When in Nuremberg, it’s worth investigating the history of the Nazi Regime and World War II. Just visiting the Documentation Center, Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and the Memorium Nuremberg Trials which includes Courtroom 600 takes an entire winter day!
How to Get to the Documentation Center
We began our morning at the Documentation Center or in German Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände at 10am when the museum opened. The Documentation Center is the last stop on line 8 of the above ground tram. After a little trial and error and lots of typing names, we purchased our transportation tickets for the day at the kiosk by the tracks between the central train station and Old Town. It is necessary to have a credit card with a pin number.
The final stop on line 8 is Doku-Zentrum which means Documentation Center and the tram stops right in front of it. Next to the Documentation Center is Zepplin Field which was the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. While it is possible to visit Zepplin Field prior to the museum opening, in my opinion it is better to listen to the history first.
The Documentation Center Audio Tour
The entry fee to the Documentation Center is only 6 Euro which includes an audio device in the visitor’s preferred language, in our case, English. The tour begins upstairs and speaks to the rise of the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP for short or the Nazi Party) all the way up through World War II. Each story board includes a number to key into the audio device to hear the related history which began in 1918, many years prior to WWII.
After listening to LONG descriptions on the first few boards, Kristin and I both panicked as how many rooms and stories the museum included. We thought we might be there all day, so we became more selective. I chose the stories that had both a child and adult version as I figured they’d be the most interesting. As we continued, however, the stories were briefer and more interesting, and we learned we didn’t need to skip too much. We methodically pressed through the story buttons while looking at pictures and watching videos.
Though the museum was lacking in paraphernalia, it was housed in the northern wing of Congress Hall. Construction on Congress Hall commenced in 1935. The 50,000 seat, U-shaped structure was intended to serve as a congress center for the Nazi party. The construction, however, was never completed and the building, part of the rally grounds, remained roofless and was left to ruins.
The History of NSDAP
The Treaty of Versailles and the Formation of the NSDAP
The end of World War in November 1918 led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June of 1919. In the treaty, Germany accepted full responsibility of the war and was required to pay significant reparations to the allies for the civilian damages incurred. These payments which humiliated the Germans coupled with hyper inflation and unemployment resulted in an unstable political environment and the German Great Depression.
As such, multiple political parties formed, including the German’s Worker Party (DAP), a small organization of 50 members who opposed capitalism and communism. The nationalist group believed in profit-sharing to unite the German people and to erase social classes and party lines.
Nazi Party Growth
The German government feared any opposition and assigned Hitler, an intelligence agent in the army, to infiltrate the DAP. Soon, Hitler was a member. With excellent oratorical skills and charisma, Hitler made his first speech in October of 1919 to 100 people. By early 1920, he became the chief of propaganda of the party and in February 1920, Hitler outlined 25 points of the DAP manifesto in a speech to 2,000 people! The manifesto was antisemitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal. In conjunction with Hitler’s speech, the DAP seeked to increase its appeal to a larger segment of the population, so it changed its name to NSDAP. The Nazi party then announced all members must be racially pure.
Over the next year Hitler appeared in public numerous times and crowds flocked to hear his speeches. After some confrontation among the party leaders, in July 1921, Hitler was granted absolute power and soon acquired the title Führer. He was inspired by Mussolini who led the National Fascist Party in Italy and in 1922 adopted the straight arm salute. By early 1923, the Nazi party had grown to 20,000 members.
Hitler and the Nazi party tried to overthrow the government at the end of the year, but failed and he and his associates were tried for treason in 1924. After serving his lenient prison sentence, a six-month time period during which the NSDAP was banned and Hitler wrote his famed book, Mein Kampf, he convinced the authorities to lift the ban on the party. From this point forward, Hitler was the Nazi Party’s undisputed leader.
The first Nuremberg rally was held in 1927. The rallies attracted farmers, servants, teachers and small business who suffered the most from high inflation and blamed Jewish big business for their economic problems. Students who couldn’t fight in the first war were also attracted to the party’s rhetoric. By 1929, the NSDAP had grown to 130,000!
The Nazi party began running against the incumbent party in elections. Its first election, it only won 2.6% of the vote. Four years later, however, in 1932 it had 400,000 supporters and 36% of the vote as Germany’s economy suffered mass unemployment. By 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and the Nazi party won just under 50% of the vote. The parliament passed the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Hitler dictatorial powers.
At this point, Hitler took to imprisoning political opponent and people deemed undesirable in concentration camps. It’s hard to believe that during this time period (1933-38), the Nazi party won 99% of the vote! 1939 brought the beginning of World War II and the murder of six million Jews between 1941-1945.
After a few hours in the museum, we followed the sidewalk to Zeppelin Field, so named after Count Zeppelin landed a blimp on the southeast bank of Dutzendteich lake in 1909. Nuremberg’s expansive sports and leisure park in the 1920’s turned into the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in 1933 when Nuremberg was named City of the Party Rallies.
For the next five years, a week-long, summer rally was held at Zeppelin Field. The Zeppellin Grand Stand and surrounding towers was constructed between 1935-37. Hitler, with his high-ranking officials on either side would give his speeches to 200,000 people.
Upon the Ally victory, the US Army held a parade at the grand stand and at the end blew the swastika off the top of the building. Later Zeppelin Field was used for concerts, football games and more. Now it is in a crumbling state of repair. The City of Nuremberg spends 100,000 euros a year for basic maintenance.
Memorium Nuremberg Trials
After our morning at the Documentation Center and surrounding area, we returned to Old Town via the tram for lunch. After lunch, we took the underground U1 line to the Bärenschanze station and walked a few blocks to Memorium Nuremberg Trials. I was expecting to possibly see Courtroom 600 where the trials were held and that it’s. I didn’t realize an entire museum is also included for the 6 euro entry.
I was happy to find courtroom 600 was open as it is still in use today. Visiting on Saturday likely ensured the courtroom being free. The courtroom was used for the Nuremberg Trials where major war criminals were tried.
Nuremberg was chosen for the trials for a variety. First, due to an agreement, the trials needed to be held in a zone occupied the USA. In addition, Nuremberg had the necessary infrastructure. The Palace of Justice, which suffered limited damage, was big enough for all the Ally representatives. And the adjacent prison simplified the protection and transportation of the prisoners.
The courtroom was modified to accommodate all the press, the photography and filming, interpreters and of course all the participants (witnesses, attorneys, war criminals and Ally representatives.
I was pleasantly surprised by the museum at the Memorium Nuremberg Trials. Just as at the Documentation Center, with our entry included an English-speaking audio device on which we pressed numbered buttons corresponding to the exhibits. Some exhibits include recordings of the trials which were truly fascinating. Again, we selectively chose which exhibits we wanted to learn about and finished up our visit in a few hours before returning to our hotel.
It was a great day for a history lesson in Nuremberg. ETB