Retracing the Kaiser's Footsteps

The Imperial City of Nuremberg, once the residence of the Holy Roman emperors, is now a city within a city. Are you ready to step beyond its walls?

By Octavia Drughi

[img440-travel1.jpg]I'm sure most of you have a general idea about how a medieval city should look like. Among its symbolic elements, there's surely a city hall, a nice cathedral, perhaps a water fountain in the middle of a market square, and a bunch of other old buildings that served the administration. Now what I'd like you to do is forget everything you thought you knew and think all superlative. Nuremberg is not your average medieval city. It is Franconia's unofficial capital, a priceless jewel in the heart of Bavaria, and the Kaiser's number one pick when it came to discussing the matters of the state.

[img440-travel2.jpg]Throughout Europe, medieval cities are the emblems of a country. They have seen history as it was being written and witnessed decisions as they were being made, whether they be good or bad. Nuremberg may not be the biggest town in Germany, but the medieval citadel it encircles definitely is. So the question is what should you start with when visiting Nuremberg's old city for the first time? It all depends on which one of the five massive gates of the imperial city you choose to enter through. Stately bastions might give you second thoughts, and so might the trench surrounding the three miles of thick walls that managed to counteract numerous attacks. But what hides beyond them? Just follow me and see.

Nuremberg is cut in half by the Pegnitz River. More than a millennium ago, the old city itself was built on its banks. Numerous bridges, from medieval wooden to massive stone ones, each one older than the other, take you from one narrow street to the next, hopping from one small isle to the other, passing under willow trees bent over the gently flowing waters of the Pegnitz each time the river gives birth to yet another arm. Under the careful watch of old bastions and cathedrals that withstood the merciless passage of time, I was trying to retrace the Kaiser's footsteps.

[img440-travel3.jpg]All streets look alike. Luckily, they all seem to be heading toward one place, the Main Market Square, dominated by Fraunekirche, a colorful and majestic cathedral built in the 14th century, Franconia's first Gothic church, whose Seven Electors mechanical clock show attracts hundreds of tourists each Sunday. From here, the giant Rathaus, the old City Hall, now a museum, is a massive stone-built building. There's just something about it that reminds me of The Flintstones. Still, the crowds of tourists were not stopping here, but they were all heading in the same direction. Something was telling me to follow along, as I might find the Kaiser there. And I found myself heading uphill, toward the Imperial Castle, or Kaiserburg, with its rounded bastions protecting the courtyard and chambers of one of the most imposing Middle Ages buildings in Europe. By the 13th century, it was already one of the largest castle complexes throughout the Holy Roman Empire, welcoming emperors, kings, queens, dukes, and princesses. But the Kaiser was no longer here. The last Habsburgs to reside here were Friedrich III and his son Maximilian I in 1888. And still, all their ancestors' presence lingers here. So I took a deep breath and tried to take it all in.

Published December 8th, 2013


“You don't ask a writer to talk. You ask a writer to write. All it takes is a scrap of paper. That's when the real magic happens. Octavia began playing with words as a travel writer. She soon discovered that there were infinite possibilities to twisting and turning them around. That's when she decided it was worth sharing everything that caught her eye, all dressed up in the form of a gently-flowing story.”