NUREMBERG: Medieval masterworks

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4 minutes

In the shadow of the fortress is Albrecht Dürer’s Fachwerkhaus (half-timbered house) that was the home of the German Renaissance artist from 1509 to his death in 1528.

He worked during the same era and won the same regard as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bellini and was considered Germany’s greatest painter.

Dürer was a groundbreaking artist who branded his paintings with his signature and mastered engraving prints for reproduction, making him very rich.

The house was built around 1420 and is one of the few surviving merchant houses from Nuremberg’s Golden Age. The kitchen, living room and work area have been painstakingly restored, complete with period furnishings.

The upper part of the house is where he did most of his best work, including the incredibly lifelike “Hare” (original on display in Vienna).

Copies of Dürer’s self-portraits are on display in Nuremberg, as are copies of copperplate engravings, etchings and woodcuts, including the “Rhinoceros.”

The 600-year-old watercolor of a rabbit is perhaps one of Dürer’s most famous creations. So it’s not hard to understand that when Nurembergers need a term for “everything Dürer,” they say “bunny.”


I don’t know any truly narrow, cobblestone streets full of half-timbered house in Nuremberg, but the Weissgerbergasse (White Tanners Lane) comes close. The name stems from the craftsmen who lived on the street.

The tanners used white alum powder (potassium aluminum sulfate) to create fine leather, a process that smelled horribly during Medieval times. This required the tanners to set up on edge of town, where the Pegntiz flowed out. Most were wealthy enough to have their own in-house well for clean water.

Today, 20 colorful half-timbered homes along the curved street remind us how a street of the wealthy looked in old Nuremberg. You can still see tools and symbols at some of the homes, including a “rammer” knife (for making difficult cuts) at No. 24. Today, the lane’s occupants include bars, cafes and handicraft workshops.


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There’s no end to charming half-timbered structures in Nuremberg. One of the icons is the 150-foot-long Weinstadel (Wine Depot), the largest half-timbered building in Germany.

It was built in 1446 as a leprosy hospital. Once a year, at Easter, lepers were allowed into the city for three days to receive food, clothing and medical attention.

Starting in 1571, the Wine Depot was turned into a wine storage hall, a work and spinning house and as housing for poor families. Since 1950, it has been student housing for the university.


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Another of the obligatory photos of old Nuremberg is that of the former Heilig-Geist-Spital (Holy Ghost Hospital) from the Museum Bridge just upstream from the Weinstadel.

The former hospital is most famous for being the place where the Imperial jewels and crown of the Holy Roman Emperor were stored from 1424 to 1796, before they were moved to Vienna. 

The Heilig-Geist-Spital now contains one of the smartest restaurants in Nürnberg. Rebuilt after WWII, the interior is cozy, and the building still spans the Pegnitz River on a pair of arches that connect to a small island.

Hangman’s Bridge

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In 1457, the wooden Henkerssteg (Hangman’s Bridge) was completed as a path for the executioner to cross the river from his tower house without contacting the rest of the population.

The house, which dates back seven centuries, stood on the outer edge of the original city walls and faced away from town because the executioner was not allowed contact with “honorable citizens.” The bridge was rebuilt with covered roof after a flood in 1595.

Schlayer Tower and chain bridge

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The slow-flowing Pegnitz reflects the Schlayer Tower and covered bridge. Harder to see is the chain bridge running across the river in front of it.

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As part of war-driven energy saving, lights of tourist attractions and public places must be switched off after 11 p.m. and stay off until dawn. One exception is the Kettensteg (chain footbridge). Its lights illuminate a path that otherwise would run through total darkness, creating a stumbling hazard or a good place for an attack.

The 68-foot suspension pedestrian bridge was built in the mid-19th Century and has been rebuilt since. It used to sway, but today’s version includes an almost invisible flat steel box girder beneath that stiffens it.

White Tower

Built in 1250, the Medieval watchtower Weisserturm (White Tower) is one of the only remaining elements from Nürnberg’s second to last city wall expansion.

The white paint that originally gave the tower its name has faded with age, exposing bare bricks. On the outside of the tower, the stubby flanks of the original gateway into the city can still be seen. 

Marriage Merry-Go-Round

Directly in front of the White Tower is the Ehekarussell (Marriage Merry-Go-Round Fountain), depicting in brass the positive and negative aspects of married life. The sculpture is a circle of marriage scenes, and up above is the author of the poem on which the fountain is based.

Next: Scene on the street


2 responses to “NUREMBERG: Medieval masterworks”

  1. Ken Avatar

    We were in Vienna a few weeks ago and saw the Dürer collection at the Albertina Museum, which included Young Hare. This drawing is so popular that a kiosk outside the museum has a metal sculpture of the famous wabbit on its roof!
    I also found it interesting that hangmen — obviously considered an essential job in medieval times — were not considered morally fit to associate with average citizens.

  2. Clint Avatar

    A family member from a Greek background just told me that a Greek executioner was treated the same way a Nuremberg hangman was. The executioner even lived on an island and went ashore only “to work.” And the job was passed down from father to son!

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