The most precious and famous Nuremberg artwork, as well as other important treasures, was saved in the Second World War although the city was 90% destroyed by bombs. This impressive feat was accomplished using a labyrinth of beer cellars, built in medieval times, deep into the grounds under the Imperial Castle.
Not surprisingly Hitler, a maniac with many astonishing self-delusions, staunchly believed that the Nazis would win the war so there was no need to take actions to preserve Germany’s art treasures from destruction or looting.
But somehow a few men of reason and foresight were able to quietly put into motion a plan to preserve the art just in case Hitler turned out to be wrong. (He was wrong in case you haven’t learned much about the Second World War.)
The ancient cellars, which went down to a depth of 24 meters (about 78 feet), were a great choice for hiding the art. However, they had temperature fluctuations and were very humid; conditions which could destroy much of the artwork.
Germans excelled at engineering even at that time so they created simple and effective ways to drain moisture and cool or heat the cellars as needed.
It was also necessary to build and install very heavy doors that could withstand explosions.
With the basics of construction completed the actual movement of the art work began. The stained glass windows of the churches and cathedral were all removed and replaced with clear glass.
Among the treasures stored in the cellars were the Annunciation by Veit Stoß from St Lawrence’s Church, the Imperial Insignia (which Hitler had stolen from Vienna and which was later returned by U.S. soldiers) and the Clockwork Men from Our Lady’s Cathedral on the Main Market Square.
Basically, if it could be moved and packed, even with great difficulty, it was. Meticulous records were created and maintained so pieces could be put back as they had originally been after the war ended. (Well, maybe not the looted ones…)
Other irreplaceable works were stored in the cellars. There were ancient manuscripts and fabrics, the world’s oldest existing globe, historic weapons, scientific instruments and paintings of the favorite-son artist of Nuremberg, Albrecht Durer.
The Sachsenspiegel, one of the most important early books of German law and customs written circa 1220 was also saved by being placed in the cellars.
Some cherished works of art were too large to move so were wrapped well and stored where they were. Amazingly, many of those also survived.
Nuremberg was a critical site of munitions manufacturing during the war and had tremendous symbolic importance as the home of the Third Reich. So, despite Hitler’s confidence, the allies bombed Nuremberg heavily and destroyed 90% of the city. Clearly if it had not been for the efforts of the team who saved the artwork, much of value would have been lost.
If you visit Nuremberg you may stand on Castle Hill and think what a pretty medieval city it is. But, as we mentioned earlier, the city was 90% bombed.
Nuremberg of today is almost completely an excellent reproduction/restoration of pre-war Nuremberg.
If we ever want someone to document our lives (and we don’t) we would hire Germans because they sure know how to keep track of details. The city documentation was so extensive it was used to recreate pre-war Nuremberg.
In advance of our trip to the Nuremberg artwork bunkers we watched the movie Monuments Men. It’s about a group of Allied soldiers who formed a platoon specifically to retrieve hidden, looted artwork from Nazi hiding places and return it to its rightful owners. The movie stars George Clooney (and a bunch of other actors, but who cares?) and Blonde was hoping dear George might be found in a cellar under Nuremberg finalizing his research.
Alas, he was not.