite of the disfigurements of modern industry, Nuremberg is and will remain a medieval city, a city of history and legend, a city of the soul. She is like Venice in this, as in not a little of her history, that she exercises an indefinable fascination over our hearts no less than over our intellects. The subtle flavor of medieval towns may be likened to that of those rare old ports which are said to taste of the grave; a flavor indefinable, exquisite. Rothenburg has it; and it is with Rothenburg, that little gem of medievalism, that Nuremberg is likely to be compared in the mind of the modern wanderer in Franconia. But tho Rothenburg may surpass her greater neighbor in the perfect harmony and in the picturesqueness of her red-tiled houses and well-preserved fortifications, in interest at any rate she must yield to the heroine of this story.
For apart from the beauty which Nuremberg owes to the wonderful grouping of her red roofs and ancient castle, her coronet of antique towers, her Gothic churches and Renaissance buildings or brown riverside houses dipping into the mud-colored Pegnitz, she rejoices in treasures of art and architecture and in the possession of a splendid history such as Rothenburg can not boast. To those who know something of her story Nuremberg brings the subtle charm of association. While appealing to our memories by the grandeur of her historic past, and to our imaginations y the work and tradition of her mighty dead, she appeals also to our senses with the rare magic of her personal beauty, if one may so call it. In that triple appeal lies the fascination of Nuremberg.
The facts as to the origin of Nuremberg are lost in the dim shadows of tradition. When the little town sprang up amid the forests and swamps which still marked the course of the Pegnitz, we know as little as we know the origin of the name Nurnberg. It is true that the chronicles of later days are only too ready to furnish us with information; but the information is not always reliable. The chronicles, like our own peerage, are apt to contain too vivid efforts of imaginative fiction. The chroniclers, unharassed y facts or documents, with minds "not by geography prejudiced, or warped y history," can not unfortunately always be believed. It is, for instance, quite possible that Attila, King of the Huns, passed and plundered Nuremberg, as they tell us. But there is no proof, no record of that visitation. Again, the inevitable legend of a visit from
Charlemagne occurs. He, you may be sure, was lost in the woods while hunting near Nuremberg, and passed all night alone, unhurt y the wild beasts. As a token of gratitude for God's manifest favor he caused a chapel to be built on the spot. The chapel stands to this day—a twelfth-century building—but no matter! for did not Otho I., as our chroniclers tell us, attend mass in St. Sebald's Church in 970, tho St. Sebald's Church can not have been built till a century later?
The origin of the very name of Nuremberg is hidden in the clouds of obscurity. In the earliest documents we find it spelt with the usual variations of early manuscripts—Nourenberg, Nuorimperc, Niurenberg, Nuremberc, etc. The origin of the place, we repeat, is equally obscure. Many attempts, have been made to find history in the light of the derivations of the name. But when philology turns historian it is apt to play strange tricks. Nur ein Berg (only a castle), or Nero's Castle, or Norix Tower—what matter which is the right derivation, so long as we can base a possible theory on it? The Norixberg theory will serve to illustrate the incredible quantity of misplaced ingenuity which both of old times and in the present has been wasted in trying to explain the inexplicable.
Be that as it may, the history of our town begins in the year 1050. It is most probable that the silence regarding the place—it is not mentioned among the places visited by Conrad H. in this neighborhood—points to the fact that the castle did not exist in 1025, but was built between that year and 1050. That it existed then we know, for Henry III. dated a document from here in 1050, summoning a council of Bavarian nobles "to his estate Nourinberc." The oldest portion, called in the fifteenth century Altniirnberg, consisted of the Funfeekiger Thurm—the Five-cornered tower—the rooms attached and the Otmarkapelle. The latter was burned down in 1420, rebuilt in 1428, and called the Walpurgiskapelle. These constituted the Burggrafliche Burg—the Burggraf's Castle. The rest of the castle was built on y Friedrich der Rotbart (Barbarossa), and called the Kaiserliche Burg. The old Five-cornered tower and the surrounding ground was the private property of the Burggraf, and he was appointed by the Emperor as imperial officer of the Kaiserliche Burg. Whether the Emperors claimed any rights of personal property over Nuremberg or merely treated it, at first, as imperial property, it is difficult to determine. The castle at any rate was probably built to secure what-ever rights were claimed, and to serve generally as an imperial stronghold. Gradually around the castle grew up the straggling streets of Nuremberg. Settlers built beneath the shadow of the Burg. The very names of the streets suggest the vicinity of a camp or fortress. Soldnerstrasse, Schmiedstrasse, and so forth, betray the military origin of the present busy commercial town. From one cause or another a mixture of races, of Germanic and non-Germanic, of Slavonic and Frankish elements, seems to have occurred among the inhabitants of the growing village, producing a special blend which in dialect, in customs, and in dress was soon noticed y the neighbors as unique, and stamping the art and development of Nuremberg with that peculiar character which has never left it.
Various causes combined to promote the growth of the place. The temporary removal of the Mart from Furth to Nuremberg under Henry III. doubtless gave a great impetus to the development of the latter town. Henry IV., indeed, gave back the rights of Mart, customs and coinage to Furth. But it seems probable that these rights were not taken away again from Nuremberg. The possession of a Mart was, of course, of great importance to a town in those days, promoting industries and arts and settled occupations. The Nurembergers were ready to suck out the fullest advantage from their privilege. That mixture of races, to which we have referred, resulted in remarkable business energy—energy which soon found scope in the conduct of the business which the natural position of Nuremberg on the south and north, the east and western trade routes, brought to her. It was not very long before she became the center of the vast trade between the Levant and. Western Europe, and the chief emporium for the produce of Italy—the "Handelsmetropole" in fact of South Germany.
Nothing in the Middle Ages was more conducive to the prosperity of a town than the reputation of having a holy man within its borders, or the possession of the miracle-working relics of a saint. Just as St. Elizabeth made Marburg so St. Sebaldus proved a very potent attraction to Nuremberg. As early as 1070 and 1080 we hear of pilgrimages to Nuremberg in honor of her patron saint.
Another factor in the growth of the place was the` frequent visits which the Emperors began to pay to it. Lying as it did on their way from Bamberg and Forcheim to Regensburg, the Kaisers readily availed themselves of the security offered y this impregnable fortress, and of the sport provided in the adjacent forest. For there was good hunting to be had in the forest which, seventy-two miles in extent, surrounded Nuremberg. And hunting, next to war, was then in most parts of Europe the most serious occupation of life. All the forest rights, we may mention, of wood-cutting, hunting, charcoal burning and bee-farming belonged originally to the Empire. But these were gradually acquired y the Nuremberg Council, chiefly y purchase in the fifteenth century.
In the castle the visitor may notice a list of all the Emperors—some thirty odd, all told—who have stayed there—a list that should now include the reigning Emperor. We find that Henry IV. frequently honored Nuremberg with his presence. This is that Henry IV., whose scene at Canossa with the Pope—Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire waiting three days in the snow to kiss the foot of excommunicative Gregory—has imprest itself on all memories. His last visit to Nuremberg was a sad one. His son rebelled against him, and the old king stopt at Nuremberg to collect his forces. In the war between father and son Nuremberg was loyal, and took the part of Henry IV. It was no nominal part, for in 1105 she had to stand a siege from the young Henry. For two months the town was held y the burghers and the castle by the Prefect Conrad. At the end of that time orders came from the old Kaiser that the town was to surrender. He had given up the struggle, and his undutiful son succeeded as Henry V. to the Holy Roman Empire, and Nuremberg with it.
The mention of this siege gives us an indication of the growth of the town. The fact of the siege and the words of the chronicler, "The townsmen (oppidani) gave up the town under treaty," seem to point to the conclusion that Nuremberg was now no longer a mere fort (castrum), but that walls had sprung up round the busy mart and the shrine of St. Sebald, and that by this time Nuremberg had risen to the dignity of a "Stadt" or city state. Presently, indeed, we find her rejoicing in the title of "Civitas" (state). The place, it is clear, was already of considerable military importance or it would not have been worth while to invest it. The growing volume of trade is further illustrated by a charter of Henry V. (1112) giving to the citizens of Worms customs' immunity in various places subject to him, among which Frankfort, Goslar and Nuremberg are named as royal towns ("oppida regis").