leisure activities

The Germanic National Museum – Nürnberg

The Germanic National Museum - Nürnberg
Von KaterBegemot – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0

We’re in the 164th year of this superb museum’s glorious history and, if you want to immerse yourself in German culture, regardless of the particular cultural or regional strain in which you’re most interested, e.g., Prussian, Bavarian, Austrian, Swiss, etc., this museum will provide you with the best examples and interpretations of what has brought German culture, traditions, mores, and enviable work ethic—assets that continue to influence the descendants of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century emigrants in far-flung lands as well as contemporary Germans throughout Germany—to the forefront of international respect.  It has been a struggle, to be sure, but the struggle has been worthwhile.

The museum’s noble founder, Hans Baron von und zu Aufseβ (1801-1872)), studied law at Erlangen and worked in the courts in Bayreuth and Gräfenberg.  The Baron’s interest in German culture and history led him to establish the museum in 1852.  Ironically, a group of enraged students at Strasbourg University, mistaking the baron for a loathed Francophile, attacked and injured him so badly that he died 20 years later.  German nationalism and Romanticism were integral components motivating the baron.  That he should die as a result of his two favorite themes, while sad, is poetically fitting.
A trip to Germany demands that one spend several days in Nürnberg and, if you’re in Nürnberg, you owe it to yourself to visit this museum, which embodies all things German.  The museum’s published doctrine to fulfill its inherent duty to both history and humanity is that “As a museum dedicated to the culture and history of German-speaking regions, we collect and preserve cultural, artistic, and historical artifacts ranging in date from the dawn of Germanic cultures to the present day.”

The museum has 23—count them, 23!—distinct collections:


19th century

  • Old Jurisdiction
  • Library:  Manuscripts and Rare Prints
  • Museum of Applied Arts and The Design Collection
  • History of Crafts
  • Judaica
  • Painting up to 1800 and Glass Painting
  • Numismatic Collection
  • Sculpture up to 1800
  • Textiles and Jewellery
  • Prehistory and Protohistory


20th century

  • Historical Building and Construction
  • Deutsches Kunstarchiv
  • Department of Prints and Drawings
  • Historical Archives
  • Decorative Arts up to 1800
  • Furniture
  • Musical Instruments
  • Toys
  • Folk Art
  • Arms, Armor, and Hunting Culture
  • Scientific Instruments and the History of Medicine

Go to http://www.gnm.de/en/collections/ for in-depth information about each of these collections.

On your visit to the museum, be sure to see these five very important works:


The “Cloth of St. Gereon,” a seven-color mural tapestry (the second oldest known) from the early 11th century, that shows a griffin (a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle) attacking a bull.  The cloth’s provenance seems to be from St. Gereon’s Basilica in 11th-century Köln.

The “Portrait of Barbara Dürer” by Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471-06 April 1528).  This selection is one of a pair of oil on pine panels Dürer painted in 1490 of his mother (Barbara) when she was about 39 years old and his father (Albrecht the Elder) when he was about 63 years old.  The panel of his father is at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The “Lamentation of Christ” by Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471-06 April 1528).  This selection is also an oil on wood panel and was painted in 1498.  Dürer is thought to have painted the panel for Karl Holzschuler’s family chapel in the church of St. Johannis in Nürnberg.

“Germania” by Philipp Veit (13 February 1793-18 December 1877), a German Romantic painter.  “Germania” was painted in 1848 during the many revolutions, now known as the Springtime of the Peoples, when people throughout Europe, and, to a lesser extent, other nations, rebelled, revolted, rioted, and essentially took matters into their own hands to end the feudal systems that oppressed them and to establish democracies.  Most of the unrest was quelled within the year and no substantive changes came about as a result.  Germania’s unfettered shackles symbolize the freedom sought by those who struggled against their masters; the colors are the colors of the German flag; and the upright sword symbolizes leadership, defense, nobility, justice, and truth.

“The Drinker—Self-portrait” was painted in 1915 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (06 May 1880-15 June 1938), a German Expressionist painter and printmaker and one of the founders of Die Brücke, one of the 20th-century’s chief founding elements of Expressionism.  The self-portrait reveals Kirchner’s despair prior to his military training in Halle in the run-up to World War I.  The training, combined with his alcoholism and dependence on Veronal, a barbiturate, precipitated a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered.  The Nazis branded his work degenerate in 1933 and he committed suicide five years later in Davos, Switzerland.

There are certainly plenty of additional reasons to visit this museum, which was moved to the grounds of a 14th-century Carthusian monastery in Nürnberg in 1857.  As the collections increased in size and importance, the original building and museum complex has been expanded relentlessly.  The research library contains more than 650,000 volumes covering European art and cultural history and its overall holdings include more than 1.3 million items, including more than 22,000 original items that date from the Stone Age to the 21st century.  Also, there are always so-called special exhibitions which bear repeat visits.  At the moment, the exhibit “Between Venus and Luther/Cranach’s Media of Seduction” is scheduled for the 21st & 22nd of May.  The “Historical Models—Works of Art, Media, Visions” is scheduled to run for a bit more than seven months from 30 June 2016 through 05 February 2017 and will mark the so-called Leibniz year (2016).  From 20 October 2016 through 05 March 2017, the “Charles IV” exhibit, a joint exhibit with the Free State of Bavaria and the Czech Republic, will display material dealing with Emperor Charles IV, “. . . one of the most important and multifaceted rulers in Bohemian and Germany history.”  Check out the museum’s website.

The museum is located in the Kartäusergasse 1; 90402 Nürnberg; telephone: +49 (0)911 13310.  Permanent and special exhibitions’ hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1000 until 1800 & Wednesday from 1000 until 2100.  The museum library is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday from 0930 through 1800 and Wednesday from 0930 through 2000.  The Archive, Department of Prints and Drawings, and Numismatic Collection is open Tuesday through Friday from 0900 through 1600.  Special arrangements are made on public holidays, so please call ahead to confirm hours.  Admission fees are:
adults @ €8; school children, disabled, unemployed, and groups of 10 or more @ €5 (reduced rate); small groups & families (a least 3 persons & no more than 6 persons, with a 2-adult limit); school classes or youth groups @ €1.  No admission fees on Wednesdays between 1800-2100, except for special exhibitions.  If you’re coming to Nürnberg, check out the so-called Nürnberg Card. It could save you a lot of money!

The Germanic National Museum - Nürnberg
leisure activities

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden
© Pixabay

The Dresden State Art Collections, officially the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, comprises 14 distinct museums owned and maintained by the Free State of Saxony and headquartered in its capital, Dresden, which is also Saxony’s second largest and best-known city.  This article will give a historical overview of all 14 associated museums, some of which have their own buildings and some of which share buildings with sibling museums. I will also highlight particularly interesting examples of each of the various museums’ collections.

First, however, a bit about Saxony

Saxony is one of Germany’s 16 states.  It borders Poland on the east and Czechoslovakia on the south.  It is mostly hilly and somewhat mountainous (as much as 1,200 meters!), about 50% agricultural and 25% forested, but leveling off near Leipzig at the North European Plain.  The main cities are Leipzig, Dresden, Chemnitz, Plauen, Zwickau, and Meissen. The history of Saxony spans almost two millennia and refers to different land areas over the centuries.  Before 1180, it included the land conquered by the Germanic Saxon tribe between the 3rd and 8th centuries, i.e., the region from Germany’s far north, including Holstein, mainly west and southwest of the Elbe.  In the late 8th century, Charlemagne conquered the Saxons and incorporated their territory into the Carolingian Empire.  Between 1180 and 1423, the duchy was dissolved into several independent and widely separated fiefs.  After 1423, it comprised a large area in central Germany, from Thuringia to Lusatia, next to contemporary Czechoslovakia.  The history of Saxony is long and complicated, filled with intrigue and subtle political ploys, especially following reunification in 1990.

The first nine of the fourteen discrete museums beneath the umbrella of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden are:


The Zwinger

The Zwinger is an extraordinarily beautiful baroque building complex housing pavilions and galleries, with balustrades, statues, and vases, and hosting the museum’s Porcelain Collection, dating from China’s Ming Dynasty, through Japanese wares of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Meissen porcelain from the early 18th century.  The museum contains numerous examples, more than 20,000, of porcelain craft, including a special section of animals.  Its Mathematical and Physical Salon, i.e., a collection of historical and scientific precision instruments of all sorts, and the Zwinger Courtyard, a former garden and orangery originally dedicated to court festivities are nearby.  It is joined by the Semper Building, designed by Gottfreid Semper and opened in 1855.  It houses the Art Gallery of the Old Masters, a gallery which amazed even Johann Wolfgang Goethe “beyond words.”


The Albertinum

The Albertinum contains art from the age of Romanticism to the present.  Two major collections share the vast exhibition hall.  The Art Gallery of New Masters and the Sculpture Collection.  The Art Gallery of New Masters includes works from the 18th century on and is based on the wise notion that we in the 21st century can still relate to many of the day-to-day experiences of our forebears from three centuries in the past.  New acquisitions include Kirchner’s Street Scene in front of a Hair Salon.  According to the Gallery’s director, Hans Posse, this painting “. . . was shown in the infamous ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition in the atrium of the Neues Rathaus, was confiscated in 1937 as “degenerate,” and sold in 1939/40 in the course of its so-called disposal.”  The painting is once again “home.”  The Sculpture Collection primarily offers works from the beginning of the 19th century to the present, including such recognized artists of the former GDR as “Wieland Förster, Werner Stötzer, and Helmut Heinze” and unique emphasis on the so-called turn of the century, i.e., 1890-1910, including from Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger down through Franz von Stuck and Sascha Schneider.  The collection also includes works that date back more than five millennia, from classical antiquity through the European Middle Ages.


The Dresden Royal Palace

The Dresden Royal Palace houses four museums:  The Green Vault; The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; The Armory; and The Coin Cabinet.  The Green Vault contains opulent artistic and craft treasures commissioned by and for the aristocracy and royalty of days gone by.  There are two main exhibition areas, the historical green vault, and the modern green vault.  The works displayed within the two vaults include works by renowned jewelers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and craftsmen of all stripes.  There are spectacular works of amber, ivory, e.g., scrimshaw, as well as cameos, vessels, and statuettes.  Most of the works of art incorporate many diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires, emeralds, and other jewels. The works betoken a level of decadence that is almost unimaginable nowadays.


The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs contains artistic drawings, lithographs, engravings, illustrated books and portfolios, and photographs of both high quality and significance by such eminent artists as Dürer, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Caspar David Friedrich, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Baselitz.  There are also engravings by Schongauer and woodcuts by Cranach and rare examples of historic photographs.


The Armory

The Armory boasts of 16th-century antique Belgian horse and rider armor and its Turkish chamber offer eight 150-kilogram life-sized carved and uniquely decorated wooden horses.  There are hundreds of different weapons throughout The Armory, so be sure to miss none of them—from Saxon Dukes and Electors—they include “. . . 10,000 ceremonial weapons—armor, helmets, shields, swords, rapiers and daggers, sabers and maces, pistols and rifles.”  It’s an embarrassment of riches!
The Coin Cabinet includes ancient coins struck to commemorate a significant even or a special occasion as well as medals fashioned to honor war heroes and famous persons; of course, there are numerous examples of ancient coins, nearly 300,000 of them—including almost 30,000 Saxon coins—used in trading throughout the ancient world up until modern times.
Part Two of the introduction to the Dresden State Art Collections will introduce the Japanese Palace, the Art Hall in the Lipsius Building, the Jägerhof, and Castle Pillnitz among other worthwhile destinations.

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden
leisure activities

Bicycling in Germany

A man riding through nature on his bike
© Herriest via Pixabay

Organized or Self-guided Tour?

There is something about cycling that somehow frees us from Earth’s tethers—at least figuratively. The sun in our face, the wind rushing past our ears, the ability to modify our schedules and our destinations spontaneously—all these delightful aspects of cycling make touring by bicycle a decided pleasure, particularly when you factor in the pastime’s overall healthfulness. Don’t think of cycling as exercise—think of it as recreation.

The Ur-bicycle, if I may coin a term, was invented in 1817 by Baron Karl Drais of Karlsruhe. The original was called die Laufmaschine and eventually evolved into what the world now recognizes as the bicycle. Drais was not a one-off inventor. He also invented a typewriter keyboard, a meat grinder, and a fuel-efficient stove. His intelligence, education, and experience are succinctly chronicled at Wikipedia.

Cycling is a thoroughly German pastime and sport and is the true unsung hero of making man and, not long afterwards, woman, mobile as a current Wikipedia article points out:

“[T]he safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their emancipation in
Western nations. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal
freedom that bicycles embodied, and so the bicycle came to symbolize the New Woman of the late
19th century, especially in Britain and the United States. The bicycle craze in the 1890s also led to
a movement for so-called rational dress, which helped liberate women from corsets and ankle-length
skirts and other restrictive garments, substituting the then-shocking bloomers.”

The feminist movement has even honored the bicycle for its early and crucial role liberating women with the movement’s now world-famous slogan: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

Leap to the 21st century and imagine yourself with a few weeks’ free time and an understandable yearning to see more of Germany’s byways up close. Cycling will satiate that need. One has the choice of either a guided tour or a self-directed tour. Either way, it’s all beneficial with no true negative aspects.

Cyclers can take advantage of more than 200 routes comprising more than 700,000 kilometers. The various routes provide access to leisurely trips along river valleys, with plenty of serendipitous side trips that luck and spontaneity send our way.

For contemporary history buffs, the 160 kilometer Berlin Wall Trail, a circular route in and around Berlin, is an ideal choice. The trail includes museums, the city center, watchtowers, memorials, and border patrol paths. It’s mostly quite flat, all of which is either paved or graveled, and easily negotiable by children.

In Southern Germany, the 152 kilometer Danube—Lake Constance route is an ideal choice for late spring. Starting in Ulm, cyclers travel to Kressbronn on Lake Constance. Passing first through fields and forests, one glides through Biberach to Bad Waldsee, then down to the Ach River and all the villages, meadows, and thick patches of shrubs and small trees along the banks. Soon the romantic buildings of Kisslegg and Wangen attract and divert cyclers before they move on, mostly downhill through orchards and fields of hops, to Kressbronn. All along the way, there are numerous lakes, spas, and thermal springs. The partly hilly route is almost entirely paved, with a few gravelled sections.

For wine lovers—who isn’t a wine lover!?!—the 250 kilometer Moselle Cycle Route is one of the most popular. Cyclers travel the route from Perl to Koblenz, where the Moselle flows into the Rhine, passing, of course, through Trier. This internationally renowned route is mostly flat and comprises primarily paved roads, farm tracks, and canal towpaths, following the lazy meandering of the river as it zigs and zags through the countryside. It passes through picturesque
vineyards and wine villages, and offers breathtaking vistas of steep valleys, the Rhenish slate mountains, several notable castles, and small, stream filled vales and dales along the way.

The superb German Travel Index lists dozens of such tours as well as a the excellent 88-page Discover Germany by Bike brochure in PDF format, which I’ll gladly send you on request. I’ve always favored self-guided tours and the best web site to research such tours is the unbelievably thorough bicyclegermany.com.This organization covers all the bases, e.g., what to bring (what not to bring), how to pack your bike if you bring it, “where the rubber meets the road” tips, leap-frogging with the Deutsche Bundesbahn, travelogues, etc. And, although focusing on self-tours, it does cover the theory and practice of organized group tours. It is the be-all and end-all (“das A und O”) of cycling in Germany.

For those not quite intrepid cyclers who are more comfortable with organized, guided tours, the world can still be your oyster (“Ihnen liegt die Welt zu Füßen”). German Cycling Tours offers guided tours throughout Germany, e.g., Hamburg-Luebeck-Schwerin,

Elbe Valley-Upstream, Saar-Moselle, Rhine-Neckar, Elbe Valley-Saxon
Switzerland, and Upper Bavaria-Allgaeu. The tours include bicycles, superb accommodations,
maps, tips for side trips, meals, museums, and luggage transfer. If you can ride a bicycle, that’s
all you’ll need. German Cycling Tours will handle the rest.

Augustus Tours also offers numerous organized guided tours, including the Elbe Cycle Path, the Lake Constance Cycle Path, the Moselle River Cycle Path, the Main River Cycle Path, the Lahn River Cycle Path, the Altmuehl River Cycle Path, the Danube Cycle Path, and the Baltic Sea Cycle Path. Of course, these tours include rental bicycles, travel options, transfer & luggage transport service, accommodations, insurance, and, for the organizers among you, package deals for groups.

As another bonus, I’d be happy to provide a link to a PDF format copy of Marcia D. Lowe’s 65-page treatise The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet, published in 1989 by Worldwatch. Although somewhat dated, Lowe’s paper provides still valuable information about cycling and its effects—current and potential—in developed, developing, and underdeveloped societies.

A man riding through nature on his bike