Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 Europe Trip: Why I Stopping Telling People I Was Going to Nuremberg

A view of the Altstadt from the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle)

One interesting thing I encountered while planning for this trip, and especially while traveling, were people's attitudes about Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg has some very negative associations. Most people associate the city with the site of the Nuremberg trials, the series of military tribunals which included prosecution of prominent Nazis. Nuremberg is also known for being the site of the infamous Nazi propaganda rallies and was known as the ceremonial birthplace of the Nazi party. This fact was one of the reasons why it was chosen as the site of the trials. The Nuremberg Laws were introduced here in 1935 which stripped Jews of their citizenship and other civil rights. These laws were start of the horrors to come. What many people may not know is that Nuremberg has a history of anti-Jewish laws and antisemitism over the centuries.

The entire purpose of this trip was to go to Nuremberg to do research for my novel. Going to Amsterdam and Bruges was just icing on the cake. I had difficulty explaining this to people because I don't like talking about my novel. I'm still finding the story and learning about the characters. Many famous writers suggest not talking about a story while you're working on it. I think the reason is because if you talk about it too much you may not write it down.

During the planning stages of the trip I told people why I was going to Nuremberg. Explaining that I was even writing a novel, much less what it was about, was very uncomfortable. I felt like I had to keep telling people that my novel was set in the 1830s and that all my research was going to concentrated in the Altstadt (Old Town), the historic center of the city.

One of the guys I worked with said he thought Nuremberg would have very bad energy. He said this after I returned from my trip. It's not true. Very bad things have happened there but the Altstadt has been beautifully restored and the streets were crowded with people who were shopping, eating gelato, and strolling around. There were lots of tourists and a ton of young people. The Altstadt has a major shopping plaza, including the best H&M store I've ever seen, and people were enjoying themselves. The city does not hesitate to embrace even the horrific, ugly, and painful aspects of its history so everything is out in the open. This includes the Nazis, its history of antisemitism from previous centuries, and the bombing of the city during the war where 90% of the city was destroyed.

Someone suggested to me that people were having negative reactions because I myself am uncomfortable with going to Nuremberg and people were picking it up from me. I don't think I can place much stock in this idea because I've been to Nuremberg before and took the time to educate myself about Nazis before I went. Also, it seems to me that the history of Nazi Germany is so much larger than me because it's taught in schools so I don't think people's negative reactions are coming from me.

I'd been to Nuremberg before for about half a day while on my 2008 River Cruise. I was hanging out with two other women I met on the cruise and had no chance to walk around on my own. It was during this river cruise that we had a comprehensive bus tour of the city, and where I saw most of the remaining Nazi sites. When I went back this time I felt like I didn't need to see those sites again. The primary purpose of the 2008 River Cruise was to go to Nuremberg to see how I felt being there and to see if I could travel there on my own. The rest of the cruise was some serious icing on that cake.

Because of Nuremberg's infamous history I watched a learning DVD from the Teaching Company entitled "History of Hitler's Empire" before I went on my trip. These learning DVDs are taught by college professors. I felt I needed a good overview of this history to keep my research of the city in perspective, and so it wouldn't distract me. The course was outstanding, particularly in showing the Nazi rise to power and the tactics they used.

Explanations of my reasons for going to Nuremberg reached its unpleasant peak while in Amsterdam. I got to chatting with a couple from Toronto and a guy from somewhere in the Midwest at the B&B. We talked about our travels and itineraries and they wanted to know why I was going to Nuremberg. I told them about my novel and they asked me what it was about. I explained the story and they had no qualms telling me the story didn't sound very interesting to them. I took this all in stride and remained relaxed about it while changing the subject. The rest of the conversation was fine. Some people just aren't interested in the same things as me. I also told them I loved Northern Renaissance art and they didn't really like that much either especially after I had to explain what Northern Renaissance art is.

While in Bruges I struck up a conversation with a watercolor artist who was painting a scene on the street. He spent some time explaining some of his watercolor techniques and how beginners can start painting. He asked me where I was going next and I told him. He was very offended! I explained to him I was going to spend all my time in the Altstadt and he calmed down a bit.

After that experience I stopped telling people I was going to Nuremberg. I just told them I was going home after visiting Bruges and Ghent. I'm hoping to go back to Nuremberg another time. If I do, I probably won't tell anyone I'm going back there.

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