Here’s my guide to visiting the historic World War II and Nazi sites in Nuremberg Germany, for history buffs and WWII aficionados. Despite Nuremberg’s storybook looks, the city has a dark past.
No other city in Germany is more intertwined with the Nazi legacy than Nuremberg. The Nazis went to great lengths to leave their stamp on the city, renovating the architecture and designing their massive and bombastic party rally grounds.
In Nuremberg, you can stand in the exact spot where Hitler whipped the masses into a frenzy with his faux populism and propaganda. You can step back to a horrid time in history and almost hear the crowds screaming.
It can be an intense and sobering experience. But the Nazi rally grounds are a must visit destination in Nuremberg.
This is where the Nazis succeeded in winning people over, where they staked a claim to absolute power and enshrined a cult of the Führer. This is where you’ll find the Nazi’s eerie architectural ruins and the ghosts of the Nazi monsters.
A Short History of Nuremberg
Nuremberg began life circa 1040. Heinrich III built a fortress on the rocky outcrop on the edge of the current city. The settlement below took its name from the fortress, Nuoin-berg (rocky outcrop) and became known as Nuremberg.
The first districts of the town were St. Sebaldus and St. Lorenz, now each boasting a towering church. The Jewish Quarter was then around Hauptplatz. The city walls were built in the 14th century.
In 1356, Emperor Charles IV decreed Nuremberg a free imperial city. Nuremberg thrived as a trade route until the 17th century.
But when it entered the Bavarian empire in 1806, the city was destitute and bankrupt. It was saved by industrialization. Henceforth, Nuremberg became “the most German of German cities.”
In the 20th century, Nuremberg’s dark past began. Starting in 1933, during the Third Reich, Nuremberg became the site of Nazi party rallies and parades.
Herman Goring promulgated the Nuremberg Laws, which declared that Jews were second class citizens. Only 72 of Nuremberg’s Jewish citizens escaped deportation.
During their years in power, the Nazi party worked hard to prettify and renovate Nuremberg. It became a popular tourist attraction.
On January 2, 1945, an Allied bombing attack destroyed most of Nuremberg’s old town. After the war, the city was rebuilt in its pre-war architectural style. Even though you know the charming buildings aren’t all old, they charm nonetheless.
Nuremberg quickly came to grips with its ugly Nazi past. It was in Nuremberg that the trials of Nazi war criminals were held in Courtroom 600.
Nuremberg didn’t officially become part of Bavaria until 1802. It’s actually a Franconian city and has a different vibe and dialect than southern Bavaria.
Franconians consider themselves more sophisticated than their southern counterparts in Munich, the lederhosen-clad “Barbarians of Bavaria.”
Historic Nazi Sites To See in Nuremberg
Let’s explore the Nazi party rally grounds and other WWII sites in Nuremberg.
1. Overview of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds
If you’re a WWII nerd or history buff in general, book a half day tour to see Nuremberg’s Third Reich sites, constructed by Hitler’s favorite architect Albert Speer.
Or, go solo and take the tram, bus, or train from Nuremberg’s central station out to the sites. Click here for information on how to get to the rally grounds. Like it or not, these sobering sites are a huge part of Nuremberg’s history.
The Nazi party rallies were carefully choreographed propaganda events used to forge and reinforce party enthusiasm. Using stagecraft, the rallies promoted the personality cult of Hitler as the “Fuhrer.” He was portrayed as a heroic and infallible god-like messiah deserving of blind obedience.
Hitler used the party rallies to demonize his enemies, Jews and Communism. At the 1935 party rally, Hitler ordered the Reichstag to adopt the Nuremberg Laws. They revoked citizenship for all Jews and forbid Germans to marry or cavort with non-Arians.
The frenzied insanity of these Nazi rallies was captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s disturbing propaganda film, Triumph of Will. The film records the September 1934 rally in Nuremberg. In it, hundreds of thousands of Nazi party members and troops appear in zombie-like obedience to be “reviewed” by Adolf Hitler.
The rally grounds are enormous, 12 football fields in length, so be prepared to walk. The three main structures are Congress Hall, the Zeppelin Tribune, and the Great Road — all built with slave labor and meant to evoke ancient Roman architecture.
Many buildings were left incomplete when construction was suspended in 1939 by war. Others were demolished during WWII.
Though photographs from the rallies put a positive spin on these ritualistic mass gatherings, the reality was quite different. No one had thought out the logistics.
The rally grounds were an actual construction site. The rallies themselves featured trash-strewn accommodations and squalor, drunken party members, and unabashed public urination.
Since 1973, all buildings on the former Nazi party rally grounds are listed as historic monuments. In 2019, Nuremberg announced plans for conserving — not restoring — the sites on the rally grounds for educational purposes.
The plans will expand the educational Documentation Center and install information stations on the grounds. The target date for completion is 2025. Nuremberg will compete be for European Capital of Culture that year.
2. Congress Hall
Congress Hall was where the Nazis held party meetings and rallies. It was designed to seat 50,000 people.
Congress Hall is a disturbingly overbearing and banal semi-circular building, twice as large as the Colosseum in Rome Italy. At the center of the hall was a speaker’s podium for Hitler.
The structure was never completed when war intervened. So it’s an unfinished shell with no roof.
Like the Third Reich, Congress Hall was supposed to “last a thousand years.” But it’s crumbling. Nuremberg debated what to do with the historic stone pile.
Let it disintegrate or renovate it as a cautionary tale of the Nazi regime? As I mentioned above, Nuremburg chose the latter course of action and is working on preserving the site. Though it won’t recreate things that were demolished after WWII.
Address: Bayernstraße 100, 90471 Nürnberg, Germany
3. Documentation Center
Opened in 2001, the Documentation Center is in the north wing of Congress Hall. It’s a modern museum that shines a harrowing light on the insane megalomania of the Nazi party. This is the first place you should visit to get the historic background on the Nazis.
The museum is intentionally built like a spike through the colossal cement hall. The goal was to create a space that would work well as a museum, but also confront the geometrical Nazi architecture and the megalomaniacal mindset that produced it.
With unflinching eye-opening detail, the permanent exhibit Fascination and Terror describes the rise of the Nazi party and its atrocities and genocide. The audioguide is well produced and comes in multiple languages. Storyboards and photos complete the history lesson.
You’ll explore an eerie and disturbing collection of photographs, videos, audios, and models. They cover the period from WWI through the Nuremberg Trials. It’s a gripping and emotional experience where, in the abandoned building, you can almost feel the evil.
At the end of your visit, there’s a viewing point, suspended in mid air. You can step out and, chillingly, stand where the Führer addressed the rabid masses, a little insight into the collective madness of that era.
The documentation center is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm (5:00 pm on weekends). Click here for an online ticket, which costs 6 euros. An expansion of the center just began in 2021.
Address: Bayernstraße 110, 90478 Nürnberg, Germany
4. Great Road
The Great Road is behind Congress Hall. It was intended to be the central axis of the rally grounds and a parade road for the German army.
The Great Road is 1.2 miles long and 130 feet wide, lined with white and gray granite pavers. It stretches from Congress Hall and points to Nuremberg Castle.
The road was intended to connect the Nazi ideology (Third Reich) with the medieval grandeur of imperial Nuremberg (1st Reich or Holy Roman Empire). But it was never used as intended, when war intervened. The Allies even used it as an air strip for a time.
5. Zeppelin Tribune
The Zeppelin grandstand was an open air altar for Hitler. In this fortified arena, the evil demagogue gave anti-Semitic stump speeches from his own personal rostrum. Here, pomp and circumstance hypnotized crowds and fueled a deadly ideology.
The Zeppelin is a 300 foot long tribune. There was seating for 60,000 in the rampart-like grandstands. The Zeppelin Field had a capacity of 200,000.
The Zeppelin was Albert Speer’s first completed (and only surviving) work for the Nazi party. The design was was based upon the monumental Pergamon Altar from Turkey, which is now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
The name “Zeppelinfeld” or “Zeppelinwiese” refers to the fact that, in August 1909, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin landed one of his airplanes in this location.
At the 1934 party rally, Speer famously had the site surrounded with 150 anti-aircraft searchlights beamed straight up into the sky. This created a “Cathedral of Light,” intended to evoke a sense of mystery and grandeur.x
Under the Zeppelin tribune lies Speer’s Golden Hall, the only completed Speer’s interior. The Golden Hall derives its name from its ceiling, which is adorned with glittering golden mosaics. In 1984, the hall got a restoration.
The hall was intended as a mechanism for Hitler to make a grand appearance and ascend to his spot on the rostrum. But Hitler preferred to arrive by car, walking amongst his admirers as a “man of the people.” So the hall was largely useless.
On April 22, 1945, the U.S. Army held a victory parade on the Zeppelin Field. The army blew up the gilt swastika above the center of Hitler’s rostrum.
In 1967, Nuremberg blew up the colonnades on the Zeppelin grandstand, which sparked vehement debate. The official reason for blasting the colonnades was that they had fallen into ruinous disrepair and were unstable. But the public felt the gesture was intended to sweep a terrible piece of history under the carpet.
Address: Bayernstraße 100, 90471 Nürnberg, Germany
6. Hall of Honor | Memorial Hall
The Hall of Honor was built during the Weimar Republic. It was built as a memorial honoring the soldiers killed in World War I. The hall has a rectangular arcaded hall. On each side was a row of pillars carrying fire bowls.
No matter, Hitler coopted it and incorporated it into his rally grounds. He built grandstands around it, converting the park space into the Luitpold Arena.
In the 1929 party rally, the hall was used to promote a “cult of the dead.” Hitler dedicated it to “martyrs” of his National Socialist party. He intended to attract soldiers willing to pay fealty to the Fuhrer and the Nazi party.
After 1945, Nuremberg removed the grandstands and restored the parkland. Today, Memorial Hall commemorates victims of WWI and WWII.
When it was obvious that Germany was losing the war and city bombings were a daily occurrence, there was a mass effort to move precious art and artifacts to safer places throughout Germany.
Nuremberg was no exception. The Historiches Kuntsbunker, or art bunker, was one of Germany’s bomb proof shelters. The bunker was a tunnel complex under Nuremberg Castle.
In this art depot, precious objects were stored, including works by Albrecht Dürer. The shelter was almost 25 meters underground.
At the Kuntsbunker, visitors can travel down to examine the (very cold) tunnels and vaults that held the masterpieces. You can see pictures of what the bunker looked like during WWII and even see debris left behind.
Much of the bunker’s original infrastructure is still in place. It gives visitors a brief glimpse into this particular moment in history.
Address: Obere Schmiedgasse 52, 90403 Nürnberg, Germany
8. Courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice
Nuremberg wasn’t just the site of evil. It also helped bring justice to the evil doers during the Nuremberg Trials.
From November 1946 to October 1946, Courtroom 600 was where the Allies put Nazi henchmen on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was a symbolic end to Nuremberg’s Nazi ties. The courtroom is housed in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, which survived WWII carpet bombing.
On November 24, 1945, 21 members of the Nazi leadership filed into the Palace of Justice to be tried for war crimes over four years. The most alpha defendant, Hermann Goring, claimed utter ignorance of the charges.
Hitler (along with Goebbels and Himmler) committed suicide before they could be brought to trial. Goring, the head of the Luftwaffe, took a cyanide pill the night before his scheduled execution.
The trials were publicly published so citizens could learn about the horror of the crimes and pain of the victims. After the trials, international laws prohibiting such crimes were promulgated.
On the top floor of the courthouse is a documentation center/museum, the Nuremberg Trials Memorial. It provides information about the defendants and their crimes, the subsequent Nuremberg Trials of 1946-49, and the impact of the Nuremberg Trials. The museum traces a direct arc to the present tribunals of international justice in The Hague.
You have to purchase tickets to the Memorium Nuremberg Trials to see the infamous courtroom. But it’s worth it. There’s a lot of film footage.
You can only see the courtroom when court is not in session, generally 4 days from Friday to Monday. So plan your visit accordingly.
Address: Fürther Str. 110, 90429 Nürnberg
9. Dachau Concentration Camp
If you’re in Nuremberg for more than a day, you can day trip to Dachau Concentration Camp. It’s a 1:40 drive from Nuremberg. Be sure to pick up an audio guide to orient yourself. It’s a vast space.
Dachau played a significant role in having Hilter’s history in Germany. It was one of the first camps set up to hold political prisoners, subversives, Jews, and other “undesirables” during WWII.
On a visit to Dachau, you’ll be presented with the camp’s history in great detail. You’ll learn how the camp morphed from prison to murder factory. All told, over 40,000 people were murdered at Dachau and more than 200,000 people imprisoned.
There are chilling and disturbing memorials — prisoners cells, death chambers with chemical induction pipes, barbed wire fencing, and a crematorium. You can see bullet marks on the walls. The onsite museums details atrocities the prisoners suffered in this satanic world.
Dachau was liberated in 1945 by the US Army. After liberation, the camp was used by the US Army as an internment camp. It was also the site of the Dachau Trials for German war criminals, a site chosen for its symbolism.
Address: Alte Römerstraße 75, 85221 Dachau, Germany
That wraps up my guide to the historic nazi site sin Nuremberg. You may enjoy these other travel guides and resources for Germany:
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