Blue Moon Birthday Underground
Above: People enjoying last rays of summer sun one late August day in Nürnberg
My late August birthday recently passed so I thought a little tribute post was in order. It has been a ritual of mine, for many years, to set off on a relaxed solo day trip for my birthday (and have the evening spent with friends and loved ones), but this year was an interesting & welcome change of pace….
A few days before my birthday, I had the pleasure of visiting Nürnberg with a good friend who is also a fellow underground space enthusiast. He introduced me to the U3 subway line, the first automated subway line in Germany. We rode from one end to the other as he delighted in standing at the head of the train and I delighted in seeing what each station would look like, popping my head out every time the train came to a stop, to capture a series of subway station photos.
Later, we settled into the peaceful interior courtyard of Hausbrauerei Alstadhof, also the ending point for underground tours of the beer cellars of Castle Hill, Nürnberg.
Above: Having a delicious bowl of soup and mug of brewery beer with friends and fellow underground space enthusiasts Ingmar Arnold (Berliner Unterwelten) and Ralf Arnold (Förderverein Nürnberger Felsengänger).
I had met with Ralf at this very same establishment earlier this summer for a dialogue and casual interview regarding the history and psychological reactions of “subterranean tourists” to the space The interview is set to be translated and published German in Berliner Unterwelten’s magazine and journal “Schattenwelt” and I will also share an English version here, along with some italicized clips below. The three of us convened on this late August evening for the pure social pleasure of it, as well as to review content gathered so far.
Quite spontaneously, Ralf offered to take us to the Historischer Kunstbunker after we were done with our beer and soup and, honored and surprised, we readily agreed.
Converted to use as an air raid shelter for artwork during WW II, the “Art Bunker” sits right on Castle Hill in Nürnberg and tours are also available.
At one point, we are, as Ralf points out, under the Imperial Castle with 24 meters of rock overhead. Ralf informs us that here, we are in the deepest cellar in Nürnberg .
He proceeds to show us an image of the Kaiserkrone (993) displayed in this room. Taken by the Nazis from the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, this is an example of a stolen valuable that was returned to its original country of belonging after the American troops, with the specific purpose of such cultural missions (“Monument Man”), came into possession of such stolen objects. Another such valuable was the Reichsapfel (Golden Orb), also returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Walter Farmer was one of the first who opposed taking the valuable art to the States. The Wiesbaden Manifesto was the most important thing that kept the Americans from taking the objects out of Europe.
As Ralf explains to us, when the Americans took over this bunker, they found that valuables, such as the Kaiserkrone, were no longer in the bunker. They interrogated the organizers of the bunker who, out of fear that the Americans would take the valuables to the U.S.A., said that the S.S. had taken them. But later the Americans became a bit rougher in their interrogation and eventually came into possession of many stolen valuables. With such measures in place like the Wiesbaden Manifesto, it was ensured that scores of valuables would be returned to their original owners and not ferried away across seas for display in the U.S.A.
Castle Hill on a beautiful late Summer night
Castle Hill on an early Summer evening (my birthday evening!)
Another surprise offered by Ralf at the Hausbrauerei that evening was a special, private birthday tour of the inner walls of the city’s fortification and the passageways under Castle Hill. These passageways took us directly under the hilly square pictured above.
Standing above a manhole, about 15 minutes before going underground, with Ralf pointing out that later, we will be standing right beneath this manhole.
A ventilation shaft on Castle Hill connecting to the passages within the bastion walls that also served as a communication device, with men on the ground able to shout down to men within the wall.
Ralf Arnold (holder of the keys of the city, quite literally) about to guide us underground.
The underground tour begins. Pictured above, Ralf Arnold, and my other comrades of the evening, my husband and a Munich based friend who had already had plans to explore Nürnberg that day so it made perfect sense for her to meet up with us for the special tour.
Before going deep….
We made our way, led by Ralf, through deep tunnels of approximately 700 years of age. Elsewhere in the tunnel system, Ralf pointed out brick floors made in World War II, subterranean catchments of water filtered by sandstone and foundations of the City Wall.
Masonic symbols on stones in the underground helped to identify who the builders were so they could be paid properly.
Standing within the bastion walls and peeking out….
Water in the underground, filtered by sandstone.
Standing below one of the two manholes to this underground space. These were constructed in 1995, just prior to when tours began, in order to pump copious amounts of mud out of the passages.
Towards the end of this experience, Ralf points towards a dark passage, commenting that it connects to the Art Bunker and was enabled in the 1940′s with the express purpose of providing water to that underground facility. It is not long before we are guided into the former beer cellars, the site of my first underground tour in this city with Ralf last year. We stand to the side as an official tour group passes by. This is a spectacle in itself. There are at least 25 people on the tour and they shuffle by in the dark atmosphere, led by another guide who is no doubt sharing their wealth of knowledge with these subterranean tourists.
After they have all passed, we move briefly through some of the cellar space before making our ascent. As Ralf points out, “ In good times, beer was stored here. In bad times, it was crowded by people.”