One of the unexpected outcomes of this student excursion was the opportunity to attend my first European pen show. Now as you may know, I have been a member of the national and international pen community for some time now, attending (when I’m able) shows around the US, even having run my own in Portland, Oregon for five years. I have known that there was a European circuit as well, but none of my jaunts had so far lined up with any of the shows on this side of the pond. Happily, my pen buds in Germany clued me into this lovely little show happening last weekend, on the 21st of May to be exact, and since I was ready for a brief step away from my somewhat austere student life, off I went.
Germany boasts a decent – not as good as it was before privatization – railroad system, but alongside that venerable institution has sprung up (is my sentence construction getting more Germanic?) a whole host of national and international bus lines which travel to myriad locations very regularly, offer free wifi, unlike the train, and can save buckets of Euros over the train options. I caught a Flixbus on Friday morning (missing *a whole day of class,* gasp) and five and a half hours rolled into Nurnberg.
As you may know, Nurnberg has a long and august history, first as the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, later as the the home of Albrecht Durer, then the heart of the German Reformation, and, most infamously, during the Nazi era serving first as the place where the Jews were stripped of rights and then the site of the biggest Party conventions. After the war, the international and military tribunals were held there, as much for those previous Nazi-related reasons as well as simply because the Palace of Justice was largely undamaged from Allied bombing raids.
Well, that’s a weighty history to be sure, too heavy, it turns out, for a gorgeous warm weekend in May. While I knew bits and pieces of all that, I decided to try for a little less ponderous approach and spent my time looking for the smaller stories, which of course, there were in good measure. But let’s start with a tiny bit of history, just so I feel like I did my due diligence.
As I so often do, I start at the top and work my way down from the summit of an old city. In Nurmberg, this means hiking up to the Nurnberger Burg, the Nuremberg Castle, extant on that site from around 1140:
Inside the castle, one is reminded that this was a seat of religious and secular power for a very long time. The portrait is an idealized one of Charlemagne done by Albrecht Durer, and I was able the original later in the weekend.
Turning 90 degrees from the castle, one sees Durer’s home itself:
One of Nurnberg’s most famous sons, the great printmaker, portrait-painter and theorist of the German Renaissance had interests that extended far beyond printmaking. He thought and wrote extensively on mathematics in general and concepts around perspective and ideal proportions in particular. He corresponded with Raphael and da Vinci, among others. (I almost bought a magnet in his honor, but was appalled by the price.)
Turning 90 degrees the other direction from the castle shot shows you a lovely early town square:
Near this very spot is the entrance to the World War II German art bunker, “former beer cellars directly under the Imperial Castle” (where) “irretrievable art treasures were to be protected here from fire, smoke, gas and pillaging and secured for generations to come.” Alas, they were not open the day of my visit, or I would have headed down for a look, being such a fan of dark and scary places since my visit to Budapest a couple months back.
Well, that was the good stuff, or a lot of the good stuff. Nurnberg, like much of Germany, suffered grievously at the hands of Allied bombers. And while most of the churches in town were spared, a lot of the classic buildings that had survived centuries went up in smoke, as it were, and was replaced by not-so-lovely mid-century architecture. Here’s an illustrative example…first, a shot of the of the Hauptmarkt (Market Square) back in its heyday:
This reproduction of a civic landscape from 1594 is a nostalgic reminder of the tempered beauty of the town at the time. Trying to stand in a similar spot, one today sees
The stalls are still filled with beautiful local produce and one can imagine a lovely Christmas market here as well. Still, the idea that post-war bureaucrats decided to put up the buildings on the left in the exact spot of older gems (like most of the rest of the city) is a little disheartening. At least the two on the right look fairly authentic.
But enough maudlin sentiment. Let’s cheer up. And what better way to do that than beer? Friday evening the assembled pen masses were planning a gathering at a local watering hole, the Hausbrauerei Barfüßer im Mautkeller. When I arrived, I was greeted by a local spirit who has been promising a good time for a long time:
Down the stairs and around the corner I found the pen gang, ready for a rowdy evening and a great day on the morrow. Who was it who said people never really grow up, they only learn how to behave in public? Here’s a group very much enjoying the private:
The show itself the next day was the usual orgy of looking at pens, talking about pens, trying pens, buying pens, selling pens, and trading pens, along with cheerful chatter (and more beer, the venue being some kind of bistro, it appears. Here’s a shot of the show itself, small but mighty and filled with a number of wonderful folks whom I have known about and corresponded with for years but never met in person:
Since I couldn’t afford what I *really* wanted, I contented myself with trying nearly every pen in the show and buying two very modest writing instruments. My collection will never be what it once was, but the friendships I have started and maintain through this community are priceless indeed.
On my walk back to my hotel that afternoon, I saw that Nurnberg has, like many other lovely old towns, turned itself into what I struggled to accept the Czech Republic – the soul of the city, IMHO, turned over and into a tourist paradise. The Altstadt is filled with trendy over-priced shops and trendy overpriced cafes and a overly friendly busker on every corner singing every possible type of song for every possible type of visitor. Charming in a superficial and very commercial way would be my evaluation. But amidst this orgy of 21st century consumerism, one group stood out as being rather remarkable in this time and place:
Yes, that’s a Kletzmer band…playing Yiddish music…performed by Russian Jews….in Nurnberg…while a little blonde German girl dances nearby under the indulgent gaze of her father….all photographed by Chinese tourists. It was too much. My head was spinning. But I have it here to share with you, the amazing way the world moves on, one way or another.
A little further along, I was charmed by the bubble maker, as were a good number of the younger set. As an aside, that was *the only hijab* I saw during my stay in town, Bavaria in general being less open to outsiders than Berlin.
The next day, Sunday, was miraculously International Museum Day. Nurnberg, joined by host of many other cities, apparently, threw open the doors of *all* of its museums (and there is a long list) for free or a one Euro entrance fee. I went hog wild. I could talk for hours about this, but I’d just drive us all nuts. The highlights were the Germanisches Nationalmuseum…
(…if you want to see more), AND a wonderful set of three connected 15th century houses that have been lovingly restored to show off their former function and glory. Workshops on the ground floor were covered by the domestic living space of the artisans and their families that lived there….for nearly 600 years. The rooms were impossible small for the large families that were the rule; the floors were uneven, the ceilings low, the kitchens primitive, the stairs narrow and rickety. But it some way I felt a sense of awe of sharing, for a brief moment, a warm and welcoming space that so so many had called home for so so long.
And then it was time to catch the bus back and return to Berlin. It was a most enjoyable and inspiring time away, all things considered. I keep marveling at my good fortune that I am able to see all these things and to fill my mind with times and places of which I have been unaware all these years. Thank you for coming along with me on this part of the journey – it makes it so much richer to know, as I sit here typing, that you are willing and interested in sharing with me.