The Freibott family roots drink from the same river the city of Nuremberg was borne of.
A city whose history stretches back through centuries, founded around the 1040 building of the castle of the duke of Bavaria, King Henry III. The settlement became a Bavarian city and saw the flourishing of arts, a thriving educational status, a blooming industrial commerce, and the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. During World War II the city saw Nazi rallies and trials, the bombing of the city, and the Allied trials of the Nazis. Since the war-torn state of the 1930s the city has rebuilt itself and its reputation and is now a beautiful Bavarian city in the southern part of Germany, allowing its history to direct its empathy and its contemporary status as the second largest Bavarian city.
Traveling to the medieval city was a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey that brought life to the tales of Bavaria that I have been told my entire life. Beginning with my great-great-grandfather who migrated to America with his family to build a business, and my own parents who made the trip in the years before I was born. So much of my family’s heritage has always been tied to the city – hence the sometimes painfully German nature of my last name. Most of my life I was told that I was 90% German (which has recently been disproved – more on that at a later date), and it was a fascinating city to be exploring for that fact alone.
Between Cambridge modules, a long weekend made it possible for me to finally follow in the footsteps of my family and make a trip of my own. My cousin was gracious enough to host me for the weekend, so I grabbed a flight from London Stanstead at some ungodly hour of the morning and made my way by plane and train to the city of Nuremberg.
Growing up my house was decorated with remnants from my parents’ backpacking trip through Germany – shadow frames with Euros and train-tickets and to lebkuchen boxes, special Christmas dresses, and pictures my Dad had taken in the mountains and forests of Germany framed along the walls of our home. I always heard about how beautiful the country was, how much my parents loved their time there, how breathtaking it all was. When I hopped on the train down from Munich, the countryside rushing past the windows brought reality to the tales of beauty.
On the train I made a new friend – she was a mother of two children and a schoolteacher in a smaller town. She told me about the one time that she had gone to America and the time she spent in Canada. She told me about the day before, and how she had gone to Munich to visit one of her friends and had been trapped in a mall for hours on end while a shooter wielded his gun outside the shopping center walls. She told me about how confused she was, how much information they didn’t give her. She talked to me about guns and American politics. We talked about the state of the world, the scariness of the global threats to security. We talked the entire way to Nuremberg.
I met my cousin on the platform right off the train and I told her about the woman on the train while we walked into the city center. Things got a bit brighter when we stepped into the boundaries of the city wall, winding our way down to a bistro on the river. It was my first exposure to the Bavarian landscape and I was enthralled.
I was in Nuremberg for less than 48 hours with the way that my final exam scheduling and beginning of semester worked out, but in those 48 hours my cousin was gracious enough to show me the sights and sounds of the city.
This included wandering the streets while she recounted the tales of the city, pointing out architecture that fused the original remnants of buildings with post-bomb redesign. Marveling at the artistic pieces – like the fountain which recounts marriage from a beautiful encounter to bickering skeletons. Climbing the hilly streets to the castle that overlooks the city. This is something that I learned to especially appreciate in Europe: so many cities are designed around a central castle, which, besides the obvious fascination that naturally accompanies castles, it means that history still exists within ancient walls. Walking the streets is a collision of the past and contemporary humanity in the most striking way.
Nuremberg was surprising to me because it was everything quintessentially Bavarian that I had no idea I was looking for. It looked like it was ripped straight from a renaissance fair and enchanted into reality, but I guess that sort of thing would work the other way around. Regardless, the walkable castle wall, the red roofs and central square market place made it feel absolutely magically, like the place where storybooks unfold into actuality.
My cousin took me to see the Way of Human Rights. It was a somber place to be, but a beautifully human experience.
Here 27 white pillars are inscribed with the “short-form” versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each inscribed both in German and in one other language. These pillars themselves have inspired many human rights activists.
I also got to spend my Sunday afternoon at a family lunch with family that I had never met! I’ve always known, because my family loves to talk about our German history, that I have cousins and family in Germany, and since so much of my family had already been to Nuremberg it was special to finally get to meet and spend time with them myself. We shared a meal in the home of my cousins, the same house that my parents had stayed in twenty years prior to my visit, and marveled over family relations.
Its amazing that with an ocean between us and a generation to separate us, we were still obviously family. My cousin and I talked about how strange it is that we share mannerisms and a sense of humor even though our lives are rooted in different backgrounds. We explored the forest behind her childhood home, a mossy green that echoed that of the Northwest. It was so green there’s no other word to describe it, and pictures fail to accurately capture it.
After lunch I finally asked the question on all of our minds: how were we all related? We grabbed some paper before dessert and mapped it out. We discovered that I am the third cousin three times removed.
We went to a beer garden for dinner, spent our time reminiscing on the power of English and the familial resemblance, and went to bed early. I had to leave at 4am the next morning to wonder my way through Paris!
I am so thankful to my family who made my stay possible and look forward to visiting again, hopefully when I have just a little bit more time!
Until next time, Nuremberg, wonder on. xoxo